According to Charles Duhigg’s book, The Power of Habit, keystone habits are “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.” One example of a keystone habit for almost everyone is exercise. Once a person introduces exercise into their daily routine, they start to unintentionally adopt other new healthy habits too. This new routine of exercise tends to trigger people into eating healthier, sleeping better and smoking/drinking less. Not only does this keystone habit of exercise trigger additional healthy habits, but it also is correlated with a host of other benefits too. In this post I’ll detail the benefits of regular exercise, how to structure your exercise program, and debunk a few common myths. Let’s get started!
Benefits of Exercise
Exercise has been linked to a host of benefits. Some obvious, some well known, and some becoming increasingly important. Below, is a list of benefits I’ve found to be extremely important.
- Increased strength, endurance and stability. These three factors alone help prevent falls, the number one cause of death for anyone 65 and up.
- Decreased risk of death from any one of the top 10 leading causes of death in the US. (Heart Disease, Cancer, Stroke, Diabetes, etc.)
- Increased immunity. This means you’re sick less often throughout the year and are less prone to catching the flu.
- Improved brain health. Not only does exercise help prevent brain diseases like dementia, but it helps with everyday functionality like dealing with stress or pain. It also lessens your chance for depression, can help with productivity, and can boost your mood.
- Improved body image. People that work out feel more confident about the way they look. They also tend to have better posture, stronger bones and more balanced muscles.
Not only does exercise increase your lifespan, but it improves your healthspan. This means that you’re not just living longer, but you’re living happier and healthier. This is important because without healthspan, not everyone can enjoy can extended lifespan.
Good Fitness Practices
If you’re looking to reap all these benefits, it’s important to follow good fitness practices. Here’s what I’ve found to be most effective.
Working out alone, in a group, or with a class each have their own benefits. Working out alone has been shown to be less stressful and more calming. It gives you time to work and focus on yourself. Plus, you get the flexibility to workout whenever and wherever you want. But, if you want to workout with a partner or group, try to choose a partner or group that’s consistent and challenging. Your workout partners can be big influences to your workout routines so choose people with good habits. Lastly, classes provide the most consistency. You know that class is going to happen every time it’s scheduled. And, classes can help provide a sense of community which helps with mental and emotional health. Whatever you choose, be consistent and enjoy the process of working out.
Variety is key. For optimal health, you’ll want to spend about half your time focused on aerobic work and the other on anaerobic. Your aerobic work could be running, biking, rowing, or any other type of cardio. For anaerobic work, you’ll want to focus on compound movements that target large and multiple muscle groups. This could be accomplished with free weights or bodyweight work. Whether using free weights or bodyweight, you’ll want to focus on core movements like pushups, pullups, lunges, squats and planks. These five exercises alone can be made into a great workout.
There are some studies that show exercising in the morning is better for fat loss while evening workouts are better for muscle development. These differences are extremely small though and you should workout whenever is most convenient and effective for you. Being consistent with your workouts is the most important factor so pick a time that you’re most likely to attend.
Aim for at least 45 minutes of exercise per day. This means about 5 minutes of warm up, 20 minutes of aerobic work and 20 minutes of anaerobic work. Certainly, there are programs that combine aerobic and anaroebic work which is great but you should still aim for at least 45 minutes total with a focus on both aspects. You should also not exercise to failure very often. A majority of your workouts, say 6 out of 7, should be performed at around 90% capacity. That means if you were performing a 10 rep exercise, you should finish that exercise while knowing you’re able to do one more rep if needed. Similarly, if you’re running at a constant pace for 20 minutes, don’t push yourself so hard that you couldn’t run an additional two minutes if needed. This process of training close to failure causes less stress on the body which in turn increases your chances of working out the next day, decreases muscle soreness, and allows your body to recover quicker.
My Routines and Recommendations
As I’m writing this, I’m currently preparing to start a Beachbody program called LIIFT4. These workouts are designed with a focus on weight lifting, high-intensity interval training and core work. I’ve done this program before and love it. It’s about 45 minutes long, combines both aerobic and anaerobic work, and focuses on foundational complex movements like push-ups, pull-ups and squats. When I’m not doing a Beachbody program, I enjoy training for 5k races with 20 minute runs in combination with free weight and body weight training. When I’m 5k training and weight lifting, I do enjoy creating my own workout routines. The creativity and freedom to continually tweak my runs or workouts is fun and energizing.
My recommendation to you is to find 45 minutes a day to consistently exercise. Whether you want to attend workout classes, participate in a Beachbody program, or create your own routine, it’s completely up to you. Find something that’s fun and work to be as consistent as possible.
Debunking the Myths
Myth: Working out is the primary component to fat and weight loss.
Truth: In general, you lose weight in the kitchen and not the gym. Studies indicate that fat and weight loss are about 90% diet and 10% physical activity while muscle gain is about 10% diet and 90% physical activity. These are just rough estimates as there are a number of other factors like sleep and recovery though.
Myth: You shouldn’t workout everyday.
Truth: It’s likely not healthy to exercise at a high intensity or long duration every single day. But, your “off” days should really be recovery days which include light exercise. I recommend around 45 minutes of joint mobility, yoga, stretching or hiking as good off day activities.
Myth: Make sure to stretch before exercising.
Truth: Stretching before exercising can increase your chance of injury. For proper warm-up, try to elevate your heart rate with light activity like a brisk walk, stair climber or bicycle. After about three to five minutes of light activity, loosen up your joints and muscles with some mobility work (arm circles, leg swings, squats, etc.).
Myth: No pain no gain.
Truth: The idea of going all out for every workout sounds cool and intense but is more likely to cause injury and soreness. Train at around 90% of your max for 6 out of every 7 workouts. Then push yourself to 100% for the seventh workout. Also, be sure to recover in between workouts and remember that consistency trumps intensity.
Myth: Workout programs for men and women should differ.
Truth: Men usually train upper body while women target lower body. This leaves each group under trained in the opposite areas. This muscle imbalance can not only lead to injury but can cause everyday pains. Each group should focus on strengthening the entire body with a variety of methods. Each group can discover equal benefits from weight lifting (traditionally male dominated) or yoga (traditionally female dominated) or any other physical activity.
If you haven’t scheduled 45 minutes each day to exercise, you’re missing out on significantly improved health and happiness. Not only is exercise extremely beneficial for your mind and body, but it’s a keystone habit that usually triggers new healthy habits to be formed. That means your plan of only exercising 45 minutes a day, is now likely to help you eat healthier, drink/smoke less, and sleep better. Before you know it, 45 minutes of exercise will have turned you into whole new person beaming with improved health and happiness.
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Hey, I am Brandon Zerbe
Welcome to myHealthSciences! My goal has always been to increase quality-of-life with healthy habits that are sustainable, efficient and effective. I do this by covering topics like Cognitive Health, Fitness, Nutrition, Sleep, Financial Independence and Minimalism. You can read more about me here.
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