Brook Remote Care

Week 8 – Physical Activity

Purpose

Learn more about physical activity, why it’s important for good health, and how to get started.

Time to read

15 minutes

WHY IS BEING ACTIVE IMPORTANT?

Getting regular physical activity is one of the cornerstones of improving your health, but it’s also something we often struggle with. The good news is that you don’t have to be a gym rat or start running marathons – studies show that we start seeing health benefits with small increases in movement throughout the day.

Increasing your physical activity can have a positive impact on all aspects of your health, from bones to your brain.

Here are some of the benefits of physical activity:

  • Lowers blood pressure and cholesterol 

  • Lowers risk for heart attack and stroke 

  • Improves blood sugar management

  • Lowers risk of certain types of cancer

  • Helps us reach and maintain a healthy weight

  • Lowers stress levels 

  • Boosts energy 

  • Improves sleep and mood 

  • Improves balance, flexibility, and posture

  • Strengthens muscles and bones

  • Improves overall brain function 

GETTING STARTED

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans is a report that looks at the most recent scientific findings about physical activity and gives recommendations about the types and amount of physical activity we need to maintain or improve our health. 

In the most recent edition, the recommendation for the average American adult is to get 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. You can also do a combination of both throughout the week if you prefer to mix it up. Don’t worry, we’ll go over the difference between the two.

The key is getting in regular movement throughout your day and week. You can split up that 150 minutes into more manageable chunks of time, especially if you’re just starting out. 

As far as what exercises to do, the best type is something you enjoy doing! The more you enjoy an activity the more likely you are to keep with it. You can always ramp up an activity’s intensity so that it fits within the moderate-intensity category. 

MODERATE VS VIGOROUS ACTIVITY

Let’s dig more into the difference between moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. 

Physical activity is defined as anything that moves your body. This could include things like walking, taking the stairs, stretching, dancing, or even doing household chores. 

Aerobic activity is a type of activity that gets your heart rate up and can improve how your heart functions. Your heart is also a muscle, so think of this type of activity as strengthening that muscle.

When aerobic activity is done at a moderate-intensity, your heart will beat faster and you’ll breathe harder than normal, but you should still be able to talk. This is where the “talk test” example comes from. You can check in on the level of aerobic activity you are doing and its intensity by seeing if you are able to talk comfortably or if you are able to sing while doing the activity. Follow these steps below to determine what level of intensity you are at: 

Low-intensity: You are able to sing or carry on a conversation without strain. 

Moderate-intensity: You are able to still carry on a conversation but are not able to sing. 

Vigorous-intensity: You aren’t able to carry on a conversation without pausing and taking a moment to catch your breath. 

Some examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activities include: 

  • Biking 

  • Dancing 

  • Doing yard work 

  • Hiking

  • Brisk walks 

  • Jumping rope at a slower pace

  • Lifting weights 

  • Water aerobics

Some examples of vigorous-intensity aerobic activities include: 

  • Jogging or running

  • Swimming laps

  • Riding a bike fast or on hills

  • Playing singles tennis

  • Playing basketball

  • Jumping rope at a fast pace

If you’re just starting out, you might find that some typical moderate-intensity activities fall more into the “vigorous” category of the talk test, and that’s okay! The more you do them, the easier it will get. 

MYTH BUSTING

When we first start to increase our physical activity, we might fall into some common traps or myths:

MYTH 1: “I can eat more now because I’m burning more calories.” 

It can be easy to fall into the “calories in, calories out” trap, but thinking in this way can encourage us to overeat or get obsessive. You don’t need to “earn” your food. Besides, it takes 22 minutes of running to burn off a single chocolate bar! Physical activity offers so much more than burning calories, it has endless benefits. 


MYTH 2: “Physical activity isn’t helping me, I’m not seeing any weight loss or changes to my body.” 

Even though the impact on your weight or body might be hard to see, try to remember that any physical activity you are doing is supporting your body in so many other ways. Many of these changes aren’t noticeable when looking at our external appearance, especially at first. Try to track ‘non-scale victories’ to see your improvement. This can be things like walking longer or farther distances, lifting more weight, or reaching a little farther in a stretch.


MYTH 3: “I got 30-minutes of exercise this morning, so I don’t need to move for the rest of the day.” 

Studies show the longer we sit, the worse it is for our health, even if we did get some exercise in. If you’re an early morning exerciser, that’s great! It’s still beneficial to your overall health to get in periodic movement throughout the day. This can be anything from a stretching session to a brief 5-minute walk during a break from meetings. 

OVERCOMING CHALLENGES

It can be challenging to get active. People who successfully increase their activity are able to do so because they learn how to overcome obstacles, not because they have more willpower or determination. 

