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Add exercise, not excuses, to your daily schedule


© St. Petersburg Times, published January 30, 2001

So you have visions in your head of beginning an exercise program to lose weight, maybe to just maintain your weight? You want to have more energy, feel less stressed, have more feelings of joy. You would like to experience the healing effects that can occur from nourishing your body, mind and spirit with simple exercise. Perhaps these are but a few of your dreams and visions for the New Year.

Regardless of your age, it is healthy to keep the passion for dreaming and visioning alive. We become "old" when we stop dreaming; however, it is important for us to put some action into our dreams. We need to become motivated to take charge of our lives and encourage those visions to bloom.

First, we have to fight internal obstacles. Internal barriers are thoughts, distractions, perhaps fears and misconceptions about exercise, all of which can prevent lifestyle changes and keep us suspended in inactivity. There are people who express a desire to become physically fit, but they continually find excuses to distance themselves from doing so. What are some of internal barriers that can place motivation on hold?

Many people feel they are too stiff or too tired to exercise. Au contraire, movement has curative powers when it comes to increasing your energy levels. When we are hungry, we usually eat. When we become tired, we know we need some sleep. But when we become stiff, tired and achy (provided we do not have the flu), we don't seem to realize that our bodies are craving some kind of physical movement.

Instead, we tend to go into exercise withdrawal, with the result being continued feelings of tiredness and stiffness. Energy begets energy. Put forth a little energy, and exercise can make you feel more energetic.

Too busy, just don't have the time. This is the No. 1 internal barrier to exercise commitment, and it often is used as an avoidance technique to cover up exercise insecurities. It seems we can usually find time to do the things we really want to do. If exercise hasn't been a part of your life, it is easy to keep it on the back burner and not ignite it. The reality is that exercise does not have to take large blocks of time out of your busy day.

Within the past several years, research has shown that for health purposes, even 10-minute exercise excursions are adequate -- 10-minute periods for a total of 30 minutes day. If your goal is to lose weight, I would suggest you gradually increase the 10 minutes to 15, and the total of 30 minutes to at least 45 minutes.

"I would be bored exercising." Poor excuse. To prevent boredom, cross-train by performing different activities on alternate days or by changing your activities within your daily workout such as 10 minutes walking, 10 minutes on a stationary bicycle. There are many exercise activities to choose from: walking, low-impact aerobics, swimming, water aerobics, stationary or outdoor biking, treadmill walking, weight training, stair climbing, hiking and more.

Dancing is a delightful way to get you moving and involved socially. You might want to take some ballroom dancing lessons or try your feet with a ballet or jazz class. I include tap dancing in my activity schedule, and I see people of all ages having fun, tapping away.

Don't forget stretching. Check around for some stretching, yoga and tai chi classes. You can alternate exercising by yourself and with groups of people in a gym or fitness studio, and you can throw in a little extra dash of exercise in a very casual way by doing simple chores around the house such as sweeping floors, working in the yard or gardening. If you can drive, park the car a little farther away than the front entrance to the store, or take the steps instead of the elevator or escalator. I have a friend who occasionally walks home from a nearby grocery store doing bicepscurls with two grocery bags. On days when he would drive to the store, he would induce more exercise by leaving his grocery cart at the front of the store, making repeated trips to his car carrying the groceries. What might be your way of doing playful and spontaneous exercise?

"I'm too weak to lift weights." You do not need to be strong to lift weights. You begin very gradually with light weights, in some cases maybe 1 or 2 pounds. Older people's muscles are just as responsive to weight lifting as are "younger muscles." As we age, strength declines rather slowly until we hit 50, and then the decline rate increases. Lack of muscular strength leads to inactivity which leads to more loss of strength, with the end result being dependent living in a nursing home. This vicious cycle can be reversed. Improving your strength can improve your quality of life and make performing everyday tasks a lot easier to perform.

"I'm too old; it's too late to begin to exercise." It is never too late to begin to do something that is going to improve your life. Evidence proves that both elderly men and women benefit from physical activity. Yes, the best time to begin to invest in an active life is when you are young, but the second-best time for is now. Most older adults can develop their physical abilities beyond their current level. Studies have been performed on elderly men and women (with the average age being 87) that indicate muscle weakness and frailty can be reversed by resistance training.

A four-week walking/strength-training plan

Always check with a physician before beginning an exercise program.

Talk to yourself. Find out just why you want to do this: lower your blood pressure, lose weight, increase your HDL levels, reduce stress and the accompanying tired feelings, have more energy for your fun games such as golf, tennis, etc. Have a strong reason for bettering your life and a strong belief in yourself that you can do this. You have to want to do this for yourself or it won't work. It will be the cheapest medicine you ever invested in.

Find a walking buddy, perhaps a neighbor, or call on someone you like but haven't seen for awhile. It's a good excuse to get together with an old friend.

Invest in a pair of good walking shoes. If you wear orthotics, wear them in your walking shoes. Wear a heavier sock. I personally like Thorlo running socks.

Buy a calendar that has large spaces so you can keep a journal; write notes to yourself.

Select three days a week to walk and two alternate days to do some strength-conditioning exercises; mark the dates on the calendar. This calendar will become your fitness diary. Here is a sample week:

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Sunday: Walk your desired length of time and do a little stretching when finished. Record on the calendar your approximate distance, time spent walking, maybe the weather conditions, any personal observations and feelings: "It felt good"; "I hated every minute of it"; "Sure hope it gets better."

Monday: Begin with light weights; perform one set of 8 to 12 repetitions. Record on calendar the same as for walking.

Tuesday: Walking day, but change the style; try interval walking. Walk casually for 15 minutes or whatever time you have planned for yourself; then increase the pace for five minutes. Don't forget: Take time for that stretch, then jot notes on the calendar. You may want to do the faster pace for only a minute, then gradually build up throughout the month.

Wednesday: Creative Movement Day; you choose. If you just love walking by now and want to do it, fine. But why not try a change of pace and include some personal-choice activity into your day? Maybe it will be riding your bike, walking in the mall, gardening or a game of tennis or golf.

Thursday: Weight time. Lift your weights; one set, 8 to 12 repetitions.

Friday: Another creative activity day.

Saturday: Walk again. This could be Special Friend Day.

WEEK NO. 2: Follow the same basic schedule.

WEEK NO. 3: For strength training, begin to increase the sets; perform two sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. For the strong of heart, depending on your physical abilities, you might want to introduce five to 10 minutes of stair climbing; this definitely is not for beginners.

WEEK NO. 4: For strength exercises, increase the sets; two to three sets of 8 to 12 repetitions. When it feels too easy to lift the weights, increase the poundage slightly and return to one set of 8 to 12 reps, then gradually increase to two and three sets of 8 to 12.

Remember, positive habits are created one step at a time. Enjoy.

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- Sally Anderson is happy to hear from readers but cannot respond to individual queries. Write to her in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Her e-mail address is

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