Staying active for today and your life

As National Physical Fitness month draws to a close, I’d like to share some great tips for staying active for today and your life—I know they’ve worked for me, and hopefully will work for you too!

Daily life activities, such as cleaning out the attic or washing the car, are great ways to get moving. Small changes can add more physical activity to your day and improve your health. I find my new habit of taking two or three-minute walking breaks while working several times a day, is great. I have my Fitbit set to remind me to get the rest of those 250 steps an hour set and I’ve also made it a habit to walk between projects.

Another thing I’ve gone back to doing is standing, walking, or stretching in place during TV commercials when I do watch TV.

I also park farther from the door when I’m going places and walk the rest of the way, it may only be 100 extra steps, but it still counts! By the same token, I also take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator whenever possible.

Even a shopping trip can be exercise because it provides a chance to walk and carry your bags. Chores such as mowing the lawn, raking leaves, and gardening also count.

It’s amazing how many fun places there are to be active. Having more than one place may keep you from getting bored. Here are some options:

  • Join or take a class at a local fitness, recreation, or community center.
  • Enjoy the outdoors by taking a hike or going for a walk in a safe local park, neighborhood, or mall.
  • Work out in the comfort of your own home with a workout video or by finding a fitness channel on your TV, tablet, or other mobile device.

Sticking with a plan to be physically active can be a challenge. Online tools such as the NIH Body Weight Planner can help. The NIH Body Weight Planner lets you tailor your calorie and physical activity plans to reach your personal goals within a specific time period.

Devices you can wear, such as pedometers and fitness trackers, may help you count steps, calories, and minutes of physical activity. Trackers can help you set goals and monitor progress. You wear most of these devices on your wrist like a watch, or clipped to your clothing.

Keeping an activity journal is another good way to help you stay motivated and on track to reach your fitness goals.

Set goals. As you track your activity, try to set specific short- and long-term goals. For example, instead of “I will be more active,” set a goal such as “I will take a walk after lunch at least 2 days a week.” Getting started with a doable goal is a good way to form a new habit. A short-term goal may be to walk 5 to 10 minutes, 5 days a week. A long-term goal may be to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week.

Get support. Ask a family member or friend to be active with you. Your workout buddy can help make your activities more fun and can cheer you on and help you meet your goals. Believe it or not, your dog will make a great activity partner. Once you start walking with your dog, on a consistent, regular basis, they will remind you it’s time to get up and get out. (Mine brings me her leash and a pair of sneakers!)

Track progress. You may not feel as though you are making progress, but when you look back at where you started, you may be pleasantly surprised. Making regular activity part of your life is a big step. Start slowly and praise yourself for every goal you set and achieve.

Review your goals. Did you meet your goals? If not, why? Are they doable? Did you hit a roadblock trying to meet your goal? What will you do differently next week? Brainstorm some options to overcome future roadblocks. Ask a friend or family member to help support your goals.

Whether your goal is to be active 15 minutes a day, to walk farther than you did last week, or simply to stay positive, recognizing your efforts is an important part of staying on track. Decide how you will reward yourself. Some ideas for rewards include getting new music to charge you up or buying new workout gear.

Don’t get discouraged if you have setbacks from time to time. If you can’t achieve your goal the first time or can only stick to your goals for part of the week, remind yourself that this is all part of establishing new habits. Try to focus on what you will do differently moving forward, rather than on what went wrong. Pat yourself on the back for trying.

Most importantly, don’t give up. Any movement, even for a short time, is a good thing. Each activity you add to your life is another step toward a healthier you

Choosing physical activities that match your needs

Choosing physical activities that match your fitness level and health goals can help you stay motivated and keep you from getting hurt. You may feel some minor discomfort or muscle soreness when you first become active. These feelings should go away as you get used to your activity. However, if you feel sick to your stomach or have pain, you may have done too much. Go easier and then slowly build up your activity level. Some activities, such as walking or water workouts, are less likely to cause injuries.

If you have been inactive, start slowly and see how you feel. Gradually increase how long and how often you are active. If you need guidance, check with a health care or certified fitness professional.

Here are some tips for staying safe during physical activity:

  • Wear the proper safety gear, such as a bike helmet if you are bicycling.
  • Make sure any sports equipment you use works and fits properly.
  • Look for safe places to be active. For instance, walk in well-lit areas where other people are around. Be active with a friend or group.
  • Stay hydrated to replace the body fluids you lose through sweating and to prevent you from getting overheated.
  • If you are active outdoors, protect yourself from the sun with sunscreen and a hat or protective visor and clothing.
  • Wear enough clothing to keep warm in cold or windy weather. Layers are best.

