7 healthy tips to reboot your exercise program

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Published February 22, 2021

Key Takeaways

Whatever your exercise routine, chances are COVID-19 has interrupted it. Your gym may have closed, and maybe you’ve gotten too cozy with your couch during the pandemic. Last November, the WHO released new evidence-based guidelines on the amount of physical activity required to improve health and mitigate health risks associated with a sedentary lifestyle. 

The benefits of regular exercise are extensive, according to the WHO report. Data showed that for adults between 18 and 64 years of age, physical activity curbed all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, certain site-specific cancers, depression and anxiety, and sleep issues, while also improving adiposity measures.  

With that in mind, here’s the latest guidance and tips for rebooting your exercise routine.

How much exercise is needed?

The WHO recommends that all adults exercise regularly, in accordance with the following guidelines:

  • Perform at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity weekly—or an equivalent combination throughout the week. 

  • Two or more times weekly, perform muscle-strengthening exercises at moderate or greater intensity, involving all major muscle groups for additional health benefit.

  • Adults are encouraged to exceed these minimum requirements for additional health benefits.

Moderate vs intense activity

Now for the million-dollar question. Which is better: moderate or intense physical activity? Before we delve into this distinction, any type of physical activity is better than no physical activity. Additionally, based on a person’s chronic conditions or disability status, it may be difficult to perform intense physical activity.

In a randomized-controlled study published in BMC Women’s Health, researchers assigned 117 healthy women to the following: 1) a control group with a low-level of physical activity, 2) a moderate-physical activity group that walked 10,000 steps daily, and 3) an intense physical activity group that trained at a level equal to or greater than 70% of VO2 max three times weekly. The participants adhered to a hypocaloric diet that reduced intake by 500 kcal/day, with nutritional counseling provided to boost diet adherence.

The authors found that “a hypocaloric diet, without prescription of physical activity, is adequate to lose weight in the short term (12 weeks), but physical activity is vital to modify the body composition in women with obesity. Body fat was lower when women practiced a moderate exercise compared to hypocaloric diet only, but intense physical activity was the most effective protocol to obtain a reduction of body fat and maintain muscle mass.”

According to guidance provided by the American Heart Association, spicing up your workouts with high-intensity interval training (ie, short, intense bouts of exercise) is the best way to improve fitness. Of note, with low-intensity exercise, a person can still sing or talk. With moderate-intensity exercise, a person can talk but can’t sing. With high-intensity exercise, a person can neither sing nor talk in full sentences while working out.  

Incorporating high-intensity exercise into your regimen can be incremental. For instance, you can start by adding a short sprint to a longer walk or run, and proceed from there.

Rebooting your exercise routine

Being a busy physician, it’s easy to let long hours at work impinge on health maintenance. Perhaps it’s been some time since you dedicated yourself to an exercise routine. Rest assured, you can get back into the groove. Try these tips to help you recommit to regular exercise:

  1. Commit. Humans are creatures of habit, and consistency leads to habit formation. Set a goal to exercise daily for 30 days for a specific length of time. Doing so will make exercise a part of your routine.

  2. Visualize. When starting an exercise routine, create a vision of the results you desire after 2 weeks, 2 months, and 2 years. Continually reassess this vision while on your exercise journey.

  3. Track your progress. As a doctor, you’re used to documentation. Apply these same skills to your workouts. Use an online fitness tracker or smartphone to track progress. This will help build momentum.

  4. Schedule your workouts. It can be hard for a busy doctor to find time during the day to work out, which is why scheduling in advance is crucial. Pick a time that works for you on any given day and stick to it. Even if you are very busy one day, find a 15-minute window to get your legs moving and blood flowing.

  5. Warm-ups/cool-downs. For those who haven’t exercised in some time—and even for those who exercise regularly—adequate warm-ups and cool-downs are key. Warm-ups help the body prepare for exercise, and cool-downs allow the heart to return to a resting rate.

  6. Be realistic. If you’re just getting back into an exercise routine, it’s important to set realistic expectations. It may be some time before you reach your goals, and that’s OK. Furthermore, age and chronic conditions also limit exercise. Just do your best.

  7. Support. Friends and family can be supportive for those interested in maintaining an exercise routine. Lean on your support system and share your exercise goals for best results. You can also join online groups or like-minded exercisers for additional encouragement.

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