Health experts recommend that children and adolescents get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day. Adults should aim for at least 35 minutes of moderate-intensity activity daily for weight loss. This need for regular exercise provides an opportunity for families to be active together. Instead of simply exercising alone, make exercise a priority and create a family activity calendar.
Make it big and bold.
Create your calendar on a dry erase board or poster board, and place it in a prominent place in the house. For each day, list the activity you will do as a family. Making the calendar visible to everyone will help the family make exercise a top priority.
Allow everyone to choose activities.
Give everyone in the family a chance to add his or her favorite activities to the calendar. When everyone is invested in the process, the willingness to participate increases. Every month, encourage each family member to come up with at least one new activity they want to try together. The more variety there is, the more excitement there will be about being active as a family.
Think outside the box.
Your active time does not have to be reserved for structured exercise like walks or bike rides. Dance competitions, scavenger hunts, and backyard circuit workouts will get your heart rate up, and you’ll be surprised how quickly an hour will fly by. Take advantage of local trails with a nature hike, sign up to walk or run a 5K as a family, or create games for the pool. Grab the soccer ball or basketball and head to the park for a family game. The goal is to make exercise fun for everyone.
Sticking to an activity schedule is an accomplishment that should be celebrated and rewarded. An afternoon movie, a healthy cooking class for kids, new books, puzzles, educational games, and new sports gear are all rewards that support a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
Your motivation soars when you first commit to a healthy lifestyle, but jumping into challenging workouts without training can put you at risk for burnout and injury. It’s important to gradually increase your physical activity so you stick with your workouts. There are a variety of ways that you can slowly build your fitness to reach your long term goals.
Tracking your exercise time makes it easy to gradually add more physical activity. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week, or 30 minutes 5 times per week. The 30 minutes can be broken into segments of at least 10 minutes spread throughout the day.
If you are new to exercise, 10 minutes at a time may be all you can handle. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t complete a 30-minute walk right away. Start with an amount of time that is challenging, but that does not leave you exhausted. After two weeks, try adding 1 minute to each session. If that is too much, add 30 seconds. If it’s too little, try adding 2 minutes. Stick with that time for 1 to 2 weeks and then use the same process to add more time.
If your goal is to compete in a road race, distance is likely your top priority. Whether you are walking, running, or biking, begin with a distance that is comfortable, but that also lasts at least the recommended 10 minutes. You might start with a 1-mile walk or run. Each week gradually increase your total distance by about 10 percent. This is the amount recommended for a safe and gradual increase as your fitness improves.
The intensity of exercise can make significant changes in your fitness level. Intensity applies to all types of exercise and it can be adjusted in many ways. With strength training, it may involve the amount of weight lifted, the speed of the repetition, or the rest time between sets. During cardiovascular exercise, the intensity can be varied by speed, inclines, and resistance on machines, like elliptical trainers or recumbent bikes.
Begin with an intensity that is comfortable until you become familiar with an exercise. Then begin to adjust the intensity so that the exercise challenges you more. Increase the weight of your dumbbells, or add intervals to a treadmill walk by increasing your speed or incline. These changes will give you the ability to exercise harder and longer.
As the weather improves, it’s time to add variety to your fitness routine by taking some workouts outside. It’s easy to transition from indoor to outdoor exercise, but the weather and type of exercise you choose determine what you need for a safe and effective workout. Take time to prepare for your outdoor exercise.
The heat, humidity, and increased sweating makes dehydration a greater risk during outdoor activities. Hiking, long runs, and bike rides can also take you further from a water source. Hydration needs vary from person to person, but the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) offers general guidelines for fluid intake . Drink 16-20 ounces at least four hours before exercise, and drink 8-12 ounces 10-15 minutes before exercise. During exercise, drink 3-8 ounces every 15-20 minutes. After your workout, drink 20-24 ounces of fluid for every pound lost. A sports beverage may be necessary during exercise for durations over 60 minutes. The ACSM recommends not exceeding 1 quart of fluid per hour during exercise. Be sure to pack enough water to meet these guidelines when you set out for longer duration activities like hikes and bike rides.
Dress for exercise success.
Moisture-wicking clothing is essential for outdoor exercise whether the conditions are cool, hot, or humid. Unlike cotton that can trap heat and moisture, this exercise clothing keeps you dry and cool which helps to prevent overheating. From shirts and shorts to hats and socks, be sure you have the clothing you need to perform well during your workout.
