3 Practical Tips to Commit to Exercise

Image courtesy of AtoZrunning.  Featured: Sage and her mom and sisters.


Yes, the month of Valentine’s Day is American Heart Month, nice branding, right?

In the spirit of Heart Month, what can I do to practically improve my heart health?

Let’s talk exercise! I can hear the exhale, “really, we’re going to talk about exercise in February?” Yes, with the snow, darkness and all!

I grew up with exercise as a family value. However, it took some time for me to buy into that.

When I was in elementary school, my mom would take me for a 1-mile run with her. I’d protest about not wanting to go because I didn’t have time—In my defense, I was a very busy 8-year-old—but my mom would say, “If President Bush has time to run 3 miles, you do to.” Well, shoot. Can’t argue with that.

But one dreadful day as we ran down our driveway, my mom told me that we’d be running 2 miles instead of the usual 1 mile. No, not what I signed up for. So half-way into the run, without notice or signaling, I just turned around in indignation to head home. BEEP! The passing car swerved to avoid hitting me. Yes–I was so determined to defy the 2-mile proposition that I didn’t even look for traffic. My poor mother, that poor driver. Speaking of heart health, I think I almost gave them both a heart attack.

In the end, my mom won that stubborn kid over.

I ran my first marathon at 18-years-old with my mom by my side.

If you already love exercise, what a gift you have. Go get it!

If your reaction to exercise is less than love, like mine was…like turning into traffic because the only thing on your mind is how to get away from it…friend, this is for you.

We have all been told the benefits of exercise:

Reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, multiple cancers
Better sleep, better cognition and memory
Weight management
Better bone health and decreased risk of injury from falls
Depression and anxiety reduction
Better life and overall well-being

But, how do we practically move the needle from “I should do this for my health” to “I’m doing this for my health”?

Tip 1: Find your Why.

Why am I doing this?

  • If you have a why, I’d recommend deepening it by imagining what it would be like if you did exercise regularly. Here’s are an example: I want to exercise so that I can play tag with my kids. Imagine yourself playing tag with them in vivid detail. Are you playing tag inside or outside? Is it snowing or are the leaves falling? How old are your kids? Are they laughing? Do you let them catch you? Click. Take the picture in your mind and reference it when you just don’t feel like it.

If you don’t have a why, a good place to start is to ask your health care provider for a frank, personalized health reason for why you should exercise.

Tip 2: Make it a habit.

How can I stick with it?

  • Learn how to exercise. It’s hard to make exercise a habit if I’m sheepishly wandering around the gym for an hour, setting unattainable goals, and getting shin splints. Check out our Heart Health Fitness Demonstration by the American Heart Association at Warren Road Church on Thursday April 30th at 6:30pm. Event has been canceled due to COVID-19.
  • Combat the “I can’t” with an “I can” story. Start by watching the 2020 Special Olympics and Paralympics. You will be inspired, and the excuse about your bad knee is toast.
  • Find an exercise buddy. For most of us, our commitment to others is greater than our commitment to ourselves. You might push snooze if it’s an appointment with yourself to workout, but you’re less likely to snooze if it would mean bailing on a friend.
  • Plan for success. Find the time, space and resources. Exercise is probably not going to be a habit if your plan is to drive across town to the gym after a late night at work. Be strategic and realistic for how you’re going to feel. Do you need to workout in the morning? Find a gym closer to home or work? Workout at home? Do I need cold weather walking gear? Do I need to have my dance exercise playlist on YouTube already set up?

Tip 3: Find joy in the journey.

Will this ever become enjoyable?

  • Find exercise that is fun for you (or at least a shade of fun). Examples: dance, bike ride, watching a movie on the stationary bike, going for a walk with a friend.
  • Create positive feedback. If exercise is drudgery only, your mind is going to say, “not worth it.” You need to train your mind to associate exercise with positive things. Here’s an example: Every Saturday morning growing up my mom’s friends would come overdo a long run with us and afterward we’d visit over bagels and coffee. Now, my mind is programmed that Saturday morning long run = exercise endorphins, friends, carbs and caffeine. Now, aren’t the bagels a diet sabotage? Yeah, but I’ll say this, if you’re going to do it anyway, associate your food treats with exercise. If your doctor asks me, “Have you been telling my patients to start eating bagels?” I will firmly deny it.
  • Work towards incremental goals and celebrate your achievements along the way. Did you reach your goal of exercising 3 times a week in March? Tell your friends and family—let them praise you! Celebrate with something that you enjoy, like an outing with a friend or a movie night, or maybe it’s a trip to the park to do something you wouldn’t have been able to do before, like a hike or a 5k.

Ready to get started? Below are the American Heart Association exercise guidelines to get you started and be sure to check out Covenant’s Heart Health Fitness Demonstration by the American Heart Association on Thursday April 30th at 6:30pm at Warren Road Church (33445 Warren Road, Westland, MI 48185). To reserve your spot, please RSVP to Covenant’s Westland Clinic at 734-298-0203. Events have been canceled due to COVID-19.

New to exercise?

American Heart Association has some Exercise Guidelines for Adults:

– Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.
– Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.
– Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
– Gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.
– Increase amount and intensity gradually over time.

Sage Davis, DNP, NP-C is the Clinical Quality Director at Covenant Community Care and a family nurse practitioner at Covenant Community Care on Woodward Ave in Royal Oak.

Disclaimer: This article is not medical advice. See your healthcare provider for personalized medical advice and to ensure you are cleared for exercise activities.

Images courtesy of AtoZrunning.

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