Health and Fitness: Exercise

HOW TO MOVE: Okay, so you sweat like a pro—the six times a year you work out. Here's how to get fit the right way. Check out all of our health and fitness coverage for more ways to live a healthy lifestyle.

If you’re like most people, you’ve just resolved to exercise more in the year ahead—but you won’t.

It’s a pervasive problem, how little we exercise. The number of Massachusetts residents who are overweight or obese continues to inch up. Today, according to a September 2012 survey by the Centers for Disease Control, 59.3 percent of residents are overweight, and 23 percent are obese. An alarming 21 percent reported that they hadn’t worked out at all during the previous month. Another recent study found that only 13 percent of us exercise the 150 weekly minutes recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.

Part of the trouble is that we set goals that are too ambitious, then give up when we fail. But exercising for good health doesn’t have to mean running until you’re exhausted or dripping with sweat at the gym. There are all sorts of surprisingly simple strategies to start getting in shape and feeling good. —Casey Lyons

health fitness how to exercise workout habits

The Gym of Life

Getting your weekly allotment of exercise is easier than you think.

A study being published this month in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise finds that you can get the health benefits of exercise in some pretty unexpected ways. When it comes to decreasing waist circumference and body-mass index, getting your weekly 150 minutes of physical activity in short bursts is just as effective as getting it in 10-plus-minute bouts. That means everyday actions—like taking the stairs, delivering a coworker a message in person rather than emailing, or walking instead of taking the T—all count. “Those little things,” says Nicole Glazer, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Medicine and the study’s lead author, “add up to a better health profile.”

health fitness how to exercise workout habits

Gaining Speed

Running coach Lesley Hocking on the right (and wrong) ways to run. —Lesley Hocking

These days, everyone has an opinion about the “proper” way to run. Go barefoot, says one expert, to use a natural gait. Carry your arms low, says another, to produce more momentum. Most of this is just noise.

Everyone is built differently, so there is no right way to run. As a running coach, I believe in a more-intuitive approach. After all, nobody has to teach a three-year-old how to pick up speed. He just follows his body’s natural rhythm.

That said, there are a few common mistakes. Many new runners lengthen their stride beyond their center of gravity, which works against momentum. Rookies may also carry tension in the shoulders, neck, or forearms, which wastes energy.

Here’s a simple fix: Imagine yourself carrying potato chips, unbroken, in your fists. This visualization asks you to relax, and may distract you just long enough for your natural rhythm to take over.

Run for Health

Tip: Slow down.

Running faster or farther doesn’t necessarily correlate with getting in better shape. According to a presentation at the most recent American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting, people who jog a leisurely 8.5-minute mile do 19 percent better at reducing all-cause -mortality than other, faster runners. And here’s something else to ponder: After 20 miles per week, the cardiovascular benefits of running start to decline. Long live the casual jogger.

health fitness how to exercise workout habitsIt’s a long way to the top of Beacon Hill. (Photo by Samantha Carey)

Head for the Hills

Melissa Malamut

Boston is, for the most part, flat, a geographic feature that perhaps explains why running is so popular here. But when it’s time to get serious, local runners seek out the altitude we do have. Dan Flynn, a cross-country and track coach at Weston’s Regis College, suggests doing hills to build strength and raise your heart rate, which boosts performance back on the flat. Here are a few local hills for you to attack.

Short and Steep
Best for: Beginning runners who want to gain leg strength and develop quad and hamstring muscles.

Mount Vernon St., Beacon Hill
Distance: .27 miles
Elevation change: 84 feet

Caspian Way, Savin Hill
Distance: .08 miles
Elevation change: 63 feet

Best for: Intermediate runners who are looking to add strength and endurance.

Commonwealth Ave. from Washington St. to Centre St., Newton
Distance: 2.5 miles
Elevation change: 342 feet

Long and Steep
Best for: Advanced runners interested in “strength endurance,” a specific form of training that can make you faster.

Summit Ave., Brookline
Distance: .43 miles
Elevation change: 185 feet

Great Blue Hill, Blue Hills Reservation
Distance: .5 miles
Elevation change: 372 feet

Easy Ways to Get Fit

Source: Compendium of Physical Activity, 2011

Moderate physical activity is anything that requires more than three metabolic equivalents, which is a measure of physical output, with one being the baseline for an average person at rest. The time you spend doing the following activities (metabolic equivalents are in parentheses) counts toward your goal of 150 minutes of weekly activity.

health fitness how to exercise workout habits

Washing dishes (3.3)

health fitness how to exercise workout habits

Playing active games with kids (3.5)

health fitness how to exercise workout habits

Walking down stairs (3.5)

health fitness how to exercise workout habits

Hanging the laundry out to dry (4.0)

health fitness how to exercise workout habits

Installing storm windows (5.0)

health fitness how to exercise workout habits

Chasing the bus (8.3)

If You Do Only One Thing: Squat

The front squat strengthens your hips, knees, back, and butt, and improves your overall athleticism. Here’s how it’s done (with or without weights). —Lindsay Berra

1. Begin with your legs spread slightly wider than shoulder width, and your toes slightly out-turned.

2. Squat by moving your hips and butt back and down. Apply pressure outward on your feet and push your knees out.

3. Squeeze your shoulders as tight as you can.

4. Bring your hip crease to just below the top of your kneecaps.

5. Push through your heels and stand.

6. Repeat.


Check out all of our health and fitness coverage for more ways to live a healthy lifestyle.