2 Surprisingly Effective New Year’s Resolutions for your Health
Tons of people make New Year’s resolutions at this time of year and it’s well known that most people fall off their resolutions very quickly after Jan 01. So I want to propose 2 simple New Year’s resolutions for your health in 2019 that will help you stick with it and actually improve your health and wellness this year (and feel awesome doing it too)!
Health and fitness don’t have to be so complicated. As a western medical provider, we have so many complex ways of recommending health and wellness improvements: we can look at lab values, x-rays and MRI’s, talk about nutrition, the exact correct method for building muscle or cardiovascular endurance, which exercise is best and on and on. But in all the years I’ve been helping people heal from injuries and get their bodies back to their real lives again one simple thing stands out above all others as the most effective action to take for wellness: MOVE your body.
So here are the 2 simple New Year’s resolutions I recommend implementing to improve your health in 2019:
1) Move your body.
Find something that you can do EASILY- something (at an intensity and duration) that feels good to your body in some way. It almost doesn’t matter how you move, as long as it feels good to you, and you kinda even like it. Because if you don’t like it, you won’t keep doing it.
2) Schedule it.
There’s a saying that goes, “What doesn’t get scheduled doesn’t get done,” and this is very true for creating new habits like exercising.
That’s it! You can stop reading here if you know 1) what’s your body movement of choice and 2) how to schedule it: 3-5 times a week somewhere- paper calendar, phone, whatever. New Year’s resolutions done! But if you need a little more help, read on!
How to move your body.
Exercise, or what I prefer to call “body movement that feels good,” needs to be at an intensity that feels easy at first, especially if you’re just starting this after a long break. Even if you’ve been exercising for a while, there’s just no need to push so hard.
We’re in these bodies of ours for the long haul, and we want to respect them and build up a base of activity slowly and steadily, without injury. That’s what my 90+ year-old patients who are still kicking butt at that age are doing: moving consistently but gently.
Exercise more like the Tortoise than the Hare: a steady build up of activity level allows your body to accommodate to it, and get USED to the activity. That’s what “getting in shape” is- your body easily attuning to more activity over time. But if we’re like the Hare and sprint too fast, we pull a hamstring (I guess I’m creating a slightly new fable here, but hang in there with me). When we progress too fast, it’s sucky working that hard and we may very well get injured, thereby slowing our progress and feeling crappy along the way.
Yes, there are benefits of more intense activities, like body weight exercises and interval training, etc, and they too can feel really good to our bodies, but we have to BUILD UP to them, not just jump in full bore. That’s why I’m not super excited about “boot camps” or even Crossfit: they’re just too intense for the long-haul and put too much immediate strain on the joints.
Start with something easy, both intensity and time duration, and focus instead on the consistency. The intensity will take care of itself if you keep doing it almost daily (and not over-doing it). You can only handle 5 minutes? No problem, maybe start with 4. Just get started.
Types of body movements:
For cardiovascular exercises, like walking or riding a stationary bike, you should be breathing easily enough to be able to talk and have a conversation without any difficulty. In a book I often recommend to my patients, “Fit Soul, Fit Body,” author Mark Allen, 6-time Iron Man Champion, backs this point up by telling us we should “slow down to get faster,” showing us that if you regularly work out beyond a mild to moderate intensity, there may be negative consequences, not benefits. At a high workout intensity a) you are likely no longer be burning fat, but burning carbohydrates, b) you are at risk for overexerting your adrenal system, which can leave you feeling depleted and tired, and c) pushes the body beyond what it was intended to absorb, and can lead not only to lack of physical fitness, but to injury.
As you move your body at a mild to moderate intensity, the movements will get easier over time, and you can increase the duration you’re doing it. But follow the 5-minute rule: only increase your cardio duration by 5 minutes per week. For example, you’re able to walk for 15 minutes comfortably and well before you feel any negative symptoms. Great, do that 15 minute walk 3-5 times that week, not increasing the duration. You may be tempted to think, “Awesome! I did 15 minutes yesterday, now I’ll do 30 minutes today!” but this is a recipe for overworking and causing injury. Just do the 15 minute walks for that whole week, then increase 5 minutes the next week, doing 20 minutes max that week. The following week, add a max of 5 more minutes, 25 min in our example, IF your body is feeling good with it. Otherwise, just chill, and stay at a lower comfortable time frame and intensity level.
