Ramp Up Slowly — Your 2016 Fitness Guide

As published on CityLivingSeattle.com

It’s the new year, and for many, that means it’s the time they reassess their wellness goals.

As a physical therapist, I frequently work with patients who would like to be more active but feel they lack the time, resources and skills to be good exercisers. From young professionals who are just beginning their careers to retirees who find themselves busy with all that life has to offer outside the gym, it is downright difficult to fit in time to exercise. This is a universal truth, not an excuse, and it’s OK to say it out loud!

To keep active, it’s important to do activities that are enjoyable. For some of us, that’s the gym, and for others, that means spending time outside in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.

Here are a few tips to increase your activity level by using what you have readily available — and to ensure that your resolutions carry you past the Valentine’s Day candy.

Know your capabilities
Each person has a threshold of exercise intensity, frequency and duration that works best for their body. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 to 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days per week or 20 to 60 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise three days per week for healthy adults.

While these guidelines exist as a blanket recommendation, a fair amount of variability exists among individuals. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and it takes experimentation on your part to find your niche.

When a person discovers their unique level of ideal physical activity, they feel energized and strong, not constantly sapped and excessively tired or sore.

Choose something you enjoy
The first rule of sustainable exercise is to pick something that you like doing. Don’t try to fit your square-peg exercise self into a round-shaped exercise hole.

Walking at a brisk pace is a good place to start, as this can be done with a stroller or a dog, during a lunch break or on the way home from work. There are several well-groomed walking trails and loops on both sides of Lake Washington, such as the Burke-Gilman Trail, the path around Green Lake or Bellevue’s Lake to Lake trail system.

If you dislike walking, cycling is another good option. If you want to work your exercise in to your commute, you can rent a cycle from a bike-share business such as Pronto in Seattle.

The most important thing to remember when increasing your cardio exercise rate —whether by walking, cycling, swimming, roller blading or any creative combination — is to ramp up slowly: Start with one to two days per week. As you become more conditioned, add slightly longer distances and more days during the week.

By increasing your activity gradually, you will build heart and lung strength without overwhelming yourself.

Don’t overlook strength training
Doing strength training two or three days per week is pivotal for the health of your skeleton and muscles, particularly as you age. Fortunately, there’s no need to pump iron and spend money on weights to get these health effects. Body-weight resistance exercise requires no equipment and includes climbing stairs, doing push-ups or plank exercises or participating in a yoga or Pilates mat class.

Yoga and Pilates both involve moving in and out of positions that require you to recruit multiple muscle groups simultaneously. If a class isn’t a good option for you, explore exercises on a simple Smartphone app, such as Pocket Yoga ($2.99) or Daily Yoga (free).

By gradually incorporating reasonable levels of exercises into your weekly routine, I hope you will be pleasantly surprised by your body’s capabilities and strengths. When you take steps toward including regular exercise into your life, you are making a valuable down payment on improved health and longevity.

LAUREN JENTGES, DPT, practices physical therapy at Pacific Medical Center