Developing a taste for exercise

URBANA—If there’s laundry hanging on your step machine and your weight bench is holding two ferns and a philodendron, you may need to re-examine your commitment to exercising.

Too often, exercise programs begin with an intense commitment to a stringent workout and end when our muscles scream in protest and the scales don’t move. We all say we want to be healthier, but what most of us mean is, “I want to lose weight and look good.” When the results take longer than we’d like, we get discouraged and quit.

That’s because vanity is a poor motive for exercise, according to Susan Kundrat, a visiting dietitian at the University of Illinois. It seldom leads to long-term success in maintaining an exercise regimen.

“Weight loss can be one reason you exercise, but it shouldn’t be your primary reason,” said Kundrat. “It’s much easier, year after year, to keep exercising if you’re concentrating on the overall health benefits.”

And what are some of those benefits?

“Generally, people who make exercise a lifestyle don’t get sick as often,” said Kundrat. “They’re more flexible, they don’t have as many joint problems, and they don’t get injured as easily. And of course, they enjoy greater cardiovascular health and overall strength.”

Still, many of us ignore the benefits and refuse to exercise. Jennifer Hess, a fitness specialist at the U of I, quotes some alarming statistics.

“Nearly half of American youth aren’t vigorously active on a regular basis,” said Hess. “More than 60 percent of U.S. adults don’t engage in the recommended amount of physical activity, and 25 percent aren’t active at all.”

If you’d like to do your part to change those statistics, Hess recommends that you begin by answering the questions on a Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire, or a PAR-Q.

“Your answers to the questions on a PAR-Q will help determine if you need to consult a doctor before you begin an exercise program,” said Hess.

From that point, Kundrat offers some basic guidelines for getting started and staying motivated in a long-term exercise regimen.

Start slowly and build. “Take a five-minute walk in the morning,” said Kundrat. “Work that up to 10 minutes, then 15. Eventually, to get some cardiovascular benefit, exercise 30 to 45 minutes a day, three days a week. Then add two days of strength training.”

Choose activities that you enjoy. If it’s not fun, you won’t stick with it.

Establish a schedule. Kundrat prefers to exercise in the morning, but has friends who use their lunch hour as their workout time. “The important things is to be consistent.”

Be accountable to someone. “Find an exercise buddy. Most people realize they have to have support.”

Acknowledge the small changes. “Even if the scales don’t change, your clothes fit better,” said Kundrat. “That’s huge!”

Vary your activity so you don’t get bored. Exercise should be something you look forward to.

Look for groups that can get you involved in your community. Kundrat suggests walking clubs, group golf or national organizations such as the United States Tennis Association (USTA).

Finally, said Kundrat, do your kids a favor and be active as a family. “When kids learn how good it feels to exercise, they’ll grow into adults who will really miss it if they’re not exercising.”

From the May 25-31, 2005, issue

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