Exercising is one of the best things you can do for your health. It is a free and incredibly effective preventative medicine. If it was a pill everyone would be taking it. Instead, it is a deliberate effort. One that hurts while you’re doing it, and leaves you sore over the following days. Especially when you first start. This initial pain is enough that most people never make it through the first phase of exercising to find out that the challenge eventually lessens, and they start seeing rewards and health benefits for all their hard work. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to make these initial difficulties vanish. Instead, the best way to start exercising is to find the fun in exercising. Either meeting a daily goal, and to have fun while you’re doing it.

In this excerpt from the book Real Cause, Real Cure by Jacob Teitelbaum, MD and Bill Gottlieb, CHC the authors share their tips for keeping up the willpower to workout, and how to start exercising and get some enjoyment from it.

The Secret of Workout Willpower

For many people, the hardest thing about exercise is getting started—having the willpower to work out. To find out the best ways to motivate yourself to move, we talked to one of the world’s top experts on the subject, Kathleen Martin Ginis, PhD, a professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Dr. Ginis is a proponent of a school of thinking about willpower developed by psychologist Roy Baumeister, PhD, at Florida State University, called the “limited strength model of self-regulation.” (Self-regulation is a technical term that psychologists use for willpower.)

The key idea is that using your willpower is a lot like using your muscles when you lift weights. Like your muscles, your willpower has limited strength. Like your muscles, when you use your willpower over and over, it weakens and then stops working entirely. And like your muscles, you have to rest your willpower—you have to give it time to recover—before you can use it again. What does that have to do with exercise?

Imagine you’ve been using your willpower all day. You stopped yourself from pressing the “Snooze” button on your alarm and actually got out of bed on the first ring. You resisted eating that doughnut midmorning. You plowed through mountains of paperwork you didn’t really want to do. You forced yourself to listen to your spouse tell about his day, even though you were in the mood for relaxing in front of the TV. But when it came time to put on and lace up your walking shoes…and walk out the door…and haul your body around the block—forget about it! Your willpower had gone AWOL. But Dr. Ginis told us that you can work with your willpower to make sure there’s enough around so that when you decide to exercise, you will exercise.

The key is either conserving or restoring your willpower. She suggests…

•Plan in advance. “This is crucial for people starting an exercise program,” she told us. You need to decide in advance on the following…

  • Where you will exercise. (Around the neighborhood? At the gym? In the basement?)
  • What exercise you will do. (A walk? An aerobics class? A ride on a stationary bike?)
  • When you are going to exercise. (First thing in the morning? At lunch? After work?)
  • How you will fit that exercise session into your busy day. (Keep your sneakers by the door. Ask your spouse to watch the kids while you go to the gym. Dust off the exercise bike in the basement.)

If you try to do all the planning that produces a workout when you’re about to work out, it’s likely you’ll deplete your willpower and less likely that you’ll actually exercise. But if you plan in advance, Dr. Ginis told us, you’re more likely to have plenty of willpower when it’s time to exercise, and you can just get up and go.

So, at the beginning of every week or every month, get out your calendar and pencil in your exercise sessions. Think through what it will take to make sure they actually happen as planned.

  • Get it done early. When you roll out of bed, your willpower is as fresh as the proverbial daisy. Exercise right away, before it’s depleted!
  • Take a break—and then take a walk. Any kind of rest—a catnap, a brief meditation— refreshes willpower.
  • Turn on Comedy Central. It’s true: Watching a TV comedy can actually help you exercise. That’s because a positive mood helps you summon up your willpower. Do whatever it takes to put a happy or satisfied smile on your face. Read a joke book. Listen to music you like. Pet your cat. Stare at a fishbowl. Whatever works for you.
  • Build up your willpower. The “limited strength model of self-regulation” says that your willpower is like your muscles. And just like your muscles, if you use your willpower regularly, it becomes stronger. “Using your willpower weakens it for a while, but builds more strength for the next time you want to ‘exercise’ your will,” said Dr. Ginis.

Enjoy Your Exercise! (or You Won’t Do It Regularly)

“No pain, no gain.” You’ve heard that slogan, of course (and maybe even muttered it under your breath at the gym). It reflects the belief that unless exercise hurts, it’s not doing its job.

I have another slogan I want you to say to yourself instead: Pain is insane! At least deciding to experience pain is pretty crazy. Pain is your body’s way of telling you, “Don’t do that.” And not only is pain during exercise a bad idea for your health (because it doesn’t work, and because you might injure yourself), it is also a bad idea for establishing the habit of regular exercise. No body (except a masochist) makes a habit of doing something that hurts!

Exercise should be virtually pain free. And fun filled. And marathons (or half-marathons or quarter-marathons or even one-eighth marathons) are not required.

