Making Exercise Work For You

Staying active can be hard. Most of us want to do more, but where can we find the time? Jobs, kids, volunteer opportunities, cooking, cleaning the house, school activities, and more draw on our time, and a little time for leisure would be nice, too, right? Adding exercise in is hard. Do you ever hear the recommended guidelines for exercise for adults in the US and just feel overwhelmed?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends that healthy adults ages 18-65 “should participate in moderate intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30-min on five days per week, or vigorous intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20-min on three days per week.” On top of that, they also recommend that adults should be performing “activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for a minimum of two days per week.”

Basically, they are saying we should be exercising at least 3-5 days a week, and two of those days should involve exercises that focus on muscle strengthening. While many people are already doing this, to others, it may seem like a daunting task. So daunting, in fact, some people may do nothing.

The thing is, in order to be healthy and build a good exercise routine, you don’t have to start by following the recommendations precisely. I always tell patients the exercise they will do regularly and enjoy is better than no exercise. So, how do you work up to these recommendations and have fun doing it?

First, figure out what you like. Maybe aerobic exercise sounds like running to you, but you hate running. What about power walking, then? Or swimming? Or taking dance classes? If one of these options is more appealing, you’re more likely to stick to doing it regularly, and actually enjoy it for its own sake, rather than just doing it because it’s good for you.

Maybe you aren’t sure what you like because you’ve never done much exercise. Well, do you enjoy activities in groups more than being alone? If so, try a group fitness class at your local gym, join a fitness club (like a running club or hiking club), or find a buddy to lift weights with. Working out in a group can provide accountability, support, and add an element of fun.

Maybe you feel like you need some space to clear your head and be alone—workouts can be a great opportunity for that. Set up a workout spot in your basement, go for a solitary run, or hit the gym by yourself with your favorite playlist. The point I’m making is there are a lot of options when it comes to exercise, and just because you don’t enjoy certain forms of working out doesn’t mean you can’t find a passion for physical activity. Outdoors, indoors, in groups or alone, competitive or not, there are so many different options, so explore a few and have fun!

Second, incorporate exercise into your schedule in ways that work well for you. Ideally, yes, we should all be exercising 5 days a week, and I would still encourage you to work towards that goal. However, sometimes that may feel like a lot. Maybe you haven’t really exercised before, and going from 0 days a week to 5 days a week overnight might be unrealistic.

Maybe you love working out, but your schedule is just too full right now, and you’ve tried getting to the gym most days, but you just can’t swing it. I’ve totally been there. When I was in PT school it just felt overwhelming to try to get to the gym on class days. But I had Fridays off and so I committed to go to the gym Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings every weekend. Ideally my workouts would have been more frequent and more spread out through the week, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain that. However, being able to stick with a Friday/Saturday/Sunday workout schedule, meant I was going from barely working out at all, to getting to the gym 3 times a week. I was much happier and felt much better.

Look at your life and decide what fits you best. Maybe that means taking walks on your lunch break, and then hitting the gym on weekends. Maybe it means taking 15-minutes in the morning and 15-minutes at night to do a short HIIT workout a few days a week. Maybe right now it’s just one or two days a week that you can fit in a dance class or group fitness class. Whatever it is, you will see more benefit and feel better with a regular routine, even if it doesn’t quite reach the ACSM guidelines.

Bottom line: make exercise work for you. Find the exercise you will do, and roll with it. The exercise you will actually do regularly is better than the ideal workout routine that you never do because it just doesn’t work for you.

Trending Topic: Physical Activity Guidelines. Physical Activity Guidelines Resources. (n.d.). https://www.acsm.org/read-research/trending-topics-resource-pages/physical-activity-guidelines.

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Sarah Johnson, DPT