People always ask me, "How much should I exercise?" The short answer is that there’s no one perfect fit that applies to everyone.
These days it feels like we’re faced with a barrage of competing messages — Exercise five times every day! Never exercise! Only exercise on weekends! — and it’s hard to know which ones to listen to.
It’s become a goal of mine lately to wrap my head around the science of it all, to really understand the benefits exercise can have on our minds and bodies, and to encourage people to do what’s right for them even if it means backing off a little. To be gentle on their bodies. To actually enjoy exercise and not use it as a torture device.
I should tell you that I used to do a LOT of exercise. I competed in 24-hour mountain bike races. I ran 6 miles to-and-from work every day. I went for 3-hour bush runs on weekends. I brought first dates to the gym and could beat my boyfriends in arm wrestling matches. I thought I was doing it right.
Despite this “active” lifestyle, I found myself feeling wiped out more often than I was energized.
Injuring myself was common and after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, I eventually had to accept that my current idea of fitness was somehow not right for me.
It took some time, but ultimately I’ve realized that pushing myself to extreme levels of exercise was not only unhealthy, it was just dumb and ineffective. We are meant to move and be energized, to get our blood flowing, but anything beyond that is potentially dangerous.
A recent Danish study found physical activity can indeed help weight loss, so long as it’s around half an hour per day, no more. Did you hear that? 30 minutes!
Now that I ascribe to this short-and-sweet style of daily exercise, I’m fitter than I’ve ever been, both physically and internally. Like I said before, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to fitness but I wanted to share some tips that have worked for me and hopefully they’ll work for you too!
So, how did I get fitter by doing less? Here are some simple steps:
1. Exercise every day.
Not 3-4 times a week. Not every-other-day. Exercise every day. If not, you’ll tire yourself out deciding when to skip and when to workout. If you commit to doing something every day, you don’t have to take that extra step of deciding “yes” or “no.”
2. Keep it short and sweet.
Thirty minutes every day? Totally achievable!
3. Mix it up.
Back when we were cave people, one day was spent wandering for hours looking for berries while the next was spent sprinting away from a tiger. Hopefully you're not being chased by tigers today, but much like our cave-dwelling ancestors, our bodies are programmed to move in many different ways.
Switching up your exercise every day not only keeps you from getting bored with any one thing, it’s also totally natural.
4. Eliminate obstacles.
Even those of us with the best intentions often find ourselves distracted by everyday obstacles when it comes to daily exercise.
My solution? Wake up, drink some water and get out the door in 15 minutes. No emails, no laundry, no nothing. Just me, a house key and my sneakers.
This approach avoids all barriers to just getting out the door and doing it, the most important first step you can take.