I have a funny relationship with fitness and working out. I never caught on to aerobic classes, kick boxing or the zumba craze. I felt like a dork – stepping left when everyone else was stepping right. I couldn’t afford personal pilates lessons with those crazy contraptions. I ordered the “at home” equipment so I could look like Christie Brinkley – forget it. I like yoga; but couldn’t make the classes consistently – and I am down right bored with the drone of the gym.
I still get out and bike sometimes, hike sometimes, swim sometimes, ski sometimes –but creating a consistent fitness routine eludes me. If you want to get right down to it, having coffee with a friend trumps working out any day of the week. Apparently, I am known as one of those “in-between” people: not a total couch potato, but not in top shape either.
Does this sound like you? Bored with the gym, or need to save money on monthly dues? This week I am starting a three part series on how to incorporate fitness into your everyday life, with the guidance of personal trainer, Terry O’Hara. In the next three weeks we will explore “neighborhood fitness,” followed by tips from the pros, and nutrition basics.
The national guidelines for fitness from mypyramid.gov (http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/physical_activity_amount.html) state that to maintain established fitness levels- you must be vigorously active for a minimum of thirty minutes per day – every day. If you want to lose weight, or to maintain weight loss, vigorous activity is required for 60-90 minutes per day. “That’s pretty aggressive,” said O’Hara. “All the articles that say you can get flat abs in 10 minutes per day are wrong. To affect change, you have to make it a part of your life."
O’Hara took me on as a bit of a pet project last year, and created a “neighborhood fitness” program for myself, and a group of girlfriends. Instead of going to the gym or a class, we met in a local parking lot, and spend an hour jogging through neighborhoods, huffing and puffing up stairs, stopping at a nice view for group squats, using park benches for push ups, and ending with plank style ab crunches, and giggle-filled kegel tightening exercises. (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/kegel-exercises/WO00119) Think, “Desperate Housewives Does Basic Training.”
It was one of the toughest workouts I had ever done, and a total paradigm shift for me. Everyone loved it; we felt energized, sore and happy. We got our cardio, strength training, and all the week’s gossip in one tidy little hour! The numbers grew each week, and all of us were challenged in some particular way. Some could hardly jog a block, while others zipped along. Some struggled with the push-ups and others with stretching. We learned that the gym had actually decreased our overall fitness level – by becoming stagnant with the same exercise pattern over and over again.
“Everyone has to find the goal of what their body needs the most,” explained O’Hara. “For some, the goal is to lose body fat to expand their range of movement. Some forgot to do resistance training their whole life – and can’t do a single push up. Others have a difficult time running, because their heart is so tired and weak. In a group of relatively fit people, there is a huge difference in what they need to develop.”
In between group workouts, the concept of getting in that sixty minutes per day became something to achieve in short increments. I discovered there were plenty of ways I could sneak something in. While waiting for the school bus, I could stretch and do push ups in the yard. In the evenings, I started doing exercises during the commercials of my favorite show – and made it a contest to see how much I could do, before flopping back on the bed for the next installment of Grey’s Anatomy.
One of my challenges is running. I could not keep up with the group, even though I was the tallest. I do not like to run long distances, and consistently cramp with a side stitch. I asked O’Hara for other ideas to help me get that “vigorous exercise” under my belt, in the shortest amount of time. She surveyed my neighborhood for options, and noticed I have a fairly steep hill on my street. Viola! My “neighborhood fitness” homework was to run UP the hill, and then walk back down again about 4 times. Running UP was the opposite of what I wanted to do!
It worked. I could jog up the hill without a side stitch, and got to the top gasping for air. Running up a steep hill is just enough to get the heart pounding, and walking down offers time to get the breath back. The unexpected challenge of my hill inspired even the most fit to show up and give it a try. Imagine plenty of moans, groans and expletives as middle aged Facebook junkies heave themselves up and down a sleepy suburban hill. The rewards were quick; as the hill got a tiny bit easier to manage each time, if we kept it up.
I am still a work out flunkie. I still don’t exercise every day, or nearly as much as I should. However, I now know that I don’t need a gym, yoga mat or fancy equipment to be healthy. In fact, I can strengthen my body more than I ever imagined on the swing set, park bench or the municipal building’s concrete stairs.
Do you have any “neighborhood fitness” ideas, and are you a fellow work out flunkie? Love to hear your comments below. Time to lace up my sneakers – after my latte, that is…..