Staying Motivated to Exercise Regularly

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August 30, 2016


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This post is available in: Spanish

Sometimes it’s hard to get moving, even though we know the health benefits. Joann Santiago-Charles, an exercise physiologist at Baptist Health’s Miami Cancer Institute, sees it all the time. Many people want to embrace a healthier lifestyle, but they dread even hearing the word: exercise.

“When it comes down to a choice of life or death, people will tend to engage in it more,” she said. But, she added, they generally are not happy about it — at least at first.

It’s no secret that physical activity can help prevent cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, worsening arthritis and many other conditions. You can add cancer to that list. A massive study by the National Cancer Institute revealed that exercise is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of 13 cancers.

“Most of the common cancers are related to a lack of physical activity. This study is significant because it showed that exercise, independent of other factors, helped to prevent cancer,” Ms. Santiago-Charles said. “Smoking, alcohol use and obesity are the three most preventable risk factors for a cancer diagnosis and mortality, and now physical inactivity can be added to the list.”

Not only can physical activity protect a person from developing cancer in the first place, but research has also found that cancer patients who engage in exercise can improve their survival and reoccurrence rates compared to patients who remain sedentary, she said.

Most People Fall Short of Recommended Physical Activity

“We all need to be mindful of engaging in physical activity every day,” Ms. Santiago-Charles said.

While it’s recommended adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise five or more days a week, most people fall short. The good news, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is that sweating for as little as 10 minutes can help prevent disease and ensure your body has the greatest chance at a long, healthy quality of life.

It’s all about what works best for you, Santiago-Charles said. “No one exercise program will work for everyone. It should be individualized and based on each person’s needs.”

Getting started is not as tough as it may seem, especially if you approach activity with a positive attitude. Ms. Santiago-Charles and other experts offer these tips:

Find something you enjoy. If you say you’re going to go to the gym five days a week to get on the treadmill, but you hate the treadmill, you are not going to sustain it. This is not supposed to be a quick fix, it’s supposed to be a lifestyle change. Find activities you’ll want to continue.

Break up your activity sessions. While the suggested “dose” of activity is a minimum of 30 minutes a day, you don’t have to do that all at once. If needed, break your activity into more manageable 10-minute sessions three times a day..

Vary your routine. Enjoy walking? Great! But swimming can also be fun and refreshing, and dancing around your living room can be a blast. Try something different. You’ll exercise different parts of your body and will be less likely to get bored.

Set goals that are realistic for you. Start slow, and gradually increase. A 10-minute walk or bike ride may be all you can handle initially. But once that starts to feel easy or routine, kick it up a bit by adding more time or intensity.

Don’t focus only on cardiovascular activity. Include the different components of fitness such as strengthening, flexibility and balance. All are important to your long-term health.

Don’t compare yourself to others. Your neighbor may run marathons, while you can barely get around the block. It doesn’t matter. This is about you, not about how others may perceive or judge you. Don’t psych yourself out before you even begin.

Consciously up the ante. You can add activity here and there and barely notice it. Stand on one leg while brushing your teeth or doing the dishes; bring in one bag of groceries at a time from the car; stretch or jump around during television commercials. When you park your car, don’t look for the space closest to the entrance. Instead, take a little hike through the parking lot to your destination. It all adds up.

Challenge yourself. Once you start moving, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you make progress. Try new things, or increase your routine. To get the highest benefit from physical activity, push yourself to a new comfort level.

Track your progress. It doesn’t matter where you start. What matters is how far you progress. Jot down how many minutes you engage in an activity, how far you go, or how much you can accomplish. Or wear a pedometer every day and watch your steps increase. Celebrate your continued commitment and any improvement. Yes, you should be proud.

Get a buddy — maybe. Some people enjoy having a partner or even joining a group. But don’t let the participation of others affect your own. Keep going, even if your buddy can’t — or doesn’t. Explains Ms. Santiago-Charles, “It’s important for people to take ownership of their activity goals and say, ‘I’m doing this for me.’ ”

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