You see it especially at this time of year as people are trying to create their New Year resolutions. One of the most common is to exercise more, but what does that really mean?

First and foremost the key is to be more active. The official guidelines ask that adults get approximately 30 minutes a day of activity that gets their heart rate up. The good news is that you don’t have to do it all at one time. We’re told to aim for a total of 150 minutes of moderate exercise (a brisk walk for example) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (for example a serious run) per week.

Realistically, if you haven’t been very active until now, resolve to start with achievable goals. For example, take the stairs rather than the elevator. Having said that if we’re talking about 15 flights of stairs why not start with going up 13 flights on the elevator and walking up the last two, and then gradually increase from there. Similarly, if you drive, park a bit further away than you might otherwise and walk the extra distance. At lunch go for a walk — inside the building if it’s too cold, outside if the conditions permit. From there you can aim to walk, bike, jog, swim, play tennis, shoot some hoops, whatever moves you.

If you have grandchildren, take them for a walk or a skate or toboggan. The important thing is to start. Once you start you can increase to the point where you meet the present guidelines.

There is always a benefit to being active. You will sleep better, eat better and find that your attitude and energy levels have increased. If you have underlying health issues, get checked out by your doc but that doesn’t means you can’t start as long as you begin gradually. Warning signs that you are overdoing it are feeling lightheaded (as if you might faint), severe nausea, chest pain, or excessive shortness of breath.

Things that will help to keep you on track:

  • Keep an exercise calendar listing what you’ve done and what’s planned for the week.
  • Do an activity with someone else to keep you both motivated.
  • Check your weight weekly. It will give you an indication of how you are doing.
  • If you want to get a wearable fitness tracker, go for it. It’s not necessary but they have certainly helped motivate many people who otherwise wouldn’t have kept up with their exercise program.

At the end of the day, start with a reasonable and achievable goal and once you’ve achieved it move on to the next. Activity and exercise can and should become a normal part of your life; something that you look forward to and enjoy and do without a second thought. That’s the ultimate goal and it’s one that we can all achieve.

Dr. Mitch Shulman is an Assistant Professor, Dept. of Surgery, McGill Medical School and an Attending Physician, Emergency Department, McGill University Health Centre. He’s also the CJAD AM 800 Medical Consultant.

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