In our last post we addressed the question: How much activity do I need? While the answer varies according to individual needs such as age, goals, time available, and physical condition, the basic principles are simple.
Incorporating just 2.5 hours of light activity into your weekly routine such as walking can drastically improve your overall health and well-being. However, working up to that mark can be daunting and quite difficult. The purpose of this blog is to provide tips on safely working your way up to a sustainable exercise routine that will keep your spirits high and blood pressure low for years to come!
Push it. Don’t break it.
The Overload Principle is pretty straightforward. In order to see fitness gains (and in turn, improvements in health), you must first put stress on your body. This could mean raising your heart rate over a certain period of time or achieving muscle fatigue during strength training. As your body recovers, it adapts to the stress you’ve created, ultimately becoming fitter/stronger (and by extension, healthier). By controlling the intensity and/or duration of your workouts in the future we are able to see continued improvement.
Stepping back for a moment, it is important to note the importance of “pushing it” according to the Overload Principle. The first step in training requires some level of discomfort because you have to push beyond your current limits during exercise to attain better fitness and health levels. But, this is a delicate process.
If you push too far you risk “breaking it”. By this we mean to include any of the many risks associated with over-training. The most common among these risks are injury and burnout. In reality the two aren’t so different. Injury is a physically manifestation of pushing too far, while burnout is a mental or emotional manifestation of the very same.
Listen to your body… And your mind.
Adhering to the Overload Principle means walking a fine line. Unfortunately, every person is different, which makes exact recommendations extremely difficult. The best advice to head here is “listen to your body, and listen to your mind”. As you work up to 2.5 hours of moderate exercise and beyond, it is important to stick to your plan, stay consistent, and slowly push your body a bit past its comfort zone. But remember, a plan is stagnant and inanimate. It doesn’t know how you feel or what’s going on in your head. Burnout and injury can put you out long term. It is often better to shorten a workout or skip it entirely rather than push yourself to the point of breaking.
While it is best to skip a workout you fear will lead to injury or burnout, it is also necessary to keep the importance of consistency in mind. Though at first these two points may seem contradictory, a closer look reveals just how in-line they really are. Many have fallen pre to the over-excitement that comes with starting a new exercise regimen. Often we are tempted to push beyond our means early, working up our training volume and intensity too quickly. At best we have to check ourselves and slow it down. At worst, we find ourselves out of commission for days, weeks, or even months, before eventually starting back at square one. Remember, you are in this for the long haul. It’s almost always better to finish a workout feeling like you had more to give than feeling like you couldn’t muster another step or rep. Sure, there is a time and place for finding your absolute limits, but it isn’t at the beginning stages of a new fitness routine. Finding balance and conserving energy will allow you to maintain daily activity long-term.
Think of it of it like this. As we mentioned at the end of our last post, more exercise is generally better. But, suppose your goal is 150 minutes per week. If you jump off the couch today and hit that mark, it is quite possible that your body and mind will declare mutiny after just a few weeks – let’s say you get to week 3 before you aren’t able to do it any more. At this point you may feel tired and defeated, many people drop out of the program altogether. If that’s the case, you hit your goal for 3 weeks and got 450 minutes of exercise.
Now suppose instead that you conserved that early energy and started out at a conservative 50 minutes a week, building 25 minutes each week. Chances are you will avoid burnout and energy by slowly acclimatizing your body to the program. By week 5 you’re already at your 150 minute/week goal. AND, you’ve accumulated 500 minutes – 50 minutes more than the scenario laid out above. Not to mention, you’re on track to keep going for weeks to come now that your mind and body have grown accustomed to a new routine.
Time to Begin
As you look to ReCreate your fitness routine, knowing where to begin can be difficult. As you set out on this new path, remember: push it but don’t break it, listen to your body and your mind, and stay consistent!