Get over your barriers to regular exercise. People often report many barriers to getting regular exercise. However, these barriers are easier to overcome than you might think.
Some common reasons for not exercising:
- “It hurts!” Proper exercise may initially be uncomfortable, especially if you are out of shape or are not used to stretching your limbs and back. Start slowly with little efforts, and gradually work up to a decent workout over weeks. If you are indeed having severe pain upon exercise (e.g., running on hard pavement) you should modify things (e.g., get a good comfortable pair of running shoes to cushion the impact, and try to run on softer surfaces such as grass or a nearby formal racing track). You should also see your healthcare provider about any severe pains since this may mean you have a medical problem (e.g., a foot sore or arthritis) which needs treatment.
- “I can’t seem to find the time to exercise.” If you can find time to eat regularly, you can also schedule regular times for exercise. Just do it, religiously! You may also combine some exercises with other chores (e.g., walking your dog, working in your garden with extra walks around your garden). Again, start with a short, designated time, even as short as 15 minutes a day, and then gradually work yourself up to 30 minutes or more a day. You should eventually regularly do at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. Keep a log of how many minutes a day you exercise, or how many daily steps you achieve. Many smart phones have apps to measure your steps automatically. Once you make this a habit like your other habits, you will not feel good if you do not exercise.
- “I’m worried that a medical condition may prevent me from exercising.” Although there are some medical conditions in which certain exercises are not recommended (e.g., weightlifting if you have an aneurysm), there are other exercises which can achieve the same goal even with such medical conditions (e.g., finding out from your healthcare provider what your lifting weight limit should be, e.g., “no more than 10 pounds if you have an aneurysm.” You can then do multiple lifts within this limit to strengthen your muscles). Finally, it is best to check first with your healthcare provider before engaging in any new (particularly strenuous) exercise program.
- “I can’t afford a gym membership and can’t afford exercise equipment for my home.” You might be surprised at how cheap some exercise equipment can be, e.g., big rubber bands for stretch strengthening or small exercycles which you can use while sitting in your favorite chair. Other inexpensive approaches include using cans of food as weights, or just maximizing what you can do in your own home (e.g., sit-ups, push-ups, balance exercises, running in place). There are also many free, no-equipment workouts you can find on YouTube. If you want suggestions for all kinds of exercises, the Take CHARGE Team can help.
What’s your plan?
A good exercise and fitness program should include:
a) Strength (resistance) training
b) Conditioning including aerobic exercise (exercise which gets you breathing heavier and raises your heart rate)
c) Flexibility/mobility training (stretching and range of motion) components
d) Balance exercises
e) Cognitive exercise training
Get clearance from your health professionals
If you do not yet have a regular exercise and fitness program, the first thing you should do is get an exercise clearance evaluation by your health professionals to see what types of exercises are best for you. Unfortunately, certain exercises in certain people can damage their health. For example, running if you have severe knee arthritis may worsen this condition. If so, exercises while sitting down may be the thing for you. Certain heart disorders are more prone to damaging abnormal heart rhythms or heart muscle damage with strenuous exercise. Your health professionals can guide you as to what is most appropriate for you individually, and give you tips on how to measure your progress and to be on the lookout for problems (e.g., you may be asked to undergo an exercise stress test to see how your heart functions during exercise).
Tips for starting your exercise program
- Once cleared for certain exercises, start slowly, and use proper exercise form from demonstrations (Take CHARGE can help). If your body is not used to strenuous running, for example you can injure muscles if you start running marathons without practice and conditioning. Better to start with something like counting your steps each day (again, many cheap pedometers and smart phone apps are available which can help you do this). For example, start with 5,000 walking steps a day (can be indoors on a treadmill or outside in your neighborhood). Then, gradually build this up to 10,000 steps a day.
- Do not forget stretching exercises for your limbs and back. Many people experience tendon or muscle tears when they try to vigorously jump into a strenuous exercise because their muscles and tendons are relatively stiff and brittle; gradual stretching helps make them more flexible and less prone to injury.
- If you have balance problems (which many older individuals develop or are the result of a prior stroke), special strengthening exercises can help your muscles and brain compensate for other weaknesses you have, thus helping to prevent falls and resultant bone fractures.
- If you work better in groups (peer motivation) get your friends/family involved! This will help you stick to a regimen (accountability. Also, others can record your working out so that you can see your form and how to improve. Try not to worry about competing with or being embarrassed by others; each person needs their own individual program.
Develop your own plan for exercise and fitness, and just get started. Your plan may change over time and Take CHARGE can help with options. Believe us, you should feel much better once you establish your plan and stick to it!
For more tips and information about establishing your own individualized exercise and fitness program, visit the Take CHARGE Physical Fitness Consultation page.
David Gordon, M.D., and Mark A. Harris
Take CHARGE of Your Health