Spring A Great Time To Rethink Exercise Goals

Many people in Michigan make a resolution to improve their physical condition at the start of the year. Yet it’s not until winter leaves and summer approaches – along with the specter of swimsuit season – that they start thinking about exercising in earnest.

Spring is a natural time for people to want to begin exercising, according to Jolene Bennett, a physical therapy clinical specialist with Spectrum Health. “It’s the season. The weather is getting warmer, days are longer and plants are growing. People just want to be outside and active after a long winter.”

Becoming more active is important. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2004 found that poor diet and lack of exercise were almost as lethal as smoking. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see diet and inactivity overtake smoking as a cause of death,” said Bennett. “The number of smokers continues to slowly drop, but the number of obese people in our country is climbing at an alarming rate.”

While people should start exercising as if their life depended upon it, they can’t expect to overcome years of inactivity in a few weeks, explained Bennett. “There are benefits to be had with an exercise routine that starts slow and gradually builds,” she said. “You’ll improve heart health, increase bone density, feel and sleep better and help prevent a wide range of medical problems.”

Bennett has a number of tips starting an exercise program you can stick with:

  • Find an activity you enjoy. Some people enjoy walking and hiking while others need a faster pace, such as biking or group workouts. Find something you can stick with.
  • Buddy up. Get a friend or family member to join you, or join a class with a friend.
  • Get SMART. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. For example, a SMART goal might be, “I will walk with my dog 15 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday this week after work before dinner.”
  • Keep a record. Having realistic goals helps you stay focused and make progress. Each week you can modify your goals to increase the intensity and/or duration of the activity.
  • Easy does it. Give yourself time to warm up and stretch, then set a pace you can continue for 10 to 15 minutes at first without getting too tired. “If you can’t carry on a conversation while you exercise, you’re probably pushing too hard,” said Bennett. A slow progression helps ensure you reach your goals and enjoy success.
  • Listen to your body. Pay attention to what your body is saying. If you feel pain, shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea, take a break. If these symptoms reappear with exercise, contact your doctor.
  • Break it up if necessary. You don’t have to do all your exercise at once. Ten minutes of exercise three times a day may fit your schedule better than 30 minutes at once. Stay with it and you’ll see results.
  • Couple exercise with a better diet. Cutting calories and poor food choices while increasing exercise is a proven way toward weight loss and feeling better.
  • Stay the course. Consistency is the key to success. Missing a day or two of activity once in a while is okay, but it’s important to resume your routine as soon as possible. Small things can make a big difference over time.

Bennett adds that it’s important to make your exercise time an important part of each day.  “Whether you join a gym, use an exercise video or just go outside and tackle the garden, just do it.  Staying active needs to be a priority in everyone’s life.”

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan that offers a full continuum of care through its seven hospitals, more than 140 service sites and 600,000-member health plan, Priority Health.  Spectrum Health’s 13,000 employees, 1,400 medical staff members and 2,000 volunteers are committed to delivering the highest quality care to those in medical need.  The organization provided more than $100 million in community benefit during its 2006 fiscal year. Spectrum Health has earned more than 50 national awards during the past 10 years.