Regular exercise is key to good health – it's the panacea that keeps the heart healthy and mood lifted. If you've fallen off the wagon over the winter months, now's the time to freshen up your regimen and build movement back into your routine. Most important? "Do the doable," says top Ottawa obesity expert Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, who encourages patients to start slower than they think they should and aim for consistency in the long term rather than the quick burn. "Some is better, more is good, everything counts." Need more ideas? Here are seven ways to get started.
Kill the Grade 8 warm-up
Sitting on a mat to stretch is a warm-up many of us learned in grade school, but it should have been left in the 20th century, says Lowell Greib of The Sport Lab in Huntsville, Ont. Pre-workout static stretching – holding a position for a length of time without moving – has been shown to diminish performance, he says. But multijoint stretches prep the body for exercise by engaging the nervous system and increasing blood flow. For the lower body, try a set of gentle lunges: Take a longer-than-normal step forward, then bend both front and back knees, with your back heel coming off the ground. Repeat 15 to 20 times on each side. For tight shoulders, try the wall angel: stand with back to the wall, arms in a "stick-up" position with elbows at shoulder height and forearms straight up, palms facing out. With shoulders, elbows and hands touching the wall, slide hands and elbows up the wall, then return to starting position.
Revisit your childhood
Having trouble even making it to the gym? Then skip the suffering and bring some youthful energy into your life by revisiting childhood favourites, says Melissa Semenek, owner and instructor at the Canmore, Alta. studio re:focus Pilates. "Do something that you really enjoy," Semenek suggests. For instance, if you and your best friend loved to choreograph routines to the latest Madonna song, you might want to try adult-oriented dance or barre fitness classes; if tossing a ball around the backyard was more your style, find an intramural softball league with players at your fitness level.
Challenge your skills
Motivation can be hard to come by, and being stuck in the same routine doesn't help. To combat boredom and get your brain engaged, Warren Lee, founder of the Toronto Kickboxing & Muay Thai Academy, recommends finding an activity that challenges your mind and skill set as well as your physique – think martial arts, yoga or ballet, all of which start out with beginner moves and get more complex as you progress. "Not only are you working out, but you're learning something new," he says. "You are getting in shape, but you're also putting yourself on a new path in life."
Try micro workouts
"The greatest barrier [to exercise] people tell us is lack of time," says Dr. Ross Andersen, professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at McGill University. But don't fret if you can't fit a trip to the gym into your schedule, he adds. Squeezing in short bursts of exercise throughout the day – getting up 10 minutes earlier for a quick walk before breakfast, or doing 10 minutes of stealthy strength exercises in your office on your lunch break – is an excellent way to build in movement. "What we find is that once people start with that, the bouts of activity start to lengthen and they actually start doing a traditional exercise program."
Use it or lose it
"As you age you lose muscle mass," says Toronto personal trainer Jonathan Skelcher, owner of Fitfix Health and Wellness. And to put it bluntly, "you want to combat that, so you're able to maintain your life and not be bedridden." Skelcher suggests starting with this simple two-part routine, repeated three times a week. First, work legs and glutes by sitting down into a chair and getting up again. Second, strengthen core muscles by doing a modified crunch: Lie on back with knees bent at 90 degrees, feet flat on floor, palms on thighs. Slide hands up the legs as you use abdominal muscles to curl up. Aim for three sets of 20 reps of each exercise, alternating between the two.
Revise your calendar
If you're aiming for a.m. workouts but always pressing snooze – or trying to hit the gym at lunch but getting sidelined by colleagues – then it's time to ask your personal assistant to do a better job on scheduling. The best time to exercise is the time you actually will exercise, says Janice Cho-Chu, a personal trainer at Toronto's Adelaide Club. "It's important to follow how you feel," she notes. So if the 6 a.m. run that energizes your spouse makes you hangry (hungry and angry) all day, skip it and go swimming after work instead – and let them handle dinner.
Shake up your routine
Repeating the same workout week in, week out is not helping you get much fitter, says personal trainer Craig Ramsay, author of Anatomy of Muscle Building. "Our body wants us to take the easy road," he says, adding that muscles will adapt to an exercise program and, ultimately, require less effort to complete it. For better results, always challenge both strength and stamina – that means no magazine reading on the treadmill – and varying what you do from month to month, especially building in what you find difficult. Joggers, for instance, should sign up for some spinning classes; if yoga's your thing, switch it up for pilates or weight-lifting sessions with a trainer. "Challenge your inner athlete," adds Ramsay.
Fitbit: Workout-log spreadsheets are so 20th century. Today's wearable gadgets come with built-in accelerometers that track your every movement and upload them to computer or cloud for sharing, analyzing and goal-setting. The rain- and sweat-proof Fitbit Zip, for instance, available in five colours, clips onto belt, bra or pocket to measure your steps taken, calories burned and distance travelled, then automatically and wirelessly syncs to a computer or mobile device. Watch for the Flex, a wristband version, out later this spring.