Chris Zellers, MPP -Assistant Professor/Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences Department
Being active is an important part of aging healthy. The key to being physically active is finding something enjoyable that promotes motivation and encourages regular movement. Since Americans have become increasingly sedentary or lacking in movement, chronic disease rates have increased. Finding little ways to move more or move regularly is important to keep bodies functioning properly and prevent disease. Despite physical activity being a great prevention tool for chronic disease according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) only 23% of Americans meet the recommendations of physical activity – 150 minutes per week plus two days of weight bearing exercise. According to the Heart Foundation Americans do have a few valid reasons for lack of movement including being too tired, cost, poor motivation, boredom, loneliness, embarrassment, and limitations. Challenging these reasons for poor physical activity levels can create regular movement and prevent chronic disease while promoting a sense of well-being.
Being too tired to exercise, lacking funds and time are all valid reasons to forego regular exercise habits, but those same reasons could promote energy, save money, and add time to daily routines. The daily grind of life leaves many American’s feeling rundown and tired but physical activity increases energy levels and promotes a sense of well-being. Exercise has been associated with better sleep patterns which in turn provides more energy during the day. Adding physical activity regularly might be exactly the remedy to being too tired. Exercise doesn’t have to be expensive and taking time to shop and compare gyms can save money up front. A gym is not a necessity either, having a safe place to walk and a pair of walking shoes is all that is needed to get a daily workout where you live or on a lunch break at work. The costs associated with physical inactivity account for more than 11% of total health care expenditures and are estimated at $117 billion annually according to America’s Health Rankings produced by the United Health Foundation. Moving now is an investment in future health and healthcare costs. Finding time to move is difficult and hard to debate but American’s are spending more and more time on social media and smart phones that could be used to exercise. Check in on how much time is being spent on smart phone use every day and try replacing that down time with some movement time. Making time to exercise each day will save money in the long run and increase low energy levels, it’s an investment in physical and mental health now that provides a lifetime of benefits.
Staying motivated, beating boredom and loneliness are good reasons for not moving regularly however these explanations can be overcome with some practical planning tactics. The SMART technique could provide motivation, beat boredom, and defeat loneliness. SMART stands for Specific, Measured, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Being specific might mean finding a fun enjoyable activity like walking in nature, determining the time to exercise or who would be a good supportive partner to combat loneliness. Measured goals could be the length of time to exercise or the distance or even both. Attainable sets limits and goals that might interfere with motivation, be sure to set both goals and limits when planning for physical activity. Do what is realistic, don’t set out to climb a mountain before walking. Finally, be timely by establishing a time of day as well as an amount of time that is reasonable. Be SMART and success will be much more likely when trying to move regularly.
Finally, when looking at why not to exercise limitations and embarrassment were cited as reasons to miss moving. Dr. Carol Dweck has done over thirty years of investigative research comparing the fixed mindset and growth mindset. She has done this work primarily based on intelligence and academic achievement however this might be paralleled in physical achievement as well. If a person is embarrassed about exercising in front of others this might be due to physical limitations or the expectation to be perfect in an exercise routine. Dr. Dweck’s research suggests focusing on the growth mindset (perseverance and hard work create improvement) over the fixed mindset (skill level at birth) to encourage motivation and improvement. Rather than avoiding exercise from embarrassment take some time to be proud of how much was accomplished, no matter what the level. Everyone has a different level of physical fitness and various challenges that might differ from day to day. Often at gyms instructors are experienced in helping with modifications for various movements to accommodate needs, ask for assistance if needed. There are classes for yoga and aerobics that can be done while sitting, seek one out if that provides needed support. Start small and remember to think about a growth mindset of improving versus not doing anything at all. It’s better to do 10 minutes three times a day rather than not move at all, find ways around limitations that will improve overall wellbeing.