A new year typically brings new resolutions. While making resolutions is easy, sticking with them is not. Exercise-related resolutions consistently make the top 10 list, but up to 80% of resolutions to be healthier, including promises to exercise more, are tossed aside by February.
How active should you be? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week.
So, let's think about physical activity in a different way. As a nurse who researches exercise, I can tell you that it is likely the closest thing to a fountain of youth or a magic pill that you will have in your lifetime.
Research shows that every single system in the body benefits when you are more active. You sleep better. You have more energy. You find yourself in a better mood. You think more clearly and remember better. Your bones become stronger. Your body also responds better to insulin, which lowers your risk of diabetes. And you significantly reduce your risk for many cancers. All of that is in addition to the better known weight and heart benefits of physical activity.
Bottom line: If you want to live a long and healthy life, you need to be active.
Brisk walking, at a pace of at least a 20-minute mile, provides health benefits similar to running, and probably more social benefits. Plus, your risk of injury is much lower. And you can walk—for free with nothing more than comfortable shoes—from almost anywhere: your neighborhood, your office, or in lieu of waiting behind the wheel of your car in the pickup line at your kid's school. A 22-minute walk every day, or two 11-minute ones, would put you just over 150 minutes every week.
It isn't cheating to break your 150 minutes a week into small increments. In fact, even for people who are physically fit and exercise every day, breaking up periods of sitting is critically important. Even if you are getting enough exercise, sitting for the rest of the day can undo the health benefits of your workout. If you aren't yet ready to aim for 2.5 hours of brisk walking each week, reducing the time you spend sitting would be a great starting goal.
Many experts who work with clients or patients to set goals using the acronym SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based) to guide goal-setting. This simple method could help you achieve a goal to sit less and move more in the new year:
One of the best ways to keep up with your efforts is to track your progress. You can do it with pen and paper, in a journal, or in one of many smartphone apps. As you see yourself making progress, it can be easier to keep up the routine.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you don't have to go to a gym to get moving. There are ways to make exercise part of your lifestyle, without too much inconvenience.
As you undertake the big change from being inactive to becoming active, understand that setbacks happen. Don't let one slip-up derail your whole goal. When possible, have a backup plan to deal with barriers like weather or time constraints. And celebrate the small victories you make toward reaching longer-term goals.