Going a Little Way Goes a Long Way

A common exercise error: You start a new exercise program by doing way too much, way too soon. People who start a new exercise program by doing a whole lot of exercising right away usually stop exercising fairly quickly because they suffer the consequences of sudden overuse, such as soreness, fatigue, and irritability. The body likes gradual change, so it can easily and comfortably adapt to the new situation. So instead of grunting, groaning, and grinding your teeth through more exercise than your body wants to do, gently recite this motivating mantra: A little movement is better than no movement at all.

“Think of the difference between sitting still and walking up a flight of stairs in your home,” Vik Khanna, a clinical exercise specialist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine and the self-described “chief exercise officer” of Galileo Health Partners near Baltimore, told us. “You burn eight times more calories walking up that flight of stairs.

“So if you’re sedentary,” he continued, “start your ‘exercise program’ by walking up and down those stairs as many times a day as you can. When you come home with the groceries, make three or four trips bringing them into the house instead of one. There’s no minimum when it comes to physical activity—anything is better than nothing.”

Like I tell my patients: Window shopping downtown or walking around in the mall is exer cise, too! Movement is what matters. Do a little today, and it will feel so good that you’ll probably want to do more tomorrow.

Target Heart Rate? Forget About It!

Target heart rate is the percentage of your “maximum heart rate” that many fitness folks say is the true measure of whether or not exercise is doing you any good. (A common formula: Your average maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age, and you want to exercise at 50 percent to 85 percent of maximum.) Do you have to take a refresher course in algebra before you exercise?

“Don’t worry about achieving your target heart rate or any other supposed measure of achieving fitness,” Khanna told us. “Do whatever is tolerable to you, and do as much of it as feels good to you. Exercise until it doesn’t feel fun and comfortable, and then stop. For most people, that’s about 45 minutes to an hour a day of any activity they enjoy, whether it’s walking, playing tennis, jogging, yoga, Pilates, or working out with weights.”

If you experience any chest tightness, chest pain, or worrisome breathlessness when exercising, stop immediately and see a physician. However, just about everybody can start a moderate form of exercise such as walking without a physician’s permission, as long as they don’t experience the above symptoms.

Find an Exercise You Enjoy

As you know by now, Khanna’s advice to choose an exercise that “feels good” jibes with my key advice about health: What feels good to you is usually good for you.

The exercise expert Dr. Nieman—a 70-year-old who has run dozens of marathons—has the same “feel-good” philosophy about physical activity. “I raced marathons for the thrill and challenge of the activity, but it’s no longer a big thing for me,” he told us. “Now, I live on 13 acres in the mountains of North Carolina, and I ‘work out’ by working on my property—putting in trails, chopping cords of wood for the woodstove, preparing terraces for flower gardens, and tending to 60 blueberry bushes. That’s what I’m motivated to do. And, hopefully, I’ll do that to the day I die, because I love it.”

Exercise in Your Bedroom—Have Sex!

One activity that people often don’t think of as exercise is sex. Before orgasm, your exertion level is the same as walking at two miles an hour, playing the piano, or watering plants. During orgasm— when your heart rate rises to about 130 beats per minute, and your systolic blood pressure to about 170 to 180 mm Hg—the exertion level is the same as walking three to four miles an hour, vacuuming, or raking the lawn. (Remember the principle about activity you read earlier in this chapter: Anything is better than nothing. And having sex is a lot better than nothing!)

The health benefits of sex extend beyond a loving workout. In a 20-year study of nearly 1,000 men from Wales, those who had the most sex were 69 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack compared with men who had the least sex. (If you smiled to yourself as you read that statistic, well, so did we. We figure it’s a little bit of ribald humor from the universe.) And another study—of Scot tish women (are they having more sex in the UK?)—showed that those who had sex an average of three times per week looked 10 years younger than women who had less sex. The researchers suspect the reason is higher levels of sex-sparked human growth hormone (HGH).

Men who exercise regularly are likely to have more sex. Study after study shows that exercise, by improving circulation, dramatically decreases the risk of erectile dysfunction (ED).

Similarly, he said, you have to find the activity you love to do—an activity that you look for ward to and that fits into your routine. He also urges you to find an activity that builds aerobic capacity (conditioned heart and lungs) and muscular strength, both of which are important for long-term health.

“When I’m splitting wood or hauling stones in a wheelbarrow, I’m getting the benefit of aerobic and muscular activity,” he said. “Rowing is that kind of activity. So is swimming. So is walking with one- or two-pound hand weights. You don’t have to lift weights—you just have to blend in an activity that increases your muscular workload.”

For more ways to fix root causes of common health problems, purchase Real Cause, Real Cure from Bottomlineinc.com.

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