What is the best form of exercise?
The best form of exercise...this is a topic that comes up frequently in the office. Do you know what I always say? The best form of exercise is the one you'll actually do. Ah, yes, and your home exercise program :).
Here's the thing: exercise or physical activity or movement medicine is for your body and for your soul. Exercise has been shown to improve cardiac function (blood pressure, heart rate, heart rate variability), improve blood flow, improve nutrient exchange, improve lung capacity, increase muscle mass, improve bone density, decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, improve mood, improve immune system response, improve flexibility, improve balance, improve lymph flow, improves sleep, and the list goes on. What I love to do may be what you hate doing and vice versa. So why should we do the same activities for exercise? We shouldn't.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Think about physical activity as a lifestyle, not just a thing you have to go do. Incorporate it throughout your life. We make many daily decisions that either encourage or discourage physical activity. This includes how close we park to a store, taking the stairs vs. the elevator, using our lunch break for food and a walk, having the option to stand at work, walking or riding a stationary bike while we're on the phone, dedicating time to exercise every day, etc.
Physical activity is also for your soul! What do you really enjoy doing? What makes you feel free or like a playful child? Do THAT thing. If you're a social butterfly, make a standing date with friends to exercise together. Need alone time? Go for a walk, run, or ride solo. Competitive? Check out a sport. Some people love dancing. Great! Sign up for some classes or check out your local gym for Zumba. Other people would rather poke their eye out than dance. Great! Do something else! Anything else! Choose something that YOU enjoy and remember, when you take care of yourself, you are more available for others.
Keep it variable. Our bodies are so cool. They have such a unique design that encourages movement in so many planes. That means we can bend, twist, fold, and lengthen in various ways. But guess what? If you don't challenge the body to move in various ways, it won't do it very well when you go to try. I'm talking about the folks who never do any resistance training, or even exercise in general in some cases, and then they hurt their back when it's time to rake the leaves. Something I say over and over again is that our bodies will adapt to anything we do repetitively. Sit a lot? Your hip flexors (psoas muscle) will shorten. Swim a lot? Your shoulders will get more broad. On the computer a lot? Your head will probably be more forward. But with variability of movement, the body and mind learn that it has more choices. Some great activities for variability of movement are yoga, tai chi, qi gong, martial arts, dancing, rock climbing, Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons, and swimming. Even getting on and off the floor every day is a great practice. With running, walking, or cycling, traverse a hilly route at least weekly. Change the speed. Try some intervals. Get curious!
Make sure there is resistance training. I am guilty as ever at being an endurance junky. I would run every day if I could. First of all, that isn't variable, and second, it only targets one type of fitness. The body adapts in different ways to aerobic exercise (endurance training) compared to anaerobic exercise (resistance training). It is important to target both. Endurance events always require strength. Just because we were "born to run" doesn't mean we are equipped to do it out the gate. With strength comes increased muscle mass and increased bone density. Wins! Resistance training doesn't have to be too technical. In general, push, pull, carry, lift, and squat (in all its forms) things that are challenging. Maybe those things are weights or maybe it is a wheelbarrow in your yard. Maybe it's lunges with dumbbells and maybe it's climbing the stairs every other step.
Remember how you feel afterwards. It's hard to be motivated ALL the time. I certainly believe in rest days. I also know about the gremlin voice in our heads that tell us to skip the exercise and veg instead. For this, I think it is important to bask in the feeling you get when you're moving. If it's a challenging activity, this good feeling will be experienced when it's over, I promise! We can't help but feel good during and after we exercise. It's your body's way of saying, "Thank you!". Your mind will feel more at ease too.
Change takes time. It takes about 2 weeks for the neuromuscular connection to become more efficient and it takes about 10-12 weeks for tissue adaptation. So we're talking about 3 months! It is totally normal for exercise to not feel very comfortable at first if you haven't done it in a while. When I say this, I'm not talking about sharp pain but I'm talking about the signs of being deconditioned such as muscle soreness, muscle fatigue, and labored breathing while working hard. This WILL change! Focus on the process and the results with follow with time and persistence.
Remember your why. Set an intention, come up with a mantra, or think about the cascade of effects you create when you move your body. Not only are you taking care of yourself but you are taking care of your friends, your family, and your community. You will motivate others by setting an example. You will be showing yourself that you are worth this act of self-love. You will make it so when you feel like going on a hike or jumping in an exercise class, you won't be starting from scratch. A mantra I have made for myself when I wake up at dark-thirty in the morning to run is, "I am taking care of myself so that I can be more present when I take care of others."
Get to it!