Exercise Tips For Couch Potatoes: How To Start An Exercise Routine Today

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - 8:58am

By John Messmer, MD

You’ve probably said it to yourself dozens of times: “I really should exercise more.” Perhaps you can’t face working out in a gym filled with sweaty people. Or maybe the idea of sports makes you cringe. Or perhaps you simply dread the idea of clearing off all the clothing or books stacked your Nordic Trak.

If you haven’t been exercising recently, the thought of starting again can be really intimidating. Well, fret not—you don’t need to be an athlete to get enough exercise. Here are some tips to get active again.

Walking is fun and easy

We walk every day, but modern life has reduced the number of steps we take. How often have you driven to the store and looked for the closest parking space? Do you take the elevator at work? The typical American takes fewer than 3,000 steps a day—which equates to about a mile and a half. Compare that to the Old Order Amish who average 18-20,000 steps daily.

It doesn’t feel like exercise if you just add a few extra steps to your routine. Buy a simple pedometer, available for under $10, and see how many steps you take daily now. Then make a few simple changes:

  • Park at the far end of parking lots when shopping and at work.
  • Take the stairs one flight up and two down. As you get good at it, take two flights up and four down.
  • Take a 10 minute walk at lunchtime. Each week, add a minute depending on how long your lunch period is. If there is not enough time at lunch, try it first thing in the morning or after work, or do 10 minutes in the morning, 10 at lunch, and 10 after work.
  • Don’t phone the office down the hall, walk there.
  • Try watching TV without the remote.
  • Walk the mall.
  • Enlist a friend or two for the sake of conversation.
  • Walk the dog. (Dogs need exercise, too.)
  • Cut the grass by walking behind a mower rather than riding.
  • Start a competition at work or school. Form teams who count their daily steps to see who gets the most each week. Enlist your boss; fit workers are more productive. See if the boss will allow the team with the most steps each week to leave an hour early on Friday.

If you can build up to 10,000 or more steps per day, the approximate equivalent of 5 miles, you will be on your way to increased fitness without ever stepping into a gym.

Dance your way to better health

Dancing is popular these days. Even if you have two left feet, just participating can be fun. Community centers and YMCAs often offer inexpensive lessons. Some dance centers may offer public dances for free or nominal fees, and dance classes may be more affordable than you think. There may be a dance club in your town or religious institution which welcomes new members for little or no cost.

Dancing twice a week increases fitness, but it can strengthen bones, reduce stress and may decrease risk of dementia. People can choose from ballroom, square dancing, tap, clogging, line dancing or contra dancing, or you can try the flavor of salsa, swing, flamenco or belly dancing. Besides the health benefit, it’s an opportunity to meet people and have fun.

Friends keep you motivated

Let’s face it, if you really liked to exercise you would not be reading this article. How do you get yourself up and out? The benefits of exercise take time to become apparent; and you need motivation now! If you and one or more friends exercise together, not showing up lets others down, too. It can be good motivation to get moving if others count on you.

Why bother exercising?

Our bodies adapt to the most intense energy expenditure we place on them regularly. If our greatest exertion is getting out of bed, that’s all we’ll ever be able to do. By the mid-30s, people who do not exercise tend to have more fatigue and in old age are more likely to be in a nursing home. Regular exercise increases our stamina, reduces fatigue, fights depression, and makes it more likely we will be living independently in old age. Exercise is like a 401k plan for our bodies. Putting a little exercise in our fitness 401k each week means better health and more fun in our later years. But unlike a financial retirement plan, we can use what we invest now because exercise pays interest daily.