Making exercise a habit: Easy summertime activities to improve your overall health, fitness | TheUnion.com

Making exercise a habit: Easy summertime activities to improve your overall health, fitness

Most of us know that physical activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. But while we may believe it requires hours in the gym or running half marathons, the health benefits of exercise can actually be enjoyed with much more moderate activity.

"Simply put, we just need to move our bodies a little bit each day," says Eric Holtrop, MD, Dignity Health Medical Group – Sierra Nevada. "Just about every medical problem that I see can be vastly improved through exercise and weight loss. It works for almost every condition."

The good news is that there are many low-key recreational activities that count towards your exercise goals. According to the CDC, especially in older adults, significant benefits can be made with moderate amount of physical activity.

"You don't have to be super fit. You just have to be consistent, create a habit, and do something four to five times a week," says Holtrop.

Holtrop also emphasizes one important detail. "It's important to be honest with yourself. You need to push it just a little bit. You need to breathe hard."

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There are generally thought to be four types of exercise.

Aerobic activities move large muscles like the arms and legs — and include activities like running, biking, swimming, walking, and skiing. These activities raise the heart and breath rate, which improve the conditioning of the heart and lungs.

Muscle strengthening activities help to strengthen muscles to make them more powerful and able to withstand endurance. Activities might include weight lifting, climbing stairs, doing push-ups or sit-ups.

Bone-strengthening activities are achieved with weight bearing on the legs, feet or arms. Activities include running, jumping, weight lifting, and walking.

Stretching helps improve flexibility of the body, as well as range of motion in joints. Yoga, side bends, and touching one's toes are examples of stretching.

According to Holtrop, the benefits of these types of exercise can be found in many recreational activities. Especially in our region, opportunities for outdoor recreation are abundant.

He offers a few local options to get you moving this summer:

• Walking is one of the easiest exercises to add to your routine. If your neighborhood isn't ideal for walking, you might head to the trails at Empire Mine State Park or the paved walkways at our Nevada County Fairgrounds.

• Gardening and yardwork are surprisingly good ways to get your heart rate up.

• If you like to bike, you might visit the Nevada City Chamber website for a map of five local routes.

• Consider trying something new. The more you enjoy something, the easier it is to incorporate it in your life. Nevada County is home to many sites for yoga, Pilates, Qigong, Zumba, 5Rhythms, aqua aerobics, indoor cycling, Barre, martial arts, and other classes.

• Team sports have the added benefit of adding social support and connection. You may look into local softball leagues, Frisbee golf, Ultimate Frisbee, pickleball, tennis, basketball leagues, or other sport of your choice.

To help his patients know how hard to work during their physical activity, Holtrop often suggests the same advice. "Every time you work out, you want to get to the point where it is hard to speak in full sentences or carry on a full conversation. If you're walking and talking with a friend, it's good — but it isn't providing the same health benefit as if you were pushing it."

This way of assessing activity level is called "perceived exertion," which allows individuals at any fitness level to achieve enough exertion to receive health benefits.

The most prominent health benefits of exercise are: helping prevent disease and improve everything from bones strength to sleep, heart health, weight management, physical strength and mobility. It also reduces anxiety and depression.

Holtrop practices what he preaches, heading home during his lunch breaks a few times a week for a 20-30 minute run. He also hikes and rides his bike. "I like to tell my patients that I run today so that I'll survive a heart attack at age 70. That's the mindset. Create a habit so that down the road it pays off."

Speak with your doctor before you start. If you have been sedentary, you should begin physical activity programs with short intervals, in the range of 5-10 minutes of moderate activity and gradually build up to the desired amount.

Holtrop's final piece of advice is to simply start. "Make the commitment to begin tomorrow. Start with walking. It's free and you can do it anywhere. Get up in the morning, put on your shoes and know that over time, you will get faster, improve your hypertension, reduce anxiety, have a better sex life and feel better."