Simple Steps for Better Health

As a Health Psychologist, I wholeheartedly believe that exercise is one of the best medicines for the body and the mind. And you don’t need to buy any equipment or pay for a gym membership or class to do it. The problem is, I am a couch potato and have never been one to workout. Week 2 of my wellness class was all about physical activity. This includes exercise as well as increased movement in general. Here’s a summary of what I learned, how I applied it to my own life, and how I lost 7 pounds in two weeks!

Welcome to another Wellness Wednesday feature. You may recall from last week’s post on the SAD Standard American Diet that I enrolled in a 12-week wellness class. Follow my journey as I summarize what I learn each week and how I implemented it into my life. Week 2 is Physical Activity Basics, during which we learned suggestions on how to increase our activity level.

Previously I wrote about the 10 leading causes of death in the USA and how lifestyle factors (including diet and exercise) can contribute to them. This fact is one of the primary reasons I went into the field of Behavioral Medicine.

We also discussed that, sadly, medical debt is the #1 reason for bankruptcy in this country.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not only important for our physical and financial well-being, but also for our emotional wellbeing.

Physical Activity Basics

Physical activity can come in many forms. It is recommended that adults receive 150 minutes of moderate exercises per week (30 minutes 5 days a week) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. (Children need even more exercise.)

1 minute of vigorous intensity exercises are roughly equivalent to 2 minutes of moderate intensity exercises.

Moderate activities Vigorous activities
Brisk walking Running or Jogging
Aerobics Swimming laps
Cycling on ground-level Cycling on incline
Doubles tennis Singles tennis
Pushing lawn mower Playing basketball

How can you tell if you are getting moderate exercise? You should feel your heart rate go up and break a sweat, but you can still talk.

Types of Physical Activity

Aerobic Activities

Aerobic exercises get our heart rate up. These types of exercises burn the most calories. Examples include:

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  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Swimming
  • Dancing
  • Skating
  • Sports
Strengthening Activities

Strengthening Activities are important for building and maintaining muscle. Examples include:

  • Weight lifting
  • Resistance bands
  • Stability balls
  • Pilates
Flexibility Activities

Flexibility Activities help us increase our range of motion. Examples include:

  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Stretching
Lifestyle activity

Lifestyle activities are things we can do as part of our everyday lives to get moving. Examples include:

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  • Walking the dog
  • Gardening or Yardwork*
  • Playing with children
  • Vacuuming or other Housework*
  • Washing the car*
  • Walking or Biking rather than driving*
  • Climbing the stairs rather than the elevator

*Doing theses activities yourself rather than hiring it out will not only be good for your health, but will also save money.

NEAT

Even if you don’t have a structured exercise program, you can still increase physical activity through daily actions. Increasing the number of steps we take each day is a great start.

Lifestyle activities are important because of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT), which is the calories burned outside of normal exercise. Choices we make every day such as parking farther, taking the stairs, or doing our own chores rather than hiring someone else can contribute to our daily activity.

Walking 1 mile briskly burns (on average) 100 calories.

My Week 2 Progress

My challenge this week was to continue to log my food and weight, and to aim for increased movement throughout the day (including 150 minutes a week of exercise)

Nutrition for the week:

Meals and snacks this week included:
  • Chicken enchilada soup with homemade broth
  • Pasta with homemade marinara
  • Pizza (though I did eat smaller portions than usual)
  • Stuffed peppers
  • Trail mix
  • Apples
  • 1/3 of a (very large) cinnamon muffin
Physical activity this week included:
  • Walking 30 minutes on 3 days during lunch
    • Once was with my good friend Stephanie, which made it so much more fun! We decided to make this a regular lunchtime routine.
  • Taking the stairs rather than the elevator
    • Stephanie and I also decided to start our lunchtime walks by going up and down 7 flights of stairs.
  • 1 hour playing outside with my children (including running after a 2-year-old and along side a bike-riding 4-year-old)

    Photo by Geert Pieters on Unsplash
  • 20 minutes of arm exercises (no equipment) while watching TV
  • 200 reps (100 each side) of arm exercises with a resistance band
    • I have also upcycled heavy-duty oversized rubber band from an old punching balloon, just be careful it doesn’t break and slap you!

Results for Week 2

I had a goal to walk for 30 minutes a day 5 days a week during lunch. Unfortunately, I had to work through my break some days. I was successful at taking more steps each day and adding some strength training (arm exercises) to my weekly activity. Playing with my kids was also a lot of fun (usually I am inside writing while my husband takes them out to play).

Regarding weight loss, I lost an additional 3 pounds in week two, for a total of -7 pounds since starting this journey.

Couch to 5k

Next week, I will be starting a program called Couch to 5K. It’s a training plan for couch potatoes like me who have little to no experience running. Over the course of 8-10 weeks, you alternate between walking and running in a prescribed way  gradually increasing endurance to jog for 30 minutes (which is the approximate amount of time to go 5 kilometers).

It doesn’t cost anything but a few minutes a week. There are a number of apps, but you don’t need to download anything. I just use this simple training plan that was suggested during my wellness class.

I will do better with a buddy. I’ve created my schedule based around my son’s practices so he can jog with me. My bestie Jillian is also starting the program. She lives across the country, but we keep each other encouraged through daily texts. Having someone to whom we’re accountable also helps keep us motivated.

Final Thoughts

Every step counts. To get started, consider thinking about anything you hire others to do that you can start doing yourself. Yardwork, housework, and other chores are a great place to get started. For me, pulling weeds is an amazing workout for my hamstrings – and it saves money and the environment by not spraying expensive chemicals.

Taking the stairs, walking rather than driving, and not relying on others for things you can do yourself can make a big difference in the amount of activity we receive over time.

 

What things can you do to increase your physical activity this week?

 

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