If you’ve heard about the importance of physical activity but haven’t yet started a new routine, take heart – you may already be doing more than you think.
There are many things you do every day that qualify as physical activity, says Dr. Jay Shah, a family medicine and primary care physician at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center in Pomona, California. This includes:
- Carrying groceries.
- Climbing the stairs.
- Car wash.
- Playing with your children.
- I’m walking the dog.
- Doing housework.
These activities are functional movement training. In other words, by engaging in such activities, you build long-term strength and endurance for daily movements.
How to incorporate more physical activity
To get into the physical activity phase, you should start small and build up over time. Shah recommends gradually increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of your exercises to build muscle growth.
He also suggests actively looking for ways to increase daily movement, such as:
- Opt for the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Walk or bike to work if possible.
- A walk during a break at work.
You can also incorporate physical activity into your daily life by asking your loved ones to join you.
“By doing these activities as a group, each family member can encourage each other and provide motivational support,” explains Shah. “This could be a great way to spend time with your family.”
Risks Rincrease physical activity
Although activity is a critical part of overall health and fitness, it’s important not to overdo it. Your body needs time to adjust to a new training regimen, even if it’s based on routine tasks like gardening or cleaning the house.
“One of the biggest problems I see in my clinic is people who have either started exercising after a period of inactivity or who have switched to a new and much more intense exercise program,” says Dr. Justin Mullner, sports medicine physician at Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute in Florida.
The problem, explains Mullner, who also serves as team physician for the Orlando City Soccer Club and the Orlando Pride, is that jumping into a new workout doesn’t allow your muscles, tendons and bones to properly adjust to the amount of force being applied to them. As a result, they become painful and inflamed, leading to muscle strains, tendonitis, and stress fractures.
Instead, start small and build up slowly. As with any exercise protocol, it’s best to check with your healthcare provider before starting a new activity, especially if you have any medical conditions.
Includes strength training
Also called resistance training, strength training refers to physical activity in which your muscles contract against an external force, such as dumbbells, dumbbells, or weight machines.
Strength training also contributes to a variety of health benefits, including:
- Maintaining bone density, which can help prevent osteoporosis and reduce the risk of fractures.
- Improving mobility, muscle strength and endurance.
- They stabilize the joints, which can reduce your chances of injury and lead to fewer falls, especially as you age.
- It supports good cognitive function and improves your mood and self-esteem.
- Boosting your metabolism, or basal metabolism, to help you burn more calories and maintain or reach your ideal weight.
- It lowers blood pressure and supports good heart health.
When you’re lifting at home—carrying bulky groceries or picking up younger children, for example—Shah says you should always be intentional with your movements.
“Tighten your core while doing chores,” he advises. “Use proper lifting techniques when lifting heavy objects.”
Don’t forget to add cardio
In addition to strength training, you should try to engage in regular cardiovascular activities. The American College of Sports Medicine, for example, recommends at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular activity per week, along with two days of strength training per week, Shah says.
Sydney Warpness, a strength and conditioning coach and certified CrossFit trainer based in St. Augustine, Florida, says that almost any activity that makes it harder for you to breathe can qualify as cardio. This may include chores, such as mowing the lawn or carrying the laundry upstairs. It can also include fun activities like going for a walk or simply dancing in your living room.
“Basically, the key to all of this is getting your heart rate up,” says Warpness.
And that key can unlock some serious fitness benefits.
“Cardio is great for your cardiovascular system because it helps strengthen your heart and lungs,” says Warpness. “A healthy cardiovascular system will improve overall health and longevity.”
The more cardio you do – ie. the longer you can maintain that elevated heart rate – the more you’ll benefit.
“Cardio helps you build endurance and stamina, which allows you to push harder for longer without getting tired,” explains Warpness.
Making fitness a lifelong habit
The bottom line is, no matter how you exercise, just make sure you do it. Whether you’re weeding the garden or walking up and down the stairs, there are many ways to incorporate movement into your daily routine.
You should also make exercise a lifelong habit to reap all the physical and mental health benefits, says Mullner. To make fitness a little easier, he suggests looking for activities you enjoy.
“If you don’t like the exercise you’re doing or, even worse, really dread it, you’re less likely to continue with these activities and therefore lose out on many of the great benefits they bring,” he explains.
Once you find a workout you like, commit to it.
“Consistency is key,” says Warpness. “You have to teach your body that (being) fit and healthy is the new norm, and the only way to get it to comply is to comply. Once you find something that works for you, keep it.”