Outdoor exercise requires sunscreen to protect your skin from sun damage. Look for sweatproof varieties that are designed for outdoor exercise. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater. Be sure to cover all exposed skin, and don’t forget sunscreen for your lips and exposed scalp. Also remember those areas you might expose as you heat up, like your shoulders if you roll up shirt sleeves, or the lower legs if you remove the bottom portion of hiking pants.
Assess your footwear.
Depending on the type of exercise you choose, your footwear requirements may change when transitioning from indoor to outdoor exercise. For example, hiking or trail running requires a sturdy shoe designed for the activity, instead of a standard running or walking shoe that is meant for the road or treadmill.
Take it slow.
Outdoor activities can be more challenging than the activities you are used to in the gym. Hills, rough terrain, wind, and warmer temperatures can make even a simple walk more difficult. Don’t get discouraged if you struggle to complete the same distance or workout time once you are outside. Do what you can, and gradually increase the time and intensity each week until you reach your goals.
Walking remains one of the most accessible and effective forms of physical activity for many people. Not only does it burn calories and improve heart health, research has shown that it can improve your mood and reduce tension. Use these ideas to find easy ways to walk more.
Take a Day Hike
Add some exploration to your weekend routine and plan a day hike. Whether you have access to coastal trails, deep forests, or mountains, weekend hiking is a great way to move more without making exercise feel like a chore. Pack a few healthy snacks and water, gather your family or friends, and set out to explore your area. Research shows that lower intensity, longer duration activities like hiking can improve blood cholesterol levels, improve insulin function, and burn calories for weight loss.
Give Yourself a Mental Break
Work stress and family conflicts affect everyone. Regular mental breaks are necessary to get your mind off of the problem and to help you brainstorm effective solutions. A 10 to 15 minute walk gives you a break from your current environment, adds exercise to your day, and leaves you feeling mentally refreshed. Don’t wait for a problem to arise before you take advantage of walking. Take regular breaks throughout your day to walk away stress.
Step Out of Your Comfort Zone with an Active Commute
Walking to work, or to complete errands, can be challenging due to distance or lack of a pedestrian-friendly route. Investigate ways you can make a portion of your commute active. Can you walk to a coworker's house and then carpool from there? Can you walk to complete your errands or to meetings once you are at the office? Every little bit helps your health, so don’t get overwhelmed with the feeling that you need to complete a full five-mile commute to get exercise.
Always Be Prepared
You are likely faced with many opportunities to walk throughout the day, but you may be unprepared. Arriving early, waiting for a phone call, or a casual business meeting are all opportunities to squeeze in 10 to 15 minutes. Keep your tennis shoes nearby, or even better, invest in casual dress shoes that are designed with the comfort and support necessary for walking.
Muscle tension and tightness can contribute to back pain, making core flexibility an important factor in keeping your back healthy and pain free. Stretches that gently elongate the back muscles should be a regular part of your core strengthening routine. Ease into these stretches, and hold each for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat two to three times.
Move onto your hands and knees on the floor. Position your knees so that they are hip-width apart and your hands so that they are about shoulder-width apart. Contract your stomach muscles as you round your back and slightly tuck your chin. Release the stretch and return to a flat back before repeating.
Sit up straight in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Rotate your upper body to the right, and place your right hand at the edge of the chair where the back of the chair meets the seat. Place the left hand on the edge of the seat, just under your right thigh. Sit up tall as you rotate at the torso and stretch the back muscles. Slowly return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side by rotating to the left.
Knees to Chest
Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Slowly pull your right knee into your chest. Grasp your your leg at the top of your shin and gently pull the knee in closer. Return the right leg to the starting position, and repeat the stretch with your left leg. Next, pull both knees in towards your chest at the same time. To deepen the stretch, as you pull one leg into your chest, extend the opposite leg out along the floor.
Seated Forward Bend
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you and your feet flexed. Sit up straight and raise your arms straight up in the air over your head. Gently bend forward at the waist as you reach your arms out towards your feet. Let your hands rest wherever is comfortable, such as at your knees, shins, ankles, or feet. Reach only as far as you feel a stretch with slight discomfort, not pain. To deepen the stretch, you can grasp the end of a rolled towel or yoga strap in each hand and wrap it around the balls of your feet. Gently pull the towel towards you as you bend forward into the stretch.