No matter the time of year, we often find ourselves short on time and facing other demands that compete with our desire to be physically active. But in the winter, the cold, short days compound the problem, making us even less interested in exerting a little energy in the interests of good health. Instead, we’d rather snuggle up with a good book in front of a cozy fire. So how can we stay motivated to move our bodies? It’s time to take a trip back in time.
Finding Your Inner Kid
Think back to the days when moving your body was something you did just for fun. Careening down the road on your bike, hair flying behind you, a smile on your face. Running through a field, pulling a kite, trying to get it into the air. Wildly dancing along with your best friend when your favorite tune came on the radio. It makes us feel good just to think about it.
How do we find that joy in moving our bodies again? Here’s a clue: Focus on the fun – not how many calories we’ll burn, how long we have to do it, or whether we’re working our hamstrings vs. our triceps. Look for ways to enhance the enjoyment we get from physical activities.
For many of us, a little understanding of human nature can help. People are social animals. Therefore, it stands to reason that doing something with people we enjoy can change the whole character of the process — even a process such as work!
- Tip #1: Don’t try to go it alone. Pair up with a friend to take walks, snowshoe through the woods, go to the gym. Take an active winter vacation with several of your girlfriends. Try downhill or cross-country skiing. Or travel to a warmer clime, to spend your week snorkeling, biking, skating, hiking, or the like. Sign up for physical activity classes, where you’ll be a part of a group. (Look for facilities that have a caring and accepting environment for women of all ages.) A personal trainer can also help – just find one you like and who is accepting of you and realistic about goals (See Fitbriefing The Pros of Personal Training).
Another insight into human nature has to do with our predilection for choices. You’ve heard the old adage: Variety is the spice of life.
- Tip #2: Add spice to your routine by finding different physical activities to entertain yourself with. Mall-walking in inclement weather certainly holds appeal for the shoppers among us. Gives us all that time to check out store windows, so we can use our shopping time more wisely! If you haven’t tried snowshoeing, put it on your ‘to-do’ list. New technology has made snowshoes easy to put on and maneuver. The best thing about them: If you know how to walk, you can be an expert! There’s no learning curve to slow you down. Take up indoor tennis, or even try your hand (and feet) at some self-defense courses that will move your body as well as provide you some important self-protection skills.
Whose Body Is This Anyway?
After the fun comes the benefits. There’s no getting around it: Physical activity is good for us! But do we really grasp why it is good for us?
Ask many of the women who come to Green Mountain at Fox Run to name the primary benefit of physical activity, and burning calories ranks right up there at the top. But picture this: It’s early on a cold, dark morning and you’re lying there thinking it’s time to get up and take a walk or go to the gym like you planned. But your bed is warm and snuggly, and the thought of getting out of it isn’t too inviting. If your reason to get out is primarily to burn some calories, then you’ve probably got at best a 50-50 chance of actually following through with your plan.
Consider another scenario. What if you think the primary benefit of physical activity is how good you’re going to feel after you do it? Actually going for the walk, or taking advantage of the gym membership you paid for, can leave you feeling invigorated with greater energy, a sense of accomplishment and a more positive outlook. It can tremendously improve your whole day!
- Tip #3: Get in touch with how good regular physical activity feels! Let the other, sometimes less motivating benefits such as burning calories or future health serve as bonuses, not the reason for doing it today.
Okay, Okay…So Physical Activity Does Help Us Manage Our Weight
At Green Mountain, we try to get our participants to focus on fitness, not weight management. Why? Because if we’re focused on health and fitness, we’re more likely to be engaged in behaviors that will bring our bodies to a healthy weight that’s right for us. If we’re focused on weight, we’re more easily led astray by quick weight loss schemes or other efforts that end up sabotaging, instead of supporting, us.
But back to our topic. While we encourage them not to focus on it, we do recognize that successful weight management remains a primary goal of many women who come to us. With that in mind, it’s worthwhile to review the results of a recent study that looked at the physical activity habits of women aged 35-50 years.
The study showed that active women, who participated in daily activity, had more muscle and, subsequently, a higher metabolic rate than sedentary women. And face it, that means they not only burn more calories when they’re moving their bodies than the women who are sitting around, but they also burn more calories when they’re sitting around! So while that thought may not always get us out of bed in the morning, it certainly can add a little incentive to make plans to get moving.
- Tip #4: Remember that physically active people aren’t just those who carve out 30 minutes or more a day to devote to a specific exercise. We can break that 30 minutes up into three 10-minute sessions and still reap the benefits.
So instead of sitting and talking at your next client or co-worker meeting, why not suggest that you walk and talk instead? You’ll likely find this a very welcome suggestion, one that helps your colleague as well as yourself.
As Always, Be Realistic!
Setting goals we can measure can help us achieve them. But remember it’s critical that they are realistic goals. If you set out to increase the number of steps you take in a day, get a pedometer to know how many you currently take (see FitBriefing Moving for Life). Then set your goal based on that number, not on a number that someone else says you should be reaching. While we may want to eventually meet a recommended goal, we want to set up smaller goals along the way.
- Tip #5: It’s the small step theory: Small steps are much easier to take than long leaps. By breaking our goals into smaller, more easily achieved steps,…well…we’ll more easily achieve them!