I’m a bit of a health and fitness geek. I have a Masters in Kinesiology, I’m a Certified Exercise Physiologist, I used to be a full-time Personal Trainer and I have been a fitness instructor for over 25 years…and I also have a degree in Psychology… so I know what I’m talking about when I tell you … fitness is freakin’ confusing! There’s a lot of information out there. Some good, some crazy. A lot of fads and quick-fix ‘solutions’… or ridiculously time-consuming options.
So, if I could give you one tip about how you exercise that would make you healthier, stronger and give you better weight management results, would you give it a try?
Here’s the thing about exercise. Most of us do it because we want results…not necessarily because we enjoy it. We want to look better, to feel better, to do better…but what’s also true is that we’re not always prepared to do what it takes. Especially as we age.
You want to know the one thing that will make a BIG difference in your results?
INTENSITY. How hard you work when you workout. How heavy you’re breathing, how much you’re pushing your muscles…how much it hurts when you’re doing it…and because of that…how good it feels when you stop. INTENSITY.
As we age it’s common to choose less intense forms of movement. We replace running with walking. We reach for lighter weights or stop doing weights altogether. We turn down the dial on the cardio machine. We don’t push as hard or as long with movement of any sort. Now you might be saying “Well don’t I get marks for effort?” …YES YOU DO, but for real results efforts needs to be EFFORT.
No matter how old you are, your body will rise to the challenge of whatever you throw at it. If it’s nothing, expect similar in return. You body is an amazing piece of machinery that – unlike your vehicle or household appliances – gets BETTER with use. So use it!
And it’s stronger than you think. Just ask my 83-year-old mother who walks 3 times a week (shes the fastest in her much younger group), she attends cross-fit classes and chops her own wood. If she won’t play the age card the you shouldn’t either!
So, how much is enough? It’s an important question.
I often say, that regardless of age or fitness level, your goal is to consistently do more than what is normal for you. If your ultimate goal is long-term health (sounds like a good goal) Harvard Medical School guidelines suggest you should work in 15-30 minutes of intense to moderate physical activity per day. You can mix daily activities, formal workouts, and sports to reach that goal so try not to get overwhelmed, and view it as a fun challenge. 15 minutes people! I’m sure you spend more time than that every day on your devices!
This is of course assuming that you are currently injury-free, and not struggling with health concerns that may impact your ability to push yourself. If in doubt, always check with your doctor.
If you’re new to exercise, start small and gradually work your way up. And remember that not all movement is created equal.
There’s popular ‘how-much-is-enough’ wisdom out there that 100% accurate but could be giving you a fall sense of exercise-security.
The first is the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines for adults. It says we should be moving for 150 minutes a week..but what most people overlook is that the movement should be moderate to vigorous aerobic activity. Moderate to VIGOROUS… in bouts of 10 minutes or more… heart rate up, heavy breathing, breaking a sweat. It’s not enough to go for a leisurely walk every other day. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great starting point, and will always be good for you, but your body is capable of more. And it needs it.
The other ‘common myth’ is the idea that 10,000 steps a day is enough for your health. Again, it’s good for you…10,000 steps is the equivalent of 5 miles… or 8km … and that’s a decent distance – especially if you do it all at once. So what’s the problem?
Well, if you’re just starting back to fitness there’s no problem, in fact, it’s awesome. You may even start with fewer steps and build from there. If your heart rate is up, you’re doing it right.
But remember the ten-minute minimum. Quiet frankly, you’ll have a tough time reaching 10,000 steps without at least one longer movement effort in your day, but it is possible to accumulate a fairly high step count in dribs and drabs – 30 seconds here, 2 minutes there… all day long. And when you do that, your heart rate won’t usually get high enough to benefit health. Not all steps are created equal.
Yes, moving at low intensity is better than not moving at all, but if you want to make that one change in your fitness routine that will help you burn more calories, boost metabolism, improve your endurance and build your strength (all of which contribute to better health), it’s the quality of your steps that matter. It’s the intensity of your efforts.
