Originally written for The Washington Post, August 24th, 2016
There are many reasons that people avoid exercise. Time is an obvious one. Our lives are already busy — who has time to work out? Money is another common excuse. Gym memberships and equipment can get pricey.
People often wonder what type of exercise they should do. There are so many different forms and confusing information that it can be unclear what’s best. People also worry that they’ll get injured. Exercise can be fun until you get hurt, so it may seem easier to just avoid it. Many also wonder what the point of putting forth all that effort is. Although some crave that adrenaline rush, others don’t understand what the fuss is all about.
Why physically and mentally endure exercise?
Although there may be logical reasons to avoid exercise, it’s not a justifiable option. Most of us don’t move enough, and it’s affecting our health. We live in a sedentary culture and must incorporate more movement into our daily routines. Regular activity can have a positive effect on our weight, mood, cardiovascular health, blood pressure, stress management and blood-sugar levels.
What many forget is that there is a form of exercise that bypasses most of the excuses above: steps. Adding steps into your daily routine can make a big difference.
Steps are simple but require mindfulness. To walk, we must learn to stand properly. If done correctly, standing and walking can work your entire body for the better.
Begin standing instead of sitting. Start with one minute per day. It seems silly, but this is significant. As you practice standing, engage the muscles in your body for good posture. The best way to learn how to stand up straight is to lean against a wall to feel what it’s like to stand up. Feel your head on top of your shoulders, with your neck and shoulders relaxed, your abdominal muscles engaged and your pelvis in a neutral position so that the muscles in your hips and back are balanced.
As you create a solid standing posture, set a timer for yourself at the office or during your day and stand for one minute. You’ll find that adjusting to standing more often than sitting is an important shift. The body has to work to stand. Let your body get used to it.
With a solid standing stance, find ways to incorporate more steps into your day to increase activity.
• Get some fresh air and walk outside every day. Even one to five minutes helps if that’s all the time you have.
• Set a very small goal. Start with 100 extra steps. You can count the steps or use a pedometer or wearable device.
• Step side to side. Start by doing it 10 times per foot. You can do this while watching TV, working on your computer or talking on the phone.
• Use the stairs instead of the elevator. If you have one to three flights, get in the routine of taking the stairs. If it’s several flights, decide when the elevator is a better option than the stairs.
• Get competitive. Many step apps allow you to share your steps with a community. This can be motivating for many who hate to lose or like being held accountable.
• Go on walking dates rather than eating dates. Whether it’s with a dear friend, colleague or partner, meet up and go for a long walk and talk rather than sitting and eating.
• Walk when feeling tired. A high-intensity workout may seem unappealing when you’re feeling sluggish, but a long walk may be just right.
• Clear your mind and walk. Count your breaths while focusing on mindfulness, or listen to a podcast, music or an audiobook to take your mind off your day and refocus.
• Create a new routine. Start with five minutes and work up to a goal of at least 10 minutes. Consider incorporating a walk into your morning, midday or evening routine.
• Start doing more action-filled activities. Go on a hike instead of to the movies. Stroll across the city to your favorite restaurant. Walk home from a party to end the night.
Whether you prefer an app, pedometer or wearable device, using one to monitor your steps can make you more likely to walk. It can also make you more accountable, help you set goals (a common recommendation is 10,000 steps per day) and stoke friendly competition with your community or even just yourself. If you’re feeling extremely unmotivated, this may be exactly what you need to form a habit.
Start with walking one minute a day so that it’s not time-
consuming. There’s no need to make it a high-intensity workout. Just put one foot in front of the other.