When I was a child, I loved to ride my bicycle. My brother and I would race up and down our gravel driveway, build small ramps to go over and play “cops and robbers” which involved chasing one another by bicycle. I can still remember the feeling of freedom when riding my bike and we didn’t once think about heart rates, exercising in the optimal “fat burning” zone or that we were building strong muscles and lungs. We were playing and having fun and I’m sure my mother was thrilled to have us out of the house and out of her hair. I can remember getting my first “10-speed” bicycle. My mother saw an offer at the local bank for an exchange of a 10 speed for opening a savings account. She took my brother and me to open our first savings account and in exchange for no interest for 6 months, I got a cool new bike. It was too big for me but I rode it anyway. The new bike wasn’t as good on jumps, the tires flattened more often and getting on and off was a challenge, but I felt so cool riding that bike. Back then, moving and being active was fun, it was joyful.
As a plant-based mentor, I work with people who want to make lifestyle changes in the pursuit of gaining better health. Good health means different things to different people. For some, it means losing weight. For others being healthy means avoiding taking medicines and avoiding disease. Among these people, some exercise, many do not. The reason most often given for not exercising is not enough time. The second most common reason is they don’t like exercising. When I press the issue and ask if there was an activity they enjoyed doing when they were young, the responses are vast. Responses range from rollerskating, hula hooping, and climbing trees to swimming, playing sports and playing tag. Granted for some, they grew up in a time when there were fewer television programs, no computers or cell phones. But my college-aged clients, have fond childhood memories of nature hikes, skateboarding, rollerblading, dancing and riding bikes. Many of these clients, refer to themselves as “non-athletic”, yet, as children, they rode bikes and climbed trees but didn’t participate in organized sports so believe they are not athletes. In my opinion, being athletic has little to do with exercising which is why I prefer to call it joyful movement. The idea is to find something you like, something that makes your heart sing, and then as Nike says, ‘just do it’ and do it consistently. If you are new to movement, go easy at first. You may find that the next day you are “pleasantly aware of your muscles”, meaning they may be a bit sore. But that means you worked them and they are getting stronger. Your new found joyful movement may be dancing to your favorite soundtrack, walking around the block or dusting off the bike. Whatever it is that you enjoy, that requires moving your body, do that. Walking is one of the BEST ways to move. It requires only comfy shoes. No gym membership, no special clothes and you can do it with others or solitary. The idea is to just keep a pace that makes you slightly breathy. This pace may be different for you than for other people so pay attention to your body signals and go at your own pace and choose a distance that feels good for you. As your endurance improves, this distance may change. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But a brick laid every day over many years created an empire just as walking some every day, for many years, contributes to better health and physical endurance.
While I encourage various types of movement and encourage you to choose lengths of time that best suit your physical condition and lifestyle, it may be helpful to know what the government’s physical activity guidelines are:
Don’t let these recommendations discourage and stop you. They are only guidelines. As stated in the Healthy People 2020, exercise is beneficial to health and for people who are inactive, even small increases in physical activity are associated with health benefits. For example, among adults and older adults, physical activity can lower the risk of:
- Early death
- Coronary heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Breast and colon cancer
As mentioned above, don’t get too caught up in the numbers and recommendations. The point is to move your body and if it is fun and enjoyable it won’t be a chore and you will do it more. It is far easier to continue doing something enjoyable. If you enjoy the garden, get out in the garden and shovel, rake, squat and stretch while planting and weeding. You will move your body, have a beautiful environment to spend time and if growing veggies will have a tasty crop to also fuel your body. If you are having difficulty finding something you like to do, think back to the activities you liked as a kid when movement was fun. If you liked climbing trees back then, maybe venture out in nature and climb a tree or a hill or scramble over some rocks. Find the joy in movement and laugh, jump, skip your way to better health. Regardless of what you choose, don’t keep procrastinating …JUST GET MOVING!
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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. 2008 Physical activity guidelines for Americans. Washington, DC: HHS; 2008.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Physical activity guidelines advisory committee report, 2008. Washington, DC: HHS, 2008.
Rasberry CN, Lee SM, Robin L, et al. The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance: a systematic review of the literature. Prev Med. 2011;52:S10-S20.