Now when I talk about intensity I don’t want you to think “Oh man, I’m going to have to bust my butt every time I exercise and I’m going to hate it.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. I simply want you to push yourself just a bit for part of every movement effort. And listen to your body.
It knows what it needs. It will tell you when it wants more – even if the more makes you breathless. The problem is, most of us don’t want to push outside that comfort zone, because it hurts. It feels like work… but your body is one smart, resilient piece of machinery and amazing things happen when you challenge it.
You likely have a couple of voices that talk to you when you’re exercising – ‘Comfortable you’ and ‘Fitter you’.
‘Comfortable you’ claims to want to do well, but wants it to be easy – or rather, wants it not to be difficult. ‘Comfortable you’ is quite happy to make an effort, as long as it’s not too tough. It’ll justify all activity as worthwhile. “But my Fit Bit said I did a good job.”
It prefers the comfort zone and will stay there forever if you let it. Don’t let it.
‘Fitter you’ wants to push the body to work harder; to run instead of walk, to run faster, to life heavier weights, to climb the hill or take the stairs…to get uncomfortable outside that comfort zone…even if it feels tough sometimes, because it knows it’ll make a difference.
For real results with exercise, get uncomfortable outside that comfort zone, even if it feels tough sometimes.
Here’s why these efforts are so darn important. Every time you push your body beyond its comfort zone it has what I call a physiological hissy-fit. If it could talk, here’s what it would say to you:
“Well that sucked. I don’t like heavy breathing. My muscles are tired. I don’t like working that hard… I’ll get back at you by getting STRONGER…so the next time you pull that stunt it won’t suck as much… so there!”
It’s how your body works. Over time, and with repeated intense efforts, muscle fibres tear down and build up stronger. Your blood vessels branch out deeper into and round the muscles for greater capillarization. Capillaries are the smallest blood vessels that supply a working muscle with oxygen-rich blood and remove harmful carbon dioxide. More oxygen and less lactic acid means you can move faster and go longer before you feel fatigue. Your heart muscle gets stronger so it can pump more blood to the body per stroke, which contributes to a lower resting heart rate and lower blood pressure.
Amazing adaptation! It can’t happen without intensity…and every time you push your body even a bit beyond its limits it gets back at you by getting stronger. Hell of a pay-back.
So…here are a few things to think about as you add intensity into your weekly cardio routine.
- It’s not about age. It’s about giving your body what it needs. Whatever your fitness level right now, choose to push a little harder than you normally would. I’ll say it again…if you’re breathing heavy you’re doing it right, and it’s the ultimate anti-aging solution.
- There’s a trade-off between intensity and duration. The more time you have, the more moderate your pace can be. If you’re on a 6-hour hike in the mountains you can take a somewhat leisurely pace and still get a great workout, because you’re moving for 6 hours!
But as your available time for movement goes down, intensity needs to go up.
- Short can be sweet. If you have no time to go to the gym or do your usual longer walk or run, take 10 minutes to walk fast, run, do jumping jacks, do stair repeats… anything that gets your heart rate UP… push as hard as you’re able.Click here to read about some cutting-edge information on the merits of the one-minute workout (yes, 1 minute) based on research from Dr. Martin Gibala from McMaster University. Fascinating stuff!
- Add intervals to your lower-intensity efforts. I do this one all the time and it works. When you’re out for your walk, or striding on the elliptical at the gym, or running slow and steady, pick 3 or 4 segments of your workout (say every 5 minutes) where you deliberately pick up the pace for at least one minute. Pick it up enough that the minute feels tough, and you’re damn happy to slow down at the end of it. Do that every time you do your cardio and see how much stronger you start to feel. Your body will tell you when 1 minute should become 2, or your overall walking or running pace should be increased.
There’s something so empowering about finishing your exercise and knowing you pushed yourself – even just a bit. You are so much stronger than you know…and your body will rise to whatever challenge you give it. So give it.
If you have any questions or comments, please email me via www.worklifeenergy.com. And if you’re looking for more personalized guidance via one-on-one coaching you can find that info on the website too!
Lots more to come on the topic of exercise. Until next time, I’m Michelle Cederberg helping you transform your work and your life, one recharge at a time.
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