Woman stretching with artificial leg

The article was written by Heidi Campo; NSCA CPT, CSCS, and certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist

What’s the best exercise for you?

We know we should be physically active, but where do we start?

There are many proven benefits of increasing your daily physical activity and exercise. Including but not limited to; fat loss, strengthening bones, reducing the risk of disease, improving your quality of life and ability to daily living, fall prevention, longevity, managing chronic health conditions, lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, reducing feelings of anxiety and depression, improving memory function, and so much more. With the long list of benefits, you would think Americans would put a lot of time and effort into being physically active. But, unfortunately, the opposite is true.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the bare minimum recommended physical activity standards to help prevent disease in adults aged 18-65 years are:

  • Cardio – participate in moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity for a minimum of 30 minutes five days per week or vigorous-intensity aerobic activity for a minimum of 20 minutes three days per week.
  • Strength training – perform activities that maintain or increase muscular strength and endurance for a minimum of two days per week. (Figure 1)

Unfortunately, fewer than a quarter of Americans are meeting the minimum standards. Remember that this is the minimum activity recommendation to help prevent disease. Keep reading to hear more about the benefits of being physically active and helpful suggestions on starting!

Figure 1

Why is this such a hard guideline for Americans to follow?

The top 10 reasons Americans are not exercising are:

  1. They don’t like it
  2. They don’t have time
  3. Too tired
  4. It is too challenging/ painful
  5. Injury is a perceived barrier
  6. They think they are too old
  7. It is too expensive
  8. They think they are too inactive and embarrassed to start
  9. Too stressed
  10. Think they are already “thin” and therefore not in need of exercise

Take a moment to look over that list, and think about what reasons you have told yourself as to why you have not started or maintained a physical activity routine yet. Do you see one or more of your reasons on that list?

Remember that your activity (Non-exercise activity and exercise activity) combined make up 30% of your total metabolism. Therefore, avoiding exercise and physical activity ultimately will make it more challenging to lose fat and keep it off. As well as increasing your risk for injury and disease in the future.

The good news is we will talk about a method that works to get you active, even if you have one or more of the excuses above for not getting into an active lifestyle yet.

Introducing the dial method!

We have all heard someone say something like, “I will start on Monday.” We might even be that person! Starting fresh and doing it right on January 1st comes from the all-or-nothing mentality. This can sometimes be a good thing. People who tend to be like this are often very passionate and thrive in the things they can sustain. But, unfortunately, health and fitness is metaphorically, and sometimes literally, a marathon instead of a sprint.

My mom always said, “one salad won’t make you fit, just like one cheeseburger won’t make you fat.” I have always lived by that saying. It is a good reminder of moderation. Figure 2 demonstrates this principle. The light-switch metaphor comes from the all-or-nothing mentality. People will either try to do it perfectly or not at all. Then, if they don’t feel like they see results from it, they quit altogether!

Good thing there is an alternative! Instead of thinking of our habits as an on or off switch. We can think of them like a dial. Just like how you can turn up or down the thermostat, you can also turn up or down the intensity of how you approach your goals.

Figure 2

Let’s use two different people as an example. We will call them Nicole and Becca. Nicole is used to working out four times a week, eating plenty of protein, drinking enough water, and sleeping enough for her overall health. On the other hand, Becca works out six times a week, follows a rigid schedule, and hits almost all her health and fitness goals daily. Nicole and Becca are both externally perfect pictures of health but have very different mindsets. So what would happen if life changed for them?

Nicole and Becca both become pregnant with their first child. Nicole suffers from nausea with any meat products and often gets dizzy. In addition, her sleep schedule is affected by the baby, and her body is uncomfortable with all of the changes. Becca is experiencing cravings, a disrupted sleep schedule, and is physically uncomfortable.

Nicole, who uses the dial method, decides that even though she can’t be perfect with her goals right now, she will still try and do what she can. She switches to mostly plant proteins so she can keep eating a better ratio of carbs to protein (rather than giving up and eating all the things she craves). She starts doing water aerobics to stay active and safe, even though she sometimes gets dizzy. Finally, she adjusts her schedule to allow more downtime and self-care since her body is uncomfortable from all the change and lack of sleep. Nicole ends up having a healthy pregnancy and rebounds quickly to her former habits soon after having her baby.

Becca, on the other hand, has an all-or-nothing mentality. She is very prone to burnout, and this happens when she gets pregnant. She breaks her strict diet several times in one week when her cravings get too out of hand. This makes her frustrated, and she gives up completely. She begins to justify her actions and eats whatever she wants. Her sleep schedule is also affected and she does not preemptively scale down on her activities to account for the lack of sleep. As a result, Becca ends up with terrible back pain at the end of her pregnancy. Her baby is healthy, but she gained 80 extra pounds during her pregnancy and now struggles with back pain so much that it is almost impossible for her to gain the motivation it takes to return to her former habits.

Incorporating the dial method into your life

You can start thinking about this method for your own life by figuring out where you are on the scale. If you are at 0% of your effort, any small positive changes you make will start to make an impact.

Figure 3

Someone who is putting in little to no effort might look like this:

  • Sitting down all day.
  • Very little to no movement at all.
  • Poor posture.

The goal is always to be trying to adjust your effort based on how your life is structured. If you are currently doing nothing, try to bring it up at least 10% with the following:

  • Work on increasing NEAT (Non-exercise activity).
    • Don’t sit for more than an hour at a time.
    • Park further away in the parking lot.
    • Use amenities that are on different floors of the building, like using the bathroom on the other side of the office or the printer that is on a different level.
    • Try getting a sit/ stand desk or sitting on a stability ball instead of a chair.
    • Other; Fidgeting, bobbing your head to the music, or tapping your leg during the day.
  • Pay attention to your posture, don’t slouch.

If you feel like you have made good progress with those tasks, keep the previous activities going but try to kick it up another 10% with things like:

  • Going for a brisk 10-20 minute daily walk,
  • Adding in a daily stretching routine,
  • and/or Increasing your NEAT even more by adding in house chores, active hobbies, or other non-exercise movements.

If you are not quite ready to meet the ACSM minimum guidelines but are still prepared to kick it up more, try adding 10 minutes of calisthenics (bodyweight workouts) at home. Figure 3

  • This will help you prepare to achieve your 150 minutes of cardiovascular (aerobic) work weekly and your 2x weekly muscle strengthening work.
  • Add resistance training to your 10-minute calisthenics using minimal equipment like kettlebells or resistance bands to kick it up further!

Once you reach that goal, time for the real deal! 150 minutes of moderate or intense aerobic activity weekly and resistance training 2x per week that works all major muscle groups. Try doing this for six months.

If you get to the previous effort, you are ahead of most of America! However, if you are already there and you want to do more, try some of the following suggestions for people putting in 80% effort or more:

  • Resistance training 4x per week.
  • Cardio endurance 3x per week.
  • Follow a progressive training program designed for specific results. (Linear or undulated periodization or conjugate method of training.)
  • Heavy training sessions that take an hour or more to complete.

To sum it up

  1. Physical activity and exercise help with fat loss and disease prevention.
  2. Americans are not meeting the minimum guidelines of activity for disease prevention.
  3. The dial method encourages you to think of your habits like a dial rather than an on/off switch.
  4. Using the dial method can help you stay on track no matter what is going on in life and, therefore, never “fall off the wagon.”

Do you need help scaling your lifestyle? Give us a call today for an extra boost of motivation! Our providers can help look at your lifestyle and history. Then give helpful recommendations and prescriptions to get you moving in the right direction!