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Methods for Meeting Basic Needs: Exercise

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Everyone knows they are supposed to exercise, and yet few people actually make time for it. There are a variety of reasons for why this is the case, but they mostly seem to boil down to two reasons: 1) that it takes too much time, and 2) that it is painful or uncomfortable (at least at first). There is merit to both of these claims, of course, but the health benefits of regular exercise are so great, that people really are best off to stop making excuses and begin exercising. Exercise improves physical health, reduces risks for serious illness, increases energy and vitality feelings, increases strength (which helps people perform activities of daily life more easily), helps people to lose and maintain weight, and improves mood and self-confidence. It is hard to think of any other single activity that provides so many benefits for so little cost.

Starting an exercise program is not terribly difficult for most people. It is the maintaining of the exercise program that is hard to accomplish The many benefits of regular exercise are only available to people who exercise regularly, however, so finding workable ways to maintain your exercise program becomes a very important problem for you to solve. Here are some tips for making it happen:

  • Build physical activity into your lifestyle.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk or ride a bicycle instead of driving.
  • Walk the dog every night, or make a ritual of walking with friends on a regular basis.
  • Join a gym near your work or home, rather than one that requires a drive.
  • Choose an activity you enjoy doing, if you know of one. If you like a particular type of activity (such as aerobic dancing, yoga, swimming, hiking, biking or playing ball) then run with it. Find ways to do that thing you like to do on a regular basis.
  • Design an exercise program that fits your preferences. If you get bored easily, select several different sorts of exercises you can engage in on different days and conditions. You might go cross-country skiing in the winter, and swimming in the summer, for instance. If you find comfort in routine, then choose a program that never varies and always gives you a good basic workout.
  • Whether you choose to work out in a gym, a class or a competitive sport, you are likely to be engaged in an activity that is complex and requires some study to understand and master. Yoga is certainly like this, as are all sports, and weight lifting too. Read up on the activity you choose, or take classes in it, or get feedback from a coach so that you can learn more about how it is properly done.
  • Exercise in groups or with friends if possible, so that you get to visit with people while you're exercising. The pleasure of being with friends helps distract you from any discomfort you may feel from the activity.
  • Distract yourself from any discomfort you may feel while exercising by listening to music, reading or watching television while exercising. Modern MP3 players (like the iPod Nano) are inexpensive and very light-weight and provide a comfortable stereo experience).
  • Don't try to do it all at once. While it is wonderful to set goals for what you want to achieve ("I will run a marathon"), it is important to realize that Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither were you. It takes time to build up the strength and stamina necessary to meet complex exercise goals. You can end up intimidating yourself when you think of the distance between where you are today and where you'd like to be. To avoid this problem, set small, short-duration goals that represent modest progress for yourself each week or every few days. Set your sights on meeting those little goals, and don't worry about the big picture. Over time, many little goals add up to a big one, and do so in a far less intimidating way.
  • Record your progress and look at it periodically, so that you can benefit from the motivation it will provide. Nothing succeeds like success.

Creating and maintaining an exercise program is a complex process. These few tips here have only scratched the surface. See our Exercise topic center for a more complete treatment of what you can do to become a better exerciser.