For many of us, the words “teenage years” can bring back memories of rebellion and uncertainty, experimentation and exploration, having fun and having fears.
For me? I think of my sauna suit.
As part of our grueling training for wrestling, we ran five miles a night in a plastic suit that basically served as an anatomical microwave—heating us up so we would sweat and sweat and sweat. At the time, wrestling was a sport where not only did we have to focus on being strong and quick, but we also had to make sure we could “make weight,” which meant that our training looked something like this: Wrestle, wrestle, wrestle, run, run, run, lift weights, lift weights, lift weights—and be as lean and strong as possible.
Looking back, I can’t believe how much we trained and some of the things we did (many of which—such as the excessive dehydration—would now be considered unsafe), but you know what? I just loved it.
I embraced the grind, the process, and the way I felt after working hard. I also liked the way I looked (not a bad thing during the formative high school years).
Over time, as it is the case for all of us, my priorities and goals changed. What was once important no longer is (I said sayonara to that sauna suit many decades ago). But the lessons I learned during wrestling were some of the most important I learned as a young man. Those years and all those sessions on the mat taught me that exercise is, well, darn good for you.
It wasn’t until much later that I really learned how much that’s true. As research has shown us over and over, exercise has a profound effect on longevity and wellness. In fact, I could certainly wear down the keys on this computer just listing all of the long-term and short-term benefits of exercise: Supports cardiovascular health, balance, muscle strength, brain health, brain aging, immune response. Improved mood and sleep. Supports healthy blood pressure, feelings of anxiety, and risks of falling. On and on and on…
There were certainly times in my life where I got out of my rhythm of exercising regularly. I paid for it—and felt it every day.
When I’m consistent and active, I also feel it every day. I feel it in the way I sleep, in the energy I have, in the mood I’m in, and in the comfort knowing that I’m doing what I can do to help my body and mind.
I have no more wrestling matches to compete in, but our opponent—the looming and constant threats of aging and unwellness—is one I grapple with day after day.
And that’s certainly the match that’s worth winning.
How much do you think you should exercise? An hour a day? More? Less?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control recommend at least 150 minutes a week of moderately intense activity (such as brisk walking) to reap some of the benefits of exercise. That’s a lot of bang for your biological buck.
As for me, I enjoy all kinds of activities—like mountain biking and hiking, for sure. But I also really love my routine I have been doing for a while now: Circuit training.
Circuit training is the process of working on all of your different muscle groups in various types of resistance exercises, such as lifting weights (you can also use machines or your own bodyweight). Having added lean muscle mass has many benefits, such as weight control and increased metabolism.
I do things a little bit differently than some. That is, I do one exercise for 30 to 50 repetitions at a time. I really like the way I feel and my muscles work doing this high number of repetitions. I go from one muscle group to another, starting with the exercises I enjoy least first (that’s usually abs and legs). I do these high reps, because I’m not going after big muscular size, which you can do with fewer reps and heavier weight. I like it because you’re building muscular endurance and strength with this kind of approach.
I do my circuit every other day, with a self-imposed rule to never miss two days in a row of exercise. That’s what helps me stay consistent over time. But the reality is that I don’t need that kind of motivation anymore. I’ve grown to crave my workouts—and really look forward to doing them first thing in the morning.
That’s really the secret to forming an exercise habit: Do what you can do so you really like it and look forward to it. When you flip the narrative from “exercise is a chore” to “exercise is a joy,” you’ve created a reward mechanism for your brain that has so many benefits to your whole body.
The Golden Rule of Starting Out
Only about one-quarter of U.S. adults meet the recommendations of exercising for 150 minutes per week. And with the rates of obesity and other conditions on the rise, we need to change that number.
Here’s the thing if you’re just starting out or have gotten out of a routine: it’s hard. So it’s ok to acknowledge that you can’t just snap your fingers and make it all fall into place. On/off buttons work for coffee pots and remote controls, but not for the human brain when it comes to motivation.
So here’s my advice: Be kind to yourself.
Don’t beat yourself up if you miss a planned session or don’t feel good while doing one. Take your time and find what works for you.
Any activity is better than no activity.
During this time of year when New Year’s resolutions may have faded, it can be difficult to leave the comfort of your pillowy couch. The key here is you don’t have to make a grand declaration or schedule two-hour sweat sessions. You should start with creating one small habit—put the yoga mat on the floor, slip on sneakers for a walk after dinner, whatever you want. Be kind to yourself, be patient, be deliberate, and be thoughtful. But don’t beat yourself up for not doing enough.
The goal here is long-term consistency, and that only happens when you take very small steps.
What’s Your Jam?
Text: What’s your favorite song to listen to while exercising? We’ll create an At the Peak of Health reader playlist for a future edition. Send your song choice to: DrRobSinnott@AtthePeakofHealth.com