Here we are at the end of October. It’s getting cold out, and those well-meaning quarantine resolutions you made all those weeks ago seem far away. Especially that one to “get in shape.”
That’s where we come in. With a little tough love.
This article is part of a fall wellness series RELEVANT is producing in partnership with Unite Health Share Ministries.
Because getting in shape doesn’t have to be that hard. And it’s good for you. But you know all that. So here’s the thing: You need to just do it. After you finish this (and hear our handy tips) get off your couch/chair/chaise lounge or wherever it is you’re reading this. And go.
The snag is, of course, that a lifestyle of fitness seems inaccessible due to time, money, or physical constraints. Why? Because the act of staying in shape has gotten wrapped up with the health club culture. We associate” getting exercise” with going to the gym, wearing fancy workout clothes, strapping into a space age weight-training machine, or signing up for classes full of sexy, 1-percent-body-fat, pneumatically gifted Energizer bunnies. In such environments, the intimidation level runs nearly as high as the bunnies’ energy levels. But you can do it all by yourself, with no expensive equipment, no embarrassing clothing, and no glistening hardbodies nearby to mock your tonelessness. Here’s something every adult should know: Keeping fit is much easier than you think. All it takes is a little creativity and determination.
Gyms Are for Sissies
Okay, that’s not comprehensively true. There are tons of people who have found fitness clubs to be very beneficial. Clubs provide access to equipment and programs most of us don’t have at home. But there’s something odd about those shimmering bodies chugging away on those treadmills and bicycles. Because how many people do you know who will drive two miles to the health club, at which point they climb onto the treadmill for a two-mile jog? Maybe there’s something to be said for watching CSI while striding upon an eternal slab of rubber, but wouldn’t it be just as beneficial to actually walk or run to the gym, where you could then participate in some other health-related activity? Or to cut out the expensive membership altogether and just go out and exercise in the real world?
Fresh morning air. Well-manicured lawns. Even busy city streets with countless things to see. Jogging outdoors is an adventure. Jogging on a treadmill is, well, not much different from a hamster wheel. Same goes for cycling.
Here’s the point: We are surrounded by opportunities to stay fit throughout the day, but because we’re conditioned to associate exercise with the health club, we’re blind to them. We’re due for a redefinition of “exercise.”
Move, Baby, Move
Exercising at the gym requires both time and money. Some of us don’t have the time to commit to a daily or weekly gym routine. Others don’t have the cash to join a club, which can begin at a basic $40 a month and grow from there. These things become prohibitive to people who’d like to exercise but just can’t make the commitment. Fortunately for you, there’s a simple solution to this problem: change your definition of exercise.
How? By making exercise less formal. Instead of confining it to the stuff we usually think of as “exercise,” let’s identity exercise by one all-important attribute: movement. Exercise employs some form of movement toward the task of maintaining fitness. It means pumping your legs and flailing your arms, and doing so at a pace that gets your heart beating a little faster. Mix in some good arm and leg movement on a daily basis, and you’ve got yourself a gym-free lifestyle of fitness.
Consider housework. The simple activity of operating a vacuum cleaner requires movement. It’s work. Next weekend, how about burning calories and boosting your heart rate by vacuuming with vigor? Put a little drive into your dusting. Scrub the tub with enthusiasm. Mow the yard, pull weeds, dig up the flower bed with gusto.
Sound too easy? Maybe so, but that’s the beauty of the Movement Plan—it eases fitness into your busy lifestyle by locating it in unexpected places. One of the best ways to put it to work requires undergoing a simple mindset reversal, which is to …
Ours is a culture that wants convenience and wants it, like, right now. Or sooner, if you can swing that. We expect express lanes at the supermarket, express oil changes at the quick lube, and express credit card processing online. We’ll spend ten minutes circling a parking lot for a more convenient parking space, never realizing that had we parked as far away from the store as possible at the beginning and simply started walking, we’d be inside by now.
Every time we opt for convenience, we pass up a chance to exercise. The next time you go to work or the mall, pay attention to the way you do things. Make every decision as you normally would, but be aware of the missed opportunities. Do you take the elevator to your fourth-floor office instead of using the stairs? Do you make a phone call or dash off an email to a coworker when you could just as easily walk down the hall and talk in person?
Rebelling against a life of ease is one way to exploit the many chances for fitness we encounter every day. But ifyou absolutely have to ride the elevator, you might consider another option, which is to …
Get Out and Walk
In a 2002 survey conducted by RT Neilson for Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), the popular specialty outdoors retail chain, more than 70 percent of Americans said that outdoor leisure activities are more effective in relieving stress than indoor ones. Nine out of ten respondents indicated that spending time outside lifted their spirits.
So do you have to mountain bike, snowshoe or kayak to exercise outdoors? Nope. Although those activities do carry something of a cool quotient, they can be just as expensive as a gym membership. A more reasonable idea is just to go outside and walk.
Perhaps you think you’re too busy to find the suggested 30 minutes of time, but you’re wrong. Consider your workday. Many working Joes take a couple of fifteen-minute breaks during the day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Add that to a half-hour-or hour-long lunch break, and you’ve got plenty of time during the day to get moving. Instead of hanging out by the coffee machine or browsing Facebook during your breaks, why not get some fresh air?
Fitting physical activities into your daily routine does wonders for your lifestyle. It refreshes your spirits, burns calories, and increases your energy level. You look better, feel better, and perform better. Be aware of how lazy you’ve become—how lazy we’ve all become—then do something about it. Change your habits, defy convenience, thumb your nose at our too-efficient society.
Jason Boyett is the author of Things You Should Know by Now (Relevant, May 2003) and A Guy's Guide to Life (Transit, October 2004). He lives in Texas with his wife and two little kids.