Exercise. We know it’s good for us. But just how good is it? The benefits are pretty impressive.
For example, regular physical activity can help you maintain your weight, feel happier, sleep better, improve your memory, control your blood pressure and lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
If you have diabetes, physical activity is even more important to your health. Being active makes you more sensitive to insulin (the hormone that allows cells in your body to use blood sugar for energy), which is one reason why it’s a cornerstone of diabetes management. It also helps you control blood sugar levels and lowers your risk of heart disease and nerve damage.
But knowing all that, why can it be so hard to get started? See if any of these reasons sound familiar. It’s too hard. Results take too long. It’s not fun. It’s too expensive. I don’t have time.
Here’s a “yes” for every “no.”
■ If it seems too hard, maybe you think you have to spend hours at the gym. Not true! Depending on your fitness level, walking for 10 minutes after dinner might be just the right way to get started. Build up gradually until you’re active for 30 minutes on most days. Be sure to check with your doctor about which activities are best for you and if there are any you should avoid.
■ If results seem to take too long, here’s some good news. Some benefits are immediate even if you can’t see them right away. Check your blood sugar before and after you take a walk, and you’ll likely see a lower number after. While you can’t get fit in a week, making physical activity a part of life will get results.
■ If it doesn’t seem fun — people who are regularly active aren’t better at forcing themselves; they’ve found what works for them. If you try to make yourself do something you don’t like, chances are you won’t stick with it. But do try a new activity a couple of times before you decide whether it’s for you or not. Zumba anyone?
■ If it’s too expensive — costs for a gym membership or fitness classes can add up. No worries; the world is your gym. Walk during lunch, dance to some tunes at home, work out to some free online videos.
■ If time is hard to find — This really is a problem for lots of people. Luckily there are ways you can squeeze activity into the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, spend time playing with your kids outside, get up and move around during commercials. Getting 20 minutes in every day is better than an hour or two once a week, and easier to fit in your schedule.
Here are some tips to get you started. Be specific. Pick a goal that’s clear, one you can succeed at and easily measure, such as walking a mile every day for a month or being active every weekday for 15 minutes. A vague goal like “I’m going to get more fit” doesn’t give you steps to follow, making it much harder to get started and keep going.
Find something you like. Seriously, this is important, or you won’t keep doing it. You want physical activity to feel more like summer camp than boot camp (unless you like boot camp).
Start small. Depending on your fitness level, that may mean driving less or parking farther from the door, taking the stairs more often, doing yard work, or walking the dog. Take it slow — you’re still beating everyone on the couch.
Work out with a partner. When someone else is counting on you to show up, you’ll likely hit the trail or the treadmill more regularly. And there’s nothing wrong with a little friendly competition.
Build it in. Pick part of your schedule and pin an activity to it, like walking with your co-workers during lunch. The more regular you are, the quicker it will become a habit. Don’t go more than two days in a row without being active, and you’ll keep the habit going strong.
Do it for the T-shirt. Like the one you get for finishing the 5K run/walk. In other words, pick a goal you’ll feel great about reaching, and work on making it happen. You’ll have the shirt to prove it.
Maintaining weight, controlling blood sugar, improving mood — our bodies are made to move, and we feel better when they do. Just make sure to check with your doctor before starting any new or more difficult activity.
To Your Health is provided by the staff of Boulder City Hospital. For more information, call 702-293-4111, ext. 576, or visit bouldercityhospital.org.