Exercise has gotten complicated. There are guidelines and “prescriptions” regarding how much to do and how hard to do it. We are bombarded by information about heart rate, fat burning, VO2 max and sets and reps. But, despite all of the knowledge we’ve accumulated about how and why to exercise, we’re less fit than ever and increasingly overweight.
Our ancestors a century ago may not have lived as long as we do now, but they were very likely stronger and more fit than most of us. And they did it with a “routine” of squatting to milk the cow, lifting bales of hay, and kicking up their heels at the Saturday night dance; never thinking of target heart rate or fat burning.
What if you could be more like them? What if you didn’t have to “exercise”? I believe there are three key mistakes we’re making when it comes to modern day physical movement. Change these three things and you’ll be more likely to fit movement naturally into your life.
First, we have engineered activity out of our lives. By some experts’ estimates, conveniences such as remote controls, the drive through, escalators, and electric appliances reduce our daily energy expenditure by as much as 200 calories compared to just 25 – 30 years ago. That means that walking the stairs and including more manual labor in your day could equal that exercise class you’ve been trying to fit in.
Second, exercise can take all the fun out of moving. If “exercise” means to move solely for the purpose of improving your fitness or to burn calories, then I haven’t exercised since my last PE class in high school. Today, I run, ride, swim, climb and hike, but I never “exercise.” And I believe each of us has many things that are physical and that bring us happiness, relaxation or exhilaration. The more often you do these things, the less you have to “exercise” to be healthy. What is fun or relaxing to you? Would you enjoy going for a walk on the beach, going to the park or the museum, taking a dance class, working in your yard or bike riding with your children?
Third, there is more than one way to be fit and healthy. In his book, Through My Eyes, Tim Tebow attributes much of his success as an athlete to growing up “farm strong.” Instead of a gym, he had chores. And, many years ago I knew a t’ai chi teacher who embodied what his art teaches; a focus on movement as meditation that brings about inner calm and clarity. He never did an aerobics class or lifted a weight, and yet he was strong, lean, and flexible.
Exercise guidelines are valuable in that they outline the amount and intensity of exercise that is necessary to achieve specific fitness goals. But, most people never exercise at a level where all that science is relevant. And because exercise is so complicated, most people now doubt their own instincts when it comes to movement.
The “rules” for exercise need to be simple. Take advantage of opportunities to move, like skipping the drive through. Choose activities you can do for fun or combine moving with something else you love, like being with your children. And find what works for you; traditional cardio and strength training are not for everyone. Dancing, martial arts, yoga and many other choices that don’t fit the cardio/strength mold may be your “best” workout.