And they’re easy, too!
In fact, let’s sneak that in before the rest of the list: exercise doesn’t have to be difficult. Modern fitness suggests otherwise, bombarding us with images of the young and the beautiful while making it damn near impossible for anyone else to join the club. You want in on the action? No problem! Two hours at the gym, three miles on the track, six carefully calculated meals a day, and by George you’re in.
I don’t buy it. I don’t like spending more than half an hour in the weight room. I don’t want to rise before the rooster and go for a long, sweaty run each and every morning. I really don’t want to work out tirelessly for three weeks, burn out, and settle back into my old routine.
Maybe I’m lazy. But who knows? Maybe staying strong and fit doesn’t have to be such a chore, and maybe – just maybe! – you can live happy and healthy without ever stepping foot in a gym.
Sound good? Read on!
1. Start walking!
There’s a reason, folks, that every workout routine in the world encourages a little more step in your daily routine. Walking is healthy, easy, and often enjoyable, arguably the simplest, best exercise and yet oh-so easy to forget.
Doctors suggest now that we all take 10,000 steps a day. Ideally, we’d all get it, but you and I both know that doesn’t happen as often as it should. Call it laziness, or call it sheer exhaustion after a long day behind the desk, but taking time out to go for a stroll just seems to get harder as work – and stress – pile up at our door.
Why not go for a compromise? Shoot for a thirty-minute walk every day, if you can wing it. Aim, at the least, for two hours per week of this low-level exercise, and definitely go for higher if you can fit it into your schedule. You might not nail those 10,000 steps, but you’ll still see many of the same benefits: increased endurance, elevated mood, and (my favorite!) plentiful opportunities to soak up the sun.
2. Stop running!
Unless you really enjoy it, of course.
But don’t think that thirty sweaty minutes on the treadmill will transform your life for the better, especially if you’re aching all over and struggling for air by the end of it. I’m not sure when it happened, but over the last few decades we’ve come to associate painful, sweaty suffering as good exercise for our bodies. “Chronic cardio,” as this phenomenon has been labeled by the fitness community, is yet another reason the gym continues to depress me: you can’t throw a water bottle without hitting rows upon rows of reasonably fit people nearly killing themselves in the name of good health.
I used to do it too. And for those first few weeks, I’d be grunting and sprinting on cloud nine, super-excited about my determination and all those pounds I imagined were sliding off by the hour. Eventually, though, I’d start to lose interest, unable – or unwilling – to muster the energy for another grueling run around the track. You can guess what happened next.
Without venturing too deep into the science behind it (that’s a later post!), let’s just say this: you don’t need to kill yourself on the treadmill just to burn a few extra pounds. In fact, our bodies most efficiently burn fat whenever we’re exercising at a moderate pace. Anything higher just robs us of energy, forcing our brain to send out demands for the exact kind of food you shouldn’t be eating as a way to recover. Remember how hungry you get after a long date with the treadmill?
3. Okay, okay – run once a week!
I’m not a fan of over-stressing our bodies, clearly, save for one instance: a dead sprint. They’re definitely not easy, but they are very rewarding, especially if you’re looking to shed that last bit of body fat. There’s also a growing body of evidence that brief, high-intensity sessions of exercise are just as – if not more! – effective than long, continuous efforts, so don’t you think for a minute that sprinting is taking the easy road to fitness.
You’ll change your mind after you do your first sprint. For anyone thinking of doing one, just remember this: sprints aren’t about speed so much as they are about pushing your body to the limits, so don’t worry if you don’t cover a lot of ground. When you start, run as hard as you can for five to ten seconds, take a break for as long as you need, and then do it again. Repeat the process as many times as you can, but aim to finish your sprints in fifteen minutes or less so as to maximize the benefits.
And what benefits they are! Brief, intense exercises encourage your body to burn fat, stimulate the growth of lean muscle mass (you want this, trust me), and – in my case, at least – make you feel kind of like a badass in the following hours. That’s well worth ten minutes of pushing my body to the limits, if you ask me.
4. Ditch the shoes!
Maybe you’ve seen the Vibram Five Fingers? I rock a pair, and while they won’t win any marks for fashion, I’ve seen pretty dramatic benefits from just a few months of wear. My lower back pain has vanished, my calves are stronger (and wider!) than ever, and I can walk for hours without experiencing any of the old discomfort in my shins.
My friend Nina has the topic covered in far greater length, but I’ll give a brief explanation for the thinking behind the anti-shoe movement. It goes like this: modern footwear, by design, never forces us to use most the muscles in our ankles and feet, providing so much cushion that a pretty critical part of our body gets weaker and weaker over the years. The strength of your feet have pretty far-reaching effects, not the least of which in your lower back, so you can imagine why back issues continue to rise as shoes just got fancier and fancier.
Interested in trying the barefoot life? You don’t need a minimal pair of shoes to try it out. When you get a chance, walk barefoot through a patch of grass, and maybe do some light jogging to see how your arches react. Running barefoot is a distinctly different experience, one that you’ll need to work up to, but you might be surprised to find that it’s a whole hell of a lot more fun than jogging around in a heavy pair of shoes. Your toes will thank you.
5. Ditch the machines!
Weight machines, to be exact. I’m thinking of those elaborate devices in the gym geared towards working specific muscle groups, but this applies to those expensive home solutions too. You might not be looking to bulk up, but these three exercises are worth including in every routine: pushups, pull ups, and squats. You can get by with these three alone, and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the last two weeks to great results. I’ll talk about SimpleFit at a later point, but let me wax poetic about the holy trinity for just a moment longer.
Put simply? They’re awesome. And free. You need a pull up bar, sure, but that’s vastly cheaper than a gym membership, and someone dedicated to these three motions has no need whatsoever for the lumbering weight machines so typical of home fitness. I’ve already seen big improvements in my upper body from working with the trinity alone, and needless to say I’ll be eying more bodyweight exercises in the near future. Sure, I could spend hours on end rotating between eight or nine different machines, but I rather like the idea of my entire full-body workout being done in twenty minutes. Don’t you?
In fact, that might be the biggest advantage of a simplified workout like the five steps described above. They’re simply, easy, and stress making big changes in your physical composition in the shortest amount of time. Odds are, you don’t have all the time in the world to tweak your body to perfection, but don’t fret – you don’t need it. Focus on engaging your body in consistent, healthy ways, and I think you’ll find the benefits far greater than any long hours spent preening in the gym.
What kind of workout do you prefer? I’d love to hear what works for you!
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