Stay hydrated to replace the body fluids you lose through sweating.

If you don’t feel right, stop your activity. If you have any of the following warning signs, stop and seek help right away:

  • pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest or neck, shoulder, or arm
  • extreme shortness of breath
  • dizziness or sickness

You can find many fun places to be active. Having more than one place may keep you from getting bored. Here are some options:

  • Join or take a class at a local fitness, recreation, or community center.
  • Enjoy the outdoors by taking a hike or going for a walk in a safe local park, neighborhood, or mall.
  • Work out in the comfort of your own home with a workout video or by finding a fitness channel on your TV, tablet, or other mobile device.

Tips for choosing a fitness center

  • Make sure the center has exercise equipment for people who weigh more and staff to show you how to use it.
  • Ask if the center has any special classes for people just starting out, older adults, or people with mobility or health issues.
  • See if you can try out the center or take a class before you join.
  • Try to find a center close to work or home. The quicker and easier the center is to get to, the better your chances of using it often.

Make sure you understand the rules for joining and ending your membership, what your membership fee covers, any related costs, and the days and hours of operation.

Check with a health care professional about what to do if you have any of these warning signs. If your activity is causing pain in your joints, feet, ankles, or legs, you also should consult a health care professional to see if you may need to change the type or amount of activity you are doing.

Staying active at any size

Physical activity may seem hard if you’re overweight. You may get short of breath or tired quickly. Finding or affording the right clothes and equipment may be frustrating. Or, perhaps you may not feel comfortable working out in front of others.

The good news is you can overcome these challenges. Not only can you be active at any size, you can have fun and feel good at the same time.

Research strongly shows that physical activity is safe for almost everyone. The health benefits of physical activity far outweigh the risks.1

If you have problems moving or staying steady on your feet, or if you get out of breath easily, talk with a health care professional before you start. You also should talk with a health care professional if you are unsure of your health, have any concerns that physical activity may be unsafe for you, or have:

Being active may help you live longer and protect you from developing serious health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer. Regular physical activity is linked to many health benefits, such as:
• healthy bones, muscles, and joints
• lower blood pressure and blood glucose, or blood sugar
• a strong heart and lungs
• better sleep at night and improved mood

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition defines regular physical activity as a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as brisk walking. Brisk walking is a pace of three miles per hour or faster. A moderate-intensity activity makes you breathe harder but does not overwork or overheat you. You should also do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

You may reach this goal by starting with five minutes of physical activity several times a day, five to six days a week. You could then gradually work up to 10 minutes per session, three times a day. If you do even more activity, you may gain even more health benefits.1

When combined with healthy eating, regular physical activity may also help you control your weight. However, research shows that even if you can’t lose weight or maintain your weight loss, you still can enjoy important health benefits from regular physical activity.

Physical activity also can be a lot of fun if you do activities you enjoy and are active with other people. Being active with others may give you a chance to meet new people or spend more time with family and friends. You also may inspire and motivate one another to get and stay active.

National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

Regular physical activity is good for everyone’s health, and people of all ages and body types can be physically active. National Physical Fitness and Sports Month is a great time to become more active.

Did you know that regular physical activity increases your chances of living a longer, healthier life? It also reduces your risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and some types of cancer. Yet most people don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity.

Here are just a few benefits of physical activity:

  • Children and adolescents – Improve muscular fitness, bone health, and heart health
  • Adults – Lower the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer
  • Older adults – Lower the risk of falls and improve cognitive functioning (like learning and judgment skills)

Here are just a few ideas to increase physical activity:

  • Start by making small changes, like taking a walk after dinner or going for a bike ride.
  • Motivate teachers and administrators to make physical activity a part of every student’s day.
  • Identify youth leaders in the community who can talk to their peers about the importance of being active.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults:

  • Aim for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. This includes things like walking fast, dancing, swimming, and raking leaves.
  • Do muscle-strengthening activities – like lifting weights or using exercise bands – at least 2 days a week.

Physical activity good is for everyone’s health. No matter what shape you are in, you can find activities that work for you. Together, we can rise to the challenge and get more active during the month of May!

During the month of May, we challenge all adults to get active every day!