I have always been a little crazy about physical activity.
My doctoral studies and almost all of my research career have focused on studying the benefits of exercise and physical activity for middle-aged and older adults.
I was a competitive runner in college, and I guess I forgot to stop running (think Forrest Gump).
One of the things I try hardest to do is to find creative ways to build physical activity into my everyday life.
Before I got married and had children, I loved going to the gym and would spend a couple of hours a day working out! Once I had a family, I worked physical activity into my routine by getting up early to do strength training and jogging places.
Living in the pandemic has changed that routine and now I try to take breaks with my older kids to play soccer, kickball, or walk around the block while they rollerblade or hoverboard alongside. Sometimes I take a jog with my youngest in the stroller while listening to an audiobook. She doesn’t say much except “goo goo ga ga” but her smile tells me she enjoys this daddy time together.
So that’s how I build physical activity into my life, but I would not expect anyone else to do it the same way. The most important thing is to be creative, flexible and forgiving when it comes to setting your physical activity agenda.
There are countless enjoyable and creative ways to build physical activity into a daily routine.
Many of us grew up with a very rigid conception of ‘exercise’ that involves participation in a ‘formal’ exercise program, or joining a gym or fitness club, this kind of exercise almost always involves wearing special clothes, traveling to an exercise facility, and finding time in a busy schedule to fit it all in.
It does not have to be so formal. One secret to success with any physical activity plan—especially for those who find it difficult to stick with a traditional routine—is to stretch the imagination before stretching other body parts. Try to come up with creative and enjoyable ways to build physical activity into everyday things that you already do.
- Add a loop of brisk walking the neighborhood while sheltering in place…. remember to respect the social distancing guidelines.
- Use the step counter feature on your phone to log the number of steps you walk each day. Some people find that simply tracking the number of steps they walk every day provides that additional motivation needed to help them stick to their goals.
- On bad-weather days, walk up and down the stairs, or do some aerobic housekeeping instead.
Whatever you choose to do, do not set unrealistic goals. My advice is simply to try to do something physical on most days of the week.
Also, learn to read your body’s signals. On days that your body feels tired or weary, choose less strenuous activities, or take the day off. Once we learn how to read our body’s signals and respect its needs, we get a better sense for how to adjust our activity programs to the ebb and flow of our everyday lives.
If you fall off the wagon and experience a few lazy days, don’t beat yourself up. You can always pick up from where you left off.
It’s never too late to start and you can renew your commitment to an active, healthy lifestyle on any day of the year, even during the coronavirus.
Wojtek J. Chodzko-Zajko, PhD, is Dean of the Graduate College and Shahid and Ann Carlson Khan Professor in Applied Health Sciences. His primary research interests are in the area of aging and health. He spends his free time entertaining and being entertained by his four young children.