For resisted exercises, like lifting weights, using machines at the gym or pushup/bodyweight type exercises, it’s OK to feel some post-workout soreness in the muscles you’re working, but not in the joints. You also don’t want to feel any sharp pain or burning pain afterwards- and if it wakes you up at night, whatever you did was probably too intense. Start with one set of 10 EASY reps, do it 3-5 times a week, and stick with SAME intensity for a week. Let your body get used to it, then bump it up 2-5 reps per week. But keep listening to your body- if it’s telling you to back off, back off. It’s OK to decrease the reps or intensity on any given day.
It’s OK, there’s no gold medal to be lost here, no drill sergeant yelling at you to push it (except for the one in your head). Once you can do 20 reps, start doing 2 sets: 1 set of 20 and 1 set of 10 until you can do 2 sets of 20. You can increase the intensity/weight gradually from there, staying at 2 sets of 20 or so. Again, try not to get caught up in the details here- just move in a way that feels good. I’d rather you not even count the reps, but just do the amount that feels good on that day. If you keep doing it regularly, that number WILL increase naturally. Don’t stress on the weight or the reps.
As far as which type of body movement is best for you, again- it’s up to what you actually like doing. Some people love the stationary bike… some people despise it! Some people love the seniors’ exercise class at Oasis Senior Center or the YMCA, but it’s way too intense for others.
If I had to choose just one type of body movement that tends to be both convenient and beneficial for MOST people, it would probably be walking, since our bodies were designed to do this naturally. But for some people, walking hurts (like those with lumbar stenosis or feet problems) so they’ll want to find something more comfortable for them, like swimming.
Brainstorm of exercises list:
Here are some generally safe and effective ways of moving to consider: walking; stationary bike; walking in the pool; aqua aerobics class (YMCA, Paul Nelson pool); tai chi or chi gong (acupuncturist Herb Kandel has classes locally that are awesome); yoga can be great but can be too hard for a lot of people, so I’d recommend starting with private 1-on-1 lessons for several sessions before trying even the “gentle” or “restorative” classes (Treetop Yoga or Yoga 4 Mankind are good- I don’t generally recommend yoga in a gym: they get too exercise-y and kind of aggressive); swimming (doesn’t have to be the crawl- even the doggie paddle moves your body!); chair exercises (leg marches, arm raises, knee extensions, etc.); and a great exercise is dancing: put on those tunes that make you bob your head or shake your hips and move around for a few minutes to the sounds.
How to schedule your exercise:
So now that you have a better idea of how to move your body, you’ve got to schedule it or it ain’t gonna happen. Although this sounds self explanatory, you have to actually DO IT. What time of day is your higher energy time? Some love the early morning and feel energized to get going right away, while others feel a burst of energy at night time. You’ll want to plan to exercise when it’s realistically a good time for you.
You HAVE to physically write or type these times down in a schedule, and let others in your life know that this time has been sectioned off and is YOUR time. Even if it’s just 5 minutes to do a few chair exercises, schedule it somewhere for at least one month, 3-5 times per week. Put a month schedule on a piece of paper on the fridge, write it on the family calendar, or program it into your phone. But this is an essential step to actually changing your habits.
My intent was to keep this KISS simple, but I couldn’t help myself from giving some advice on the specifics, just in case that was needed. And if you’re still confused or concerned about how to start exercising for your particular body, get some professional help, either with us or with another trusted health practitioner (be careful with athletic trainers, they can be awesome, but unfortunately I’ve seen many be too aggressive. Not everyone is training to be a pro athlete. Communicate your goals and philosophy of building gradually with them and make sure they understand you). Standard disclaimer: if you’ve got medical issues, like heart problems or an ongoing injury, check with your doctor or health practitioner before radically changing your activity level.
But remember, this is about doing what feels good to YOU, and your body probably already knows which movements it likes if you listen to it and don’t push it, so just stick with the original premise: 1) Move, 2) Schedule it.
In the comments below, let me know if this makes sense to you, and maybe even make a little commitment to moving your body more regularly (resolutions made publicly are WAY more likely to be successful! Here’s your chance to make an awesome change for yourself, and with some support too!)
(To my existing or past clients, this is my offer to you (no matter when you are reading this): I’m a PT nerd, and I’d love to nerd-out with you in a free, 15-minute phone conversation about YOU and how to make an exercise, or rather a “body movement that feels good,” plan for you. Since we’ve already worked with you, we know a bit about what your body has gone through, so it’ll be easier to have a simple conversation to plan out what might work for getting you exercising or improving how you’re exercising now. Like I said, I’m happy to nerd out on this with you! To take me up on this, Gimme a call: (805) 934-0663)
Jordan Larson, PT