Along with being a psychotherapist, I am a personal trainer. You might think that this would lead me to recommend to anyone getting started on an exercise program that they make sure that their program has a mix of cardiovascular exercises for their heart and strength training for their metabolism and muscle mass development. In fact, I could make myriad suggestions for a variety of goals someone may have in wanting to get healthier, lose weight, change body structure, or work toward a fitness challenge.
Millions of hits come up anytime you search online for exercise-related articles, programs, or materials. Fitness gurus abound and are masterful in the way they self-promote. All of this can be overwhelming to people in psychotherapy who have been told they should incorporate exercise into their daily routine to improve their mental wellness. Exercise is one of the most effective evidence-based practices for overcoming common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and poor mood. I promote exercise to anyone who sits down on my couch, as I am a true believer in the benefits of moving one’s body, increasing the influx of healthy oxygen into the bloodstream, and taking time out of the day for healthy, mindful activities. Physical health benefits aside, I have also witnessed firsthand how exercise leads to positive increases in self-esteem and body image. Who can’t use a little image boost every now and again?
So with all the information available out there on how to exercise, why do so many people not know how to begin? It can be intimidating and scary, which of course contributes to resistance. This is why I want to share a secret that may make all the difference in setting yourself up to create a healthy habit of exercise—and, most importantly, keep it going. You do not need to work out like Jillian Michaels in order to reap the benefits of exercise. Only Jillian Michaels will ever have Jillian Michaels’ body, and that’s perfectly OK.
The secret to success in keeping up with an exercise program is to find something you love and just do that. Sure, if you have the goal of being a triathlete or marathoner, you will need a specific training regimen. However, if you would like to improve your mental health and general fitness, you simply need to find something you enjoy, such as riding a bike, taking your dog for a walk, or going for a hike.
The American Heart Association has guidelines that are very clear and simple to follow for improving your fitness: at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five days a week, or 150 minutes total. If you aren’t sure what moderate intensity feels like, try the talk test. You should be able to carry on a conversation while completing your desired exercise. You want to feel your heart rate increase, but still be able to talk to a workout buddy (or even your dog) while walking. Moving your body and getting healthy doesn’t need to be more complicated than this.
Some people dive in with starting a new exercise program and go all out with full intensity. Many of these sore-bodied, beat-up exercisers last about three or four days before they give up. This is why it is imperative to give yourself a break, find something you love, and take the pressure off. It is OK for dog walking to be your exercise of choice if that is fun for you. As you and Fido get going, you may find that your fitness increases and you need to add some hills into your routine as you become stronger. How great would that be?
The bottom line is to find something you enjoy so you’re more likely to stick with it. If you don’t know of something fun that you could turn into a 30-minute, moderate-intensity exercise, try several options to see what fits best. Take a class or two, get a free pass to a gym and give it a whirl, or hire a personal trainer to teach you some different types of fitness tools. If you don’t want to go to a gym, some personal trainers will come to you. The options are limitless, but don’t let that overwhelm you; you can simply go outside this very minute and take a walk.
Whatever you end up doing, remember that the No. 1 way to assure success is to make sure you enjoy what you are doing. Life is too short to spend time doing something you don’t love … and it will just make you quit in the long run anyway. Good luck!
© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stacey Neil, MA, LMFT, CPT, therapist in Los Gatos, California
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