by Haley Newton, DO
It’s May—National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Each year, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition encourages Americans to be more active. “This month is a fantastic time to put your focus on exercise and moving your body,” says Haley Newton, D.O., a family medicine physician with USMD Las Colinas Clinic. “You don’t have to train for a marathon to be fit. It’s all about setting realistic goals and taking that first step. Thirty minutes just three days a week is a great place to start.”
Seems doable, right? After all, you deserve time devoted to your health and happiness! Want to look 10 years younger and 10 pounds leaner? Exercise does more than any fad diet or beauty cream. While looking great is a great motivator to move more, there are plenty of other reasons to make it a priority.
“People sleep better when they exercise,” says Dr. Newton. “It can improve your GI health, reduce your risk for diabetes, lower your blood pressure, and help prevent heart disease. Exercise also helps with depression. In older adults, it can lower the risk of falls and improve cognitive functioning.”
With so many good reasons to #MoveInMay and every month, there’s no reason to put it off any longer. Here are some easy tips to help you get started:
Don’t let the “B” word sidetrack you.
“Everybody has busy schedules with kids, family, work and commuting, but it’s really important to take this minimal amount of time—an hour and a half a week—to focus on you and your health,” says Dr. Newton. “Figure out what’s going to work best with your schedule. If you have to be at work really early in the morning, working out afterward may be the best. For others getting up early and working out first thing in the morning is better. Whatever it is, choose a time that’s going to allow you to do this long term—not just for the next week, but at time that can really be part of your daily routine.”
Walking is great way to start.
Take the recommended 30 minutes, three days a week schedule. “That’s one TV show three days a week where you’ve walked instead of sit on the couch or at a desk,” Dr. Newton adds.
Walking is good for everyone because it is low impact and weight bearing exercise—especially important now when technology has made so many of us sedentary for long periods each day. In fact, experts now say “sitting is the new smoking.” Plus, walking is easy and low-cost—all you need is a good pair of walking shoes. When walking for a 30-minute stretch is no sweat, walk a little longer—up it to 45 minutes three days a week, or walk more than three times per week.
“I also encourage people to track their steps—whether they use a Fitbit, iWatch or cheap pedometer they get online,” says Dr. Newton. “People are often surprised how little they actually walk at work and during the course of their normal day. I was. Even though I feel like I walk a decent amount around the clinic, I found I was only walking about 5,000 steps a day, and that was eye-opening because the goal should be 10,000 steps a day. Like most people, I have to put in a bit of extra effort outside my normal daily routine to reach my goal.”
Need extra motivation to stay on track?
Remember, exercise is something you are doing for yourself. It’s your time to decompress and relax, so find ways to add variety and make it something you look forward to, not dread.
Find a friend. Working out with a friend can help you stay motivated. You’re less likely to blow off exercise when you have a date with a workout buddy.
Move to tunes. Listening to music distracts you from fatigue and relaxes your muscles to encourage blood flow.
Mix it up. Match your exercise with your mood. Feeling low? Go for a walk in the park. Keyed up from work? Take a high-energy spin class. Missing your kids? Go for a bike ride with the family.
Want to ramp up your activity level?
If you don’t want to walk on a treadmill, walk outside or exercise inside a gym, there are so many fun options for being active,” says Dr. Newton. “There are fantastic recreational and YMCA leagues that organize all kinds of teams—soccer, softball, basketball, volleyball, inline hockey, flag football.”
It doesn’t really matter what you do, it only matters that you MOVE!
Studies show that people who don’t exercise regularly can lose as much as 80 percent of their muscle strength by the time they turn 65. Today, nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity—and nearly 25 percent aren’t active at all.
“Don’t be one of them,” says Dr. Newton. “I have so many patients who work, take care of kids and elderly parents, yet they’ve committed 30 minutes, three days a week to being active. When they stick with it, they start noticing that they’re sleeping better, feeling better, their mood is happier, they’re losing a little bit of weight. Those positive changes really propel them to keep doing it. Many start eating better and drinking more water. I’ve even had patients who were able to get off their diabetic and blood pressure medications as a result. Exercise really helps so many different aspects of your body.”
Haley Newton, D.O., is board certified in family medicine by the American Board of Family Medicine. She graduated from the University of North Texas Health Science Center College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Worth, Texas, and completed a family medicine residency at UT Southwestern Medical Center.