Doing the Bigger Small Things: Exercise Doesn’t always Mean going to the Gym

Posted by Jim McCall on

Finally, at 51, I found a failsafe solution for how to exercise consistently.


I’ve been a runner for most of my adult life.  Not a great or fast runner…just a guy who runs 1-5 times per week.  Whether it’s one, five, or in between depends on weather, work schedule, my mood, my laziness…


Normally I try to get a longer run in every Saturday morning.  This weekend my running partner was away (thus, less motivated), and my back was slightly injured.  My wife asked if I wanted to go to the YMCA for an hour…which sounded, boring, dark and slightly painful on the first real sunny, warm day in western Washington.  


Instead, we decided to plant annuals, prune plants, pressure wash, and a handful of other things both Saturday and Sunday.  

Back yard after lots of yard work

Checking out my Fitbit (I highly recommend for tracking movement as well as sleep), it showed that I burned as many calories as on a longer run day, and more than on most other days.  The same was true for my wife who decided to vacuum the house and clean windows and blinds. Her Fit Bit even registered her cleaning as an ‘aerobic workout.’  She said the bonus was the satisfaction of sunlight streaming through those windows.


And I feel emotionally more fit too.  Our big backyard is closer to being ready for summer (something I always stress a little about because there’s so much to do).  And, all of the physiological good stuff that happens with exercise is heightened by it being outside in the sun, and not on a treadmill.


As I ebb and flow between dreading and loving exercise, I’ve finally found my answer:  there’s no one recipe for consistent exercise for the rest of life.  At least not for me.  But maybe it’s understanding, acknowledging and harnessing the inconsistency that is most important.


I wrote the following back in 2012 for this blog and my kids.  It fits well after this weekend:


Teach your kids that exercise doesn’t always mean going to the gym, going for runs, taking 45-60 minutes out of the day to “stay healthy.”  Instead, it’s doing the small things, and getting the bigger exercise when you want to, not when you have to. 


Don’t like or can’t do much scheduled exercise?  Pick two things you know you can do – maybe it’s 3 sets of push ups 3 days a week, and 10 minutes of stomach exercises 3 other days a week . . . then fill in the gaps with dedicated exercise (e.g.:  running twice a week), and other ways of “being less efficient.”  


Examples of being less efficient:  Take the stairs instead of the elevator/escalator.  Sweep the driveway instead of using the leaf blower.  Park at the back of the parking lot.  Carry a basket rather than pushing a cart when possible.  Hand-wash the car.


If you feel the urge, do something, even for 5 minutes.  Get up and dance, do jumping jacks, one set of pushups, whatever . . . it’s great for the body and mind, and doesn’t have to be a big workout. 


And finally, going for walks = exercise + relieves stress.  Take different routes, find hills and stairs, push the pace . . . and stop and stretch now and then.

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