For most of my life, exercise has been very important to me. Certainly there have been periods when I have not been as active, but I have done a number of different types of exercise starting with figure skating (yes, that’s me!), hockey, some soccer, wrestling, a touch of rugby, lots of running and rowing, weight lifting, and now indoor cycling.
The variety of types of exercise illustrates the point that different things work at different times in our lives, but the importance of fitness cannot be denied.
First and foremost, fitness is important to our physical health. Not only does aerobic exercise improve our cardiovascular strength and health, but it can also help keep our weight in check, which makes us healthier. Increasingly we are seeing the benefits of strength workouts and weight-lifting. This has a direct and positive benefit on bone strength and bone density – something we never really considered as kids. Being physically fit also makes us mentally more fit and can keep us mentally healthier throughout our lives.
No one type of exercise is right for everyone, but there are universal components of exercise that make it more successful and keep us motivated.
It must be enjoyable.
Sure, this is pretty obvious, but if you don’t like it you won’t do it. Each of us likes something different. So, you do you. Find what you like and go with it.
There is another component here as well. You not only have to like what you are doing, but where you are doing it. Don’t get a great new piece of exercise equipment and put it in a dark corner of your basement. You don’t really like the basement so you’re not inclined to go there to work out. So, create your workout space in a place where you want to be whether this is in your house or in a gym or exercise studio.
It’s easier to stay motivated as part of a team or a community.
There are very few truly solo sports. Even a sport like golf, which is primarily a solo competition, has team events even on the pro level.
Not only is it more fun to workout with someone else, you can get a better workout, and you’re held accountable to do your workouts. My office staff agrees. Here are Natasha, Tressa and Christy running the Butterfly 5k together.
Almost everything I have done has been as a part of a team, a club, or a community. My current exercise of choice is our Peloton Exercise bike. Apart from the mechanics of the bike and excellence of the instructors, Peloton is actively changing the paradigm of home exercise by allowing you to take classes on demand, and workout with an instructor as though you were in the class real time. The sense of community is a real focus, and very encouraging for their riders. Other popular workout communities are Orange Theory and Cross Fit.
Do things that your body can do.
As I said before, not every exercise is right for everyone and at every stage of your life. Our bodies change, our joints change, and we must be aware of this. I used to do a lot of running which I really loved. But running can be hard on the joints as it was on my ankles, and this is something I can no longer do comfortably. So, the Peloton bike is great for me as it unloads my ankles, yet allows me to get a great workout. Lower impact exercises such as cycling, rowing, swimming and cross country skiing are things we can do without having a lot of wear and tear on our joints. As such we can do them throughout our lives.
Seeing progress is very motivating.
In a way it’s like dieting and losing weight. If we are working hard on our diet and see our weight beginning to decrease, it’s a great boost. Fitness is the same. Finding ways to bench mark our level of fitness and watch it improve is also very motivating. If we are runners or rowers, it may be the time we get at a certain distance. In weight lifting it may be the amount we can curl or press.
On the Peloton, I track my progress by the number of watts I rack up for each class or by testing my Functional Threshold Power which I do periodically. No matter what you are doing, find a way to set small goals for your progress, so you stay on track.
Variety keeps things interesting.
If what you are doing bores you, you won’t do it. So, variety in what you are doing helps you keep doing it. This can be achieved in many ways. I will again return to the example of my Peloton. There are a variety of different types of classes, lengths of classes, and levels of difficulty. Not only does the variety of workouts keep me engaged, but they help me improve my level of fitness.
We need both sprint days and long interval days. We need days on hills, and days on flat roads. We need all-out efforts, and days we focus on recovery. This helps us improve everything: our strength, our aerobic capacity, our anaerobic capacity, even our flexibility (assuming we stretch like we’re supposed to).
Good coaches make good athletes.
Few of us were born great athletes. We need help. We need coaches or instructors. Even the top professional athletes have many coaches to help them be at their best. Good coaching helps us improve what we’re doing, get more out of our workouts, and prevent injury by using the proper form.
There are lots of different settings in which you can get good coaching and it really makes a difference. I have done a fair amount of indoor cycling in studios where the coaches have been fine. But working out on the Peloton with instructors who are top notch – both as athletes and coaches – is a whole new ball game. If you have not been actively exercising throughout your life, proper instruction is even more important.
Whatever you do, keep at it.
“Consistency is key,” is a favorite quote from Matt Wilpers, a world class Peloton Instructor. Don’t get discouraged by a setback or a poor performance. Not every day is a great day. The fact that you’re doing something is more important than any particular performance or workout. As Christine D’Ercole, a world class cyclist and Peloton instructor says, “The fact that you are on the leader board is more important than where you are on the leader board.” Fitness is not a sprint; it’s a life-long habit. Perhaps one of the best ways to make this happen is to follow another piece of advice from Matt, “Train hard, train smart, and always have fun!”
Now that we’re all motivated, be sure to be on the lookout for Part 2 of my Wellness Series: How to get started.
All the best,
David B. Reath, MD