FINALLY! The heat wave of the past summer is behind us and it’s beginning to feel good to be outside again. It’s very likely that some of you either abandoned, or at least greatly modifi ed, your fitness regimen over the summer since it was just too darn hot for outside exertion. So, now it’s back to the walking or biking or whatever your routine used to be.
And let’s face it – the only successful exerciser is the one that actually has, and sticks to, a routine. We all do better when we’re in our “comfort zone”. So, what is your comfort zone when it comes to exercise and fitness? Is it your 30 minute walk a few times a week – always the same route? Is it a couple of classes so you have the camaraderie of others?
I’m issuing a challenge: Restart your exercise program, but get out of your comfort zone. Why? By doing something out of your regular routine, you will not only see physical changes in your body, but you will boost your self-confidence and your self-image.
Let’s talk about the physical side first. It’s no secret that our bodies were designed for activity, not for sitting on the couch. Daily movement keeps us healthy and fit. Simply put, movement occurs when we contract our muscles. In order to contract, muscles need fuel, and they get that in the form of either fat or glucose. With low intensity exercise, we burn 95 percent fat and 5 percent glucose. Fat, though, is not stored in the muscles. The body has to bring it to the muscle through the circulation of the blood. Fit individuals utilize fats to a greater extent both at rest and during exercise as compared to unfit individuals. The more fit you are, the more efficient your circulation and the better a “fat burning machine” you will become. Low intensity aerobic training will build your muscles, heart and circulatory systems – turning you into a healthier individual.
When you push your body a little harder you will start burning glucose in addition to fat. Your muscles need more oxygen getting to the blood, so your heart rate will go up – somewhere between 65 – 85% of its max. This is the point where you’re breathing harder, but still able to carry on a brief conversation. And why is this necessary? Studies have shown that regular bouts of intense aerobic exercise increase our metabolism (we burn more calories!) and make our bodies even more effi cient and powerful. The longer and more intense the workout, the longer the metabolism will remain elevated after completing the workout. And not only do our bodies benefi t, but our brains become more alert and functional. MRI’s performed on individuals working in this higher intensity zone have shown increased brain activity. And who couldn’t use that?
So, back to my comfort zone challenge: Where do you see yourself on the exercise scale? Are you:
At level 1. You do your 30 minute walk most days, but don’t push yourself to the increased heart rate level.
At level 2. A couple of your weekly workouts include some increased intensity – getting you to the point of hard breathing.
Or are you still trying to make yourself get off the couch and out the door?
Wherever you are, take it to the next level! If walking is your passion, try to include hills in your walk, or add interval training to your walk. That is, walk at your normal speed for 2 minutes, then walk faster for 30 seconds. Repeat these intervals at least 5 times. If you don’t feel the increased intensity, you’re not walking fast enough! If you’re already at level 2, push yourself a bit farther. For example, add running to your walks in order to boost the intensity. Or add another type of cardio exercise. Get on a bike, swim laps, try an elliptical machine. There is no disputing the fact that a variety of different exercises and intensities do more good than a single, unvarying routine. And the benefit is not just physical. We need to be mentally stimulated as well, or we won’t stick with it. Boredom sets in, and all of a sudden those exercise habits fall by the wayside.
Will it be easy? No! Will it be worth it? Totally!
Am I speaking from experience or just prescribing what I’ve read? In the last 7 years I’ve put myself out of my comfort zone more times than I dreamed possible, and all at an age when many people begin to just accept their circumstances.
I changed my career path at age 52 and became a Personal Fitness Trainer. Was it difficult? Yes! Was it worth it? Definitely! To have a passion for a career and know that I have the potential to positively infuence other lives is incredible.
I began road biking less than 2 years ago, and have since ridden over 4,000 miles through the Texas Hill Country, France and Italy. Was it difficult? Yes – clip- in pedals and all! Was it worth it? The experiences can’t be duplicated!
A comfort zone is important, but will it change and enrich your life? Probably not. You’re never too old to push yourself. Gain self confidence and become that person you always wished you could be!