When you start an exercise program, you will begin slowly and build up gradually. This increases can be in exercise duration, or in intensity of the exercise routine. When do you go for longer duration, and when do you want to increase exercise intensity? And how do you go practically to maximize the benefits of your exercise program, while your fitness levels are improving?
I left you last time with the simple instructions to walk for 5–10 minutes, once or twice daily. Now, I had asked you to simply walk. I know that’s nothing fancy, nothing hard; just walking. But I did that for a simple reason. Let me explain.
The rationale behind the time and frequency recommendations I made at first is that by committing to the necessary time required to exercise, you are more likely positioned for success regardless of what activity you chose to do during that time. Think about this: if you have no regular time available, then it matters not what activity you plan to do… because you won’t actually be doing it anyway! So, let’s move forward assuming you now have a new habit of spending time in physical activity every day. And currently, for you, that activity is walking.
There are many, many people who, if they simply keep walking, and regularly increase the duration and/or intensity of that walking, will see very impressive results in their overall health. Further, because it can be done at nearly anytime, under nearly any weather condition, by people of nearly any physical status, with virtually no additional cost for equipment, it is an ideal choice for anyone starting out with an exercise program. This includes those who are carrying excess weight, who have diabetes, hypertension and have trouble sleeping.
On the other hand, there is a large second group of people who are either naturally more energetic or carry no medical diagnoses at all. They will find that walking is not an ideal exercise. For them, it may not be sufficiently challenging to provide any internal psychological sense of accomplishment, indue visible external physical improvements in their physique, or increase their level of performance.
No matter what group you find yourself in, let me offer some instruction that will be universally applicable. Once you successfully commit to both regularly spending some time exercising and then choose a specific activity, then it’s time to alter either the duration or the intensity of your exercise. You have to do this because both the mind and the body will adapt quicker than you wish they would to these types of challenges. That adaptation will lead to you experiencing a performance plateau… and your improvements will stall. You don’t want that to happen. All of us can do better, all the time, even if it’s just a little bit better.
In the case of walking, you can increase the duration of time you walk in several different ways to fit your personal schedule. Focus on picking a pattern that is practical for your life’s routine. Try a few ways that in your assessment are most likely to work well and not be unnecessarily challenging to implement. Eventually, as you increase the duration of your walks, there will be a limit you reach that no longer allows adding more time.
For example, imagine you start walking a bit after breakfast and before you go to work. Or, maybe on your lunch break. There is a finite amount of time you can add to those periods of your day before you are creating a conflict with previous, higher obligations. That’s fine, no problem. Recall that the healthful effects of exercise are cumulative, right? You can put more minutes in wherever they fit best in your schedule. Don’t feel bad if you have to break up your walking sessions. So long as you walk more minutes this week than you walked last week, you have succeeded in increasing the duration portion of your exercise routine. Strong work!
But perhaps you couldn’t find a way to increase the time spent each day walking, Monday through Friday? Well, you could add some time walking during the weekend when time restraints are maybe not so tight. Maybe like me, you regularly have to take call at work, at irregular calendar intervals, making life routinely fall out of any recognizable rhythm. So, you hit it hard on your pre-call day, or take time on your post-call day off to make up for any deficiencies that occurred because you got slammed at work and spent absolutely no meaningful time exercising at all during those 36 hours at work. You were just happy to sleep, let alone get exercise, right? Again, no problem. Don’t get discouraged, and don’t let that break your habit of exercising. The benefits can still accumulate over time, you can make it up.
Now, moving on from the strategy of increasing your duration of physical activity, let’s talk about adjusting the intensity. For walking, two easy ways of doing that include going up hills or carrying some extra weight while you walk. I tend to caution against combing both early on in a new exercise program. Focus on sustainability.
If you don’t have any hills to walk up, weight can be added by simply carrying a full water bottle or two in some way as you walk (in your hands, in a day pack). You could consider buying special ankle weights, small handheld dumbbells, or weighted vests, but I suggest first considering a low-cost solution like a forgotten day pack in the closet filled with increasing amounts of water bottles or cans of beans as added weights. If you can stick to something easy like that and you like it… then revisit the idea of spending a little extra money on yourself for those other items in a month or two.
Call to Action
Keep up with your consistent walking regimen! And find some ways to step up with your exercise regimen, so to reap the benefits you are looking for!
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This article was originally published on the Time to Get Ready website.
Franklin initially trained as a medicinal organic synthesis chemist, now he is double board-certified in Anesthesiology and Lifestyle Medicine. In 2011 he decided to move into a country property, and enjoys remodeling his home, building furniture, growing his own food and being involved in his local church.
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