Even if you hated gym class, you can do it.
The value of physical activity is well cemented in our minds. In our youth, we’re encouraged to play outside, and in adulthood, we’re pressured to join a gym. We follow these instructions for many reasons, but chiefly because we know that working out has a multitude of benefits for our physical and mental health. Consequently, most of us eventually come to see exercise through the lens of self-betterment. Whether it’s muscle we want toned, weight we want gone, or a shape we want transformed, exercise always seems to have a goal in mind. It’s easy to see staying active as a rewarded chore rather than a vital component of daily routine.
In efforts to combat my own issues with body image, I’ve challenged myself to treat exercise as a tool for none other than my health. In addition to feeling less groggy during the day and more confident in my body, miraculously, I’ve found that it’s easier to go to the gym!
Here is my guide to integrating no-frills, practical exercise into your daily routine.
1. Hydrate and eat.
Whatever time of day you are planning to work out, it is important that you drink water beforehand. Cardiovascular exercise requires hydration to prevent problems with breathing, cramps, and headaches. Regardless of when you choose to schedule your workout, make sure you’ve eaten and drank beforehand. But remember to pace yourself. You can’t make up for a day without water (or avoid cramps) by chugging a bottle five minutes before your run.
To me, stretching feels like a serious thing that Instagram fitspiration models do. But having run half a season of cross country in high school, I can tell you it makes all the difference. If you’re working out in a gym, there will usually be a space designated for low-impact movement and stretching. You can find really good guides to basic pre- and post-workout stretches on the internet, like this one (complete with informative gifs!).
Experts recommend 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you have access to equipment, you can complete these 30 minutes on a stationary bike, rowing machine, treadmill, elliptical, or other machine at the gym—though I would personally avoid stair steppers. (It’s way too easy to overdo it.) Follow the directions available on the machines. Most will have difficulty settings that you can adjust to fit your capability. If you don’t have access to a gym, running and biking outside are two viable options. Remember to abide by commonplace traffic rules, and wear a helmet when necessary. (Not when running, when biking.) (You know what I meant.) During your workout, focus on maintaining a steady pace rather than testing your endurance in intervals. The former strategy will ensure a lower likelihood of you tiring yourself out and ending your workout early or incorrectly.
4. Cool down.
If you’re on a machine, lower the settings. If you’re on a run or a bike, slow your pace. Continue until you are eventually at an easy, slow speed. This transition should take about 5-10 minutes. You can factor this time into your 30 minutes of activity or separate it. Whatever you do, make sure you aren’t switching from vigorous exercise to stagnancy without proper transition.
5. Stretch again.
Your hamstrings will thank you.
6. Take a cool shower.
Not only might you smell, but taking a shower less warm than usual can help soothe muscles to avoid soreness the next day.
With these tips, you can integrate simple exercise into your routine. There is, of course, one hurdle unmentioned by my guidelines: what the hell are you supposed to think about when exercising? Luckily, in the Digital Age, we are equipped with cable-enabled gym equipment and strong Wi-Fi connections. If you’re a bit more 2000 and late, your MP3 device can be of great use too! For your sake, here’s a mix of contemporary bangers, New Wave anthems, upbeat indie rock, and early aughts pop to keep take your pace buoyant and mind somewhere else.