Tips for making fitness (and improved health) fun and easy
Periodically, most of us resolve to start living a healthier lifestyle -- which probably includes becoming more physically active. Not sure where or how to start? Here are a few suggestions based on the SmallStep program developed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services:
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1. Establish your starting point
To get a very quick idea of your current physical condition (particularly, whether you have too much body fat), complete the following BMI (Body Mass Index) calculator:
- Underweight = <18.5
- Normal weight = 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight = 25 to 29.9
- Obesity = BMI of 30 or greater
Note: If this calculator does not work with your browser, please refer to BMI Table.
Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
Limitations of the BMI calculator: It may overestimate the body fat of athletes and others who are muscular while underestimating body fat for the elderly or those who have lost muscle. Also, youth ages 2-19 should use a calculator developed specifically for them at http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi
Another way to help assess your current condition is the weight circumference test. If you are a male and your waistline measures more than 40 inches or you are a female with a waistline exceeding 35 inches, chances are that you are carrying too much fat around your waist -- which puts you at a greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
2. Set fitness goals
Don't be afraid to start with small fitness goals to get you moving in the right direction. Then, build on the momentum as your time, fitness level and lifestyle permit. Becoming healthy shouldn't be a chore or a race but rather a fun, long term lifestyle.
Sample starting goals could be:
- Take your dog for more walks.
- Play golf or tennis with friends.
- Play frisbee or ball with your kids.
- Ride your bike to work
- Go for a walk over lunch hour (or instead of smoke breaks).
- Mow your lawn with a push mower in summer.
- Use a shovel rather than snow blower to clear the walks in winter.
- Wash your car by hand.
- Park on the far end of the lot at work or the mall (keeping darkness safety considerations in mind, of course).
- Choose stairs over the escalator or elevator.
- On weekends, become involved in gardening or a hiking, walking, biking or bird watching club.
- At the beach or pool, go for a walk or swim rather than sunbathing.
- Instead of watching sports on TV, volunteer to coach or referee for a youth league
- Rake leaves rather than hiring the neighbor kids.
- March in place or jump on a mini trampoline when watching TV.
- Hang clothes on an outdoor clothesline.
- Wash your car by hand with a hose and cloth or sponge.
- Attend inexpensive or even free exercise programs offered in your local community center
Try to work up to the point where you are being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
If you have a difficult time setting aside chunks of time for exercise, consider wearing a pedometer to count your daily steps. Two pedometers endorsed by the Presidential Active Lifestyle Awards are the AE2790 Pedometer and the more basic StepLinq and neither should cost you more than $10. Set a target of walking 2,000 steps (approximately one mile) each day.
3. Record your daily activities
On a calendar, keep track of what you're doing each day and the number of minutes -- or the number of pedometer steps. Seeing the calendar can serve as reinforcement -- knowing that each day you make an entry is moving you one step closer to achieving your fitness goals.
4. Monitor and assess your progress
If you're reaching your goal of 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week -- congratulations! Now what are some slightly more challenging goals you can set for yourself?
If you are not achieving your goal, what is getting in your way? If it's the weather, consider joining a health club or purchasing a jump rope, elastic bands or even a wii and some fitness games. If it is time or your energy level, think about exercising before rather than after work. Perhaps, at this time, you need to set more realistic goals -- but the important thing is to not give up.