Fitting in fitness - A healthy resolution for the new year

Photo of women walking
Getting in your daily exercise can be as simple as taking a walk or a bike ride through the park.

With less daylight and much colder weather at this time of year, it can be as tempting as a plate of holiday treats to avoid exercise. However, it is important not to give in to such seasonal lapses.

The evidence supporting health and fitness is overwhelming. Regular exercise is associated with more health benefits than any elixir ever concocted. Studies show that it reduces the risk of some cancers, increases longevity, helps achieve and maintain weight loss, enhances mood, improves arthritis symptoms, lowers blood pressure, and even helps prevent gallstones and certain eye problems.

In short, exercise keeps you healthy and makes you look and feel better. And these benefits are not only for the young and healthy. Exercise is recommended for the elderly, for those who have suffered heart attacks and for people grappling with many types of chronic illness.

The key to exercise benefits is that you must do it regularly. That means you have to make a plan and commit to spending about 30 minutes doing something physical nearly every day of the week. Most people can find a place in their schedule to fit that in. Don't forget that you're not the only one who has to “force yourself” to work out. Everyone does. But keep in mind how good you'll feel afterwards.

And for those pursuing more physically active lifestyles, the UC Davis Sports Medicine clinic in Sacramento offers a comprehensive program providing medical, surgical, preventive, rehabilitative and performance services for both athletes and individuals. Experts at the clinic can help you with everything from sports nutrition and psychology to performance and fitness evaluations.

The ideal program

Whatever exercise you choose, incorporate these three components:

Aerobics: This is what gets you breathing hard and increases your heart rate. Whether you're walking the dog, mowing the lawn, or working out on a treadmill, pick up your pace as you become more fit to guarantee a vigorous workout.

Strength training: This is essential for keeping bones and muscles strong. Most aerobic activities are inherently strengthening, but for optimum results, most experts recommend using weights a few days a week. You can learn simple strength training exercises from a video, books, classes, or the Web.

Flexibility: Stretching should be incorporated into any exercise routine to help prevent injuries and maintain flexibility. If you have a bad back or problem joints, ask your doctor to recommend specific exercises.

When boredom strikes

Even the best exercise programs sometimes become derailed by lack of motivation. If you find yourself becoming bored, think of new ways to keep fit. Take a class on yoga, jazz aerobics, water exercise or tennis. Invite a partner to sign up for salsa dancing with you or go on your own.

While exercise doesn't have to be expensive, sometimes a new piece of equipment can motivate you to exercise more. Try new shoes, stretch bands, weights, swim flippers, a stopwatch or something else specific to your sport. Get a book or video to give you ideas of new routines. Or get a clip-on tape player and listen to music or books while you work out. Try keeping track of progress and reward yourself for meeting specific goals, such as accumulating 1,000 minutes of exercise.

So what are you waiting for? If you're reluctant to start without a doctor's okay, make that appointment today! For almost all conditions, you should really have your doctor's permission to remain sedentary. Exercise is that important.

Working in workouts

If you have trouble scheduling a time for exercise, find ways to incorporate workouts into a daily routine. If a half-hour of any activity seems overwhelming, start with three 10-minute spurts each day. Everyone can fit that in. Whatever you do, find things you enjoy. If it stops being fun, find something else. Just keep moving. Some people like the regularity of a single activity, while others like to vary their routine throughout the week or change activities every few months.