For example, let’s say your goal is “I will walk for 20 minutes in the evening.” What’s going to prevent you from sticking to that plan? Are you headed into winter and it’s dark outside? What are some ways to overcome this? Here are some examples:

  • Adjust the time you walk, maybe instead of the evening you can walk right after work or during a lunch hour. 

  • Drive to someplace open and well-lit to walk, like an indoor track, mall, or large warehouse store. 

  • Gear up with headlamps and retroreflective clothing to stay safe.

Brainstorm what you feel like your challenges might be, even if they seem very small, and what steps you can take to overcome them. 

Here are some common challenges that people face and some ways to overcome them:

I don’t have time

Find ways to get small amounts of movement throughout the day, instead of exercising for a long period of time. Some examples are:

  • Take 2-minute ‘exercise snacks’ where you do movements like squats, jumping jacks, or walking up and down stairs for just 2 minutes multiple times a day.

  • Use a standing desk or sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair.

  • Take a 2 minute walk after each meeting.

  • Schedule time for movement into your calendar ahead of time.

  • Choose to take the stairs instead of the elevator.

  • Park farther away from your destination or get off public transit one stop sooner.

  • Have stand-up or walking meetings. 

  • Take a closer look at your typical day and think about where you spend your time. Can you either add exercise to your schedule or swap something out?

I can’t get to the gym

No gym required! There are many ways you can stay active without having to go to the gym for a workout. Some examples are:

  • Dance to your favorite songs.

  • Do wall push-ups.

  • Buy (and use!) some resistance bands.

  • March or jog in place.

  • Buy (and use!) a stationary bike or treadmill.

  • Walk around during TV commercials.

  • Find videos to follow on a fitness app or YouTube (or dust off those DVDs).

  • Check out local hiking trails.

I travel a lot

Travel can cause a lot of disruption to our routines, so if you’re a frequent traveler you’ll need to be a bit creative. Here are some tips:

  • Pack resistance bands and do some exercise in your hotel.

  • Book hotels or rentals that have pools or gyms.

  • Join a gym that has many locations you can go to. 

  • If you’re driving, stop every hour or so to take a 5-minute walk.

  • Walk around and explore your destination!

I don’t have the energy or I just don’t feel like it

It can be hard to exercise when you feel tired or unmotivated. Keep in mind that regular physical activity can actually help improve your energy levels, both in the short-term and long-term. Here are some other tips if this is a common challenge for you:

  • Tell yourself you only have to do something for 5 minutes (like a walk). If at the end of that you don’t want to continue, that’s okay! Chances are once you’re moving you can continue for longer. 

  • Schedule activity like an appointment in your calendar. Make it something you need to check off your to-do list. 

  • What time of day do you typically feel the most energetic or motivated? Plan ahead to get some activity in at that time. 

  • Plan for activities that you look forward to! It can be something you find really fun or want to learn to do like a dance class or bowling. 

  • If you don’t look forward to any activities, add on things you do like. Maybe you only watch your favorite TV show or listen to your favorite podcast when you’re exercising. 

  • Get an accountability buddy or two. Planning activities with a friend or group of people will give you some extra encouragement.

I want to spend time with my family

Get them involved! Let them know that this is important to you and you’d like them to join. Here are some ideas for bonding time that also gets you moving:

  • Take family walks, hikes, or bike rides.

  • Activities that are more physical like walking around the zoo or playing mini golf.

  • Play games like tag, horseshoes, or hopscotch.

  • Start a family garden.

ARE YOU READY TO GET ACTIVE?

Before you get started, you’ll want to check with your healthcare provider and get  cleared to increase your physical activity. This is especially important if:

  • You’re over 50 and are planning to be very active, but haven’t been active in a long time. 

  • You’ve had recent chest pain or have a heart problem. 

  • You take medicine for high blood pressure or a heart problem. 

  • You have pain or pressure in your neck, left shoulder or arm during or after a workout. 

Once you’re cleared, here’s a few more things to keep in mind. 

  • Drink water before, during, and after your workout, even if you don’t feel super thirsty (unless you’ve been told to limit your fluid intake by your doctor).

  • Listen to your body. It’s okay to be slightly uncomfortable, but slow down or stop if you feel very tired, sick, faint, or have pain. 

  • Be mindful of any existing sprains, injuries, or mobility issues and ask for support to learn modifications or ways to be active with this in mind. 

  • Do a variety of activities. This will help to prevent strain from overuse on specific parts of your body (and keep you from getting bored).

  • Start small and work your way up. If you train too hard or too often, you might get hurt. 

  • Remember, any type of movement is better than no movement at all! You can always build more activity into your routine as you are comfortable and gain confidence. 


NEXT STEPS

  1. Check out our walking guide to add more physical activity into your routine. 

  2. Look at your weekly activity and make a SMART goal for increasing your activity at least one day this week. 

  3. Chat with the Brook Health Coaches to let them know of your activity plans!


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES