I often say to my patients, “there is no medication, herb, vitamin, mineral or therapy that does as much for your health as does exercise”. Regular exercise is associated with so many health benefits… you wonder why we are so resistant to it. Exercise research is associated with reducing the risk of most of the significant/common American issues—cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, obesity and breast cancer. In addition, it is known to be an anti-depressant, reduces PMS symptoms, and improves the immune system. Of our many unhealthy habits that can lead to shorter life spans and chronic health problems, having a sedentary lifestyle is at the top of the list.
We often talk of exercise programs, gym memberships and exercise classes of all kinds, but it starts with… we just don’t move as much as we used to. Most of us are not living on farms and ranches, not hauling hay or planting, foraging and picking our food, not hauling and chopping our firewood, and not building our shelters. Most of us aren’t even playing outside anymore. Too many of us have acquired the thought that all our needs can be met by a flip of a switch or an indoor environment. Again, too many of us press the garage door opener, put our clothes in the washing machine and our dishes in the dishwasher, watch TV and play/work on the computer, take an elevator or escalator to our destination and park right in front of the store.
In addition to this lack of physical activity in our daily life, most individuals in modern America have sedentary jobs where we sit most of the work week– talking on the telephone, typing, writing, working on the computer, talking with clients or patients or working at the check out counter.
Our bodies are made to move and actually can do it quite well, but sadly, most us do not have any kind of routine exercise and have a bevy of excuses to support our choice—not enough time, too cold, too wet, too dark, too tired, too many aches and pains, and on and on. I’ve had them myself at times.
In working with patients, I take a gentle yet tough love approach full of support and empathy and education… it is useful to ask questions, find the limitations and obstacles, try to find out what they might like, try to strategize the practicalities, set goals, motivate and inspire and never give up on the potential for change. The tough love part is trying to find ways to make them realize that moving/exercising should be considered a mandatory part of their life. I even say some times… “You have got to get religion about exercise”. Some helpful keys to the process can be: 1) Focus on the fact that you can do it– you can become someone who regularly exercises. 2) Make a schedule for when it is going to happen. Each day… I plan for when I am going to get my 60 minutes of exercise in for that day and even the next. “Oh… on my lunch hour I can walk to the hardware store, shop for light bulbs, walk back to the office (that’s 30), and then I have another 30 minute walk after work— either to the grocery store after work, or on a forest trail next to my house once I get home. 3) Maybe find an exercise partner or a personal trainer or a class or a team of some kind– even for those who are not athletically inclined— paddling on a “dragon boat” team might be just the ticket. 4) Set goals and make them a priority– and set goals that are realistic. 5) Know your limits and don’t injure yourself or make a chronic health problem worse.
According to the American Heart Association and to reduce the risk of chronic disease we need to have 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per day most days of the week. For those women who need to lose significant weight… it will probably take more than that to overcome the physiological forces that are now in play– insulin resistance, slowed metabolism, loss of muscle mass and aging. In my women patients who desire weight loss… our goal is 60+ minutes per day of aerobic exercise (walking, treadmill, elliptical, bicycle, running) for 6-7 days per week and ideally, some kind of strength training (yoga, weight training) 2 days per week.
With education, desire, and a plan…. You can succeed!! You can make a change! You can improve the quality of your life!