Most people know the benefits of regular daily physical activity. In fact, the Surgeon General says that as little as 30 minutes of brisk walking or cycling a day is enough to improve your energy level and mood, aid with weight loss, and reduce your risk for a host of chronic afflictions and an early demise. But how do you make physical activity a habit that will stick? A start is to set reasonable goals, build gradually, and keep your activity fun. The following are some easy ways you can incorporate physical activity into your daily routine:
- Add more steps into your day by taking the stairs or parking further away.
- Walk or bike one daily trip for which you'd normally drive the car.
- Get a walking buddy or take a family walk after dinner.
- Walk a child to school or participate in a Walk to School Day event.
- Walk through your neighborhood and rate it's "walkability."
- Take walking meetings at work.
- Keep a daily activity log. Estimate the mileage you walked or the minutes you spent doing something active.
- Buy a pedometer and consider wearing it all day long.
- Form a walking group with a regular schedule. There is encouragement in numbers.
Ready to start a daily walking routine? Here are some tips for beginners:
- Start slowly. Don't test your limits right away. You should feel good at the end of your walk, not exhausted.
- Add on time slowly. Never add more than 10 to 20 percent to the total number of minutes or miles you walk in a week.
- Remember that something is always better than nothing. Even if you intended to walk 20 minutes, a 10-minute walk is still vastly better for you than doing nothing.
- Add four minutes of stretching to your daily habit to maintain your overall range of motion as well as muscle and joint health.
- If you can't take 30 minutes once a day to walk, consider breaking the time down and walking 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes at lunch, and 10 minutes in the evening.
- Keep it fun. Make your daily walk something you look forward to.
For additional advice on planning a walking/fitness program, here are eight tips from Mark Fenton, author of "The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness," on setting and reaching your goals:
- Choose "internal" rather than "external" goals—Focus on things that matter to you, not to others. So don't try to drop a dress size by your class reunion so others will be impressed. Instead try to walk 20 minutes five days a week so you wake up feeling better each morning.
- Focus on an enjoyable process, not a specific outcome—If your goal is to lose 30 pounds, you can end up (wrongly) disappointed if you only lose 28! But maintaining a streak of 30 days where you've walked or biked for at least 10 minutes will leave you feeling better on every one of those days.
- Have both short and long term goals—For example, short term is planning to walk 12 out of the next 14 or 50 out of the next 60 days; long term is trying to cycle 600 or 1,000 miles this year.
- Tell others about your goal—They're sure to ask how you're doing and thus help keep you on track; they may even start exercising with you.
- Plan real rewards for meeting your goals—Don't use food, and choose things of substance you'll look forward to. Earn yourself a new workout jacket, a concert, even a hiking vacation.
- Keep an exercise log or diary—It'll help you see your progress and keep your goal in mind, and is proven to keep exercisers on track.
- Sign up for an event—Committing to walk a marathon or cycle in a long fundraising event will help you build on your exercise. Pick a fun location for the event (say, Bermuda or Hawaii) and make it even become part of your reward!
- Join an organized or informal club or a team—For bigger goals, this can really help you learn to train properly and keep you motivated.