To become healthier, we have preconceived ideas of what it takes and what we would have to do, and exercise definitely falls into this category. We have been told that exercise means hitting a target heart rate for a certain amount of time, heading to the gym, moving for a minimum of 30 minutes, or, following a DVD program. Contrast this to when we existed in the wild—when moving our bodies was part of our survival: to find food, shelter, or to escape a predator. Clearly this is not the case with most humans in the world today. Food can be delivered to our table, door or through a drive-thru window with virtually no energy expenditure required on our part. The movement required to get from our house to our car, then from our car to our work is minimal and usually insignificant compared to the time we are stagnant. So, in order to exercise—because we’re told we need to—we partition time out of our day to move bodies for no reason at all related to actual survival (running on a treadmill doesn’t get us any further away from the lion). Typically we exercise to either lose weight or lower our blood pressure, but as with food, humans have come to overthink something we’re simply designed to do without thinking. And yet, paradoxically, it has now become essential to think about moving our bodies precisely because we don’t actually have to. In other words, we now have a choice of whether to move our bodies or not which is simply not a choice we are designed to make. Because it’s frankly much easier to stay sitting on the couch, the choice whether or not to exercise is a tough one to make…
In my small steps approach, where I teach people to make choices around their health and happiness that don’t require them to turn their lives upside down, it is crucial that people learn to dispense of these preconceived ideas of what so-called ‘healthy activities’ are, and instead approach the natural—bring a little more of what is natural to our species into their lives in steps that are comfortable for them. So, for the moment, forget what you’ve heard about gyms, heart rates, high intensity interval training, zone 2 workouts, and all the rest.
I am a runner because I love running. Yes it is precisely the partitioned movement I mentioned above, but for me carries value well beyond the movement itself. Health plays a factor for sure, but the time to breathe, think, and be silent is my prime motivator. There is rarely any struggle for me to run in the morning, and in fact, I look forward to it most days. On the other hand, resistance training (weights etc.) is a different story. Working out with my TRX suspension trainer is not pleasurable for me even though I know there is value to weight training—I believe the resistance training I did during my ultra training played an integral role in my completion and speedy recovery in both races. In the past I’ve essentially forced myself (listen to my podcast for my thoughts on discipline and will power) to do ‘partitioned-time’ resistance workouts, and while my body became stronger, the process wasn’t enjoyable for me. And so…Taking my own small steps advice, a month ago I decided to incorporate small steps of resistance exercise into my life, but in an integrated fashion—no partitioned time out of my day, but rather scattered throughout my day.
I began by setting an hourly alarm on my iPhone between 11 am and 4 pm (the alarm goes off six times per day). I set my first step at 5 pushups on the hour (30 total per day). This might seem like an inconsequential amount as compared to an hour in the weight room, but the point is that it was 30 more pushups per day than I was doing, and right out of the gate. Only four weeks later, I’ve upped my hourly amount to 12 hourly for a total of 72 pushups per day, and can already tell the difference already in my body. More importantly, I don’t dread this form of resistance training—it takes me less than a minute and doesn’t interrupt my day at all—no clothes to get into, no post-workout shower, just a quick drop to the floor, 12 pushups, and back to work.
As I often do in my podcast, let me remind everyone that we all want to be happy and feel good. If going to the gym to do a weights workout is pleasurable to you, then that’s awesome. If not, the point is to find something you do enjoy so you can incorporate the very healthy behavior of moving your body in a way that does not cause significant additional stress or dread in your life. Your initial step might be smaller or larger than mine, but here are few suggestions:
- 1-5 squats per hour (perhaps even start just once per day—and this applies to all below)
- 1-5 lunges per hour
- One-minute walk per hour
- 10 minute walk while talking to a friend on the phone
- 5 jumping jacks per hour
When you start small, when you act even in a seemingly inconsequential way, you are still acting. With even the smallest act of self-care, you send yourself the message that the world isn’t getting the best of you.