We've all seen the health and fitness magazines in the store checkout lines. We've listened to the testimonials of people who have had amazing physical improvements using some expensive piece of workout equipment or a diet that sounds, and undoubtedly is, too good to be true. In some cases we may have a friend or acquaintance we haven't seen in quite a while who, in response to our remark about how good he or she looks, takes on an air of humility and says, "Yeah, thanks, I've been working out a little."
All of these experiences have the potential to motivate you to start on a workout program of your own or bear down a little harder on what you're already doing in terms of exercise. And that's a good thing. What isn't such a good thing is the tendency to latch on to some unrealistic expectations about what you can achieve and how fast you can achieve it.
So at this point in the New Year, when resolutions have been made – and some already abandoned – here's the message I want to convey to my team members throughout the Riverside Health System: Everyone you see on those magazines and infomercials, every person you know who has had a noticeable physical transformation got to where they are through consistent effort and good old hard work.
They may have attended group exercise classes or worked with a personal trainer. They may have followed a workout plan on their own. That part isn't nearly as important as they fact that the first step they took was to make a decision and back it with a strong motivating desire. Then they did the work to get the body and the level of fitness they want, and in the process they were consistent and they were patient.
If you think you can obtain the results you want any other way than that, I can tell you that you will be disappointed. And that's where we get back to those realistic expectations I mentioned.
Especially in the early part of a new year, many well-intentioned people set overly ambitious exercise goals. Once they get sore or have a minor injury or simply get a little discouraged, they quit exercising. A more moderate approach, however, would keep them moving ahead on the road to improving their health and wellbeing.
What constitutes a "moderate" approach? Well, according to the Surgeon General's Report on Physical Activity and Health, any activity that uses 150 calories of energy a day or 1,000 calories a week is considered moderate. Since many of us can't commit to the daily activity, it's probably a good idea to shoot for the weekly quota.
To give you an idea of what that looks like, some examples would be walking briskly for 30 minutes, gardening for 45 minutes or so, pushing a stroller 1.5 miles in 30 minutes or swimming laps for 20 minutes. There's no real scientific explanation of moderate exercise but basically it means getting your heart rate and breathing rate up but still being able to carry on a conversation.
Some other moderate physical activities include ballroom or line dancing for 30 minutes, shooting baskets for 30 minutes, 10 minutes on a treadmill or elliptical trainer at medium level, running a mile in around 10 minutes and bicycling 4 miles in 15-18 minutes.
You can see that these examples represent the kind of regimen that most people could commit to and achieve. My personal feeling is that it is important, not only in terms of your fitness and health but also for your self-confidence, to set these kinds of goals and achieve them on an ongoing basis. That's why the best approach to beginning an exercise program is to start with an expectation that you believe you can meet and then – and this is the absolutely essential ingredient to include in your program -- put a specific action plan in place to follow.
At the same time, don't sell yourself short when it comes to physical activity. With just a relatively small amount of additional effort you can add to your distance or beat your time as you feel yourself gaining in fitness.
The important part of this approach to managing expectations is to have a foundation of success you can build on. As we move into the New Year I encourage all of you to build and maintain that foundation. And remember: fitness isn't a destination, it's a road you travel on.
Good luck on your journey and stay healthy my friends.
Chair – My Healthy Lifestyle Employee Wellness Committee
(Editor's Note: In addition to serving as Chair for the Employee Wellness Committee, Daniel Ballin is the Administrator of Riverside's Therapy Group, Wellness and Outpatient Services and oversees all of Riverside's therapy services along with Riverside's Wellness and Fitness Centers in Newport News and Gloucester.)
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