Getting Active

Research suggests that exercise is one of the best ways to improve your health and mood. Regular activity can help reduce stress, worry, sadness, and even anger.

Just about any kind of activity is helpful, from walking and cycling to tennis and even gardening. Physical activity helps release tension and clear your mind of distressing thoughts. It also improves your fitness level.

An ideal combination of activities involves aerobic exercises, stretching, and muscle-toning exercises.

  • Aerobic exercise involves repetitive movements of large muscle groups. This kind of activity helps strengthen your cardiovascular system and increase stamina. Examples include jogging, swimming, brisk walking, bicycling, and tennis.
  • Stretching is slow, sustained, and relaxing. The goal is to decrease muscle tension, improve flexibility, and maintain joint mobility. Yoga is a good example of stretching.
  • Muscle-toning exercise focuses on firming specific muscle groups. Examples include weightlifting (resistance training), sit-ups, stomach crunches, and push-ups.

Get active: Your action plan

Step 1: Determine your pre-activity fitness level

If you are not used to exercise, be careful when increasing your activity level. Going too fast can lead to injury. You could, for example, strain a muscle. This, in turn, could have a negative effect on your mood.

If you lead a fairly sedentary lifestyle, smoke, or have any health conditions, always increase your activity levels slowly. For example, if you choose walking, increase your distance or pace slowly over time.

A good way to decide what kind of exercise is best for you is to consult your doctor or healthcare provider. They can suggest the amount and frequency of activity that will be helpful for you.

You should also talk to your doctor if you notice any of the following symptoms
during activity:

  • Dizziness
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Tightness or pressure in your chest, shoulders, arms, or neck
  • Extreme exhaustion or breathlessness after you have stopped the activity

Otherwise, if you’re feeling good, proceed to Step 2!

Step 2: Consider these questions

When planning to increase your activity level, consider these questions:

  • Do you want to improve cardiovascular functioning, which requires aerobic activities? Or maybe your muscle flexibility, which requires stretching? Or perhaps you want to improve muscle tone and strength through resistance training? Or some combination of these?
  • Do you prefer indoor or outdoor activities? Being alone or with others? Competitive or casual exercise?
  • How much time can you realistically spend on physical activity? What time of day is best for you to be active?
Step 3: Consider your activity options

Examples of light exercise include:

  • strolling
  • gardening
  • playing Frisbee
  • bowling
  • yoga (gentle forms, e.g. Hatha yoga)

Examples of moderate-intensity exercise include:

  • brisk walking
  • biking
  • dancing
  • push-ups or sit-ups
  • light weight lifting
  • climbing stairs
  • tennis
  • in-line skating
  • swimming
  • yoga (moderate forms, e.g. PowerYoga or Ashtanga Yoga)

Examples of high-intensity exercise include:

  • jogging
  • aerobics
  • yoga (power forms)
  • jumping jacks
  • soccer
  • squash
  • jumping rope
Step 4: Establish activity goals

Consider the information from the preceding steps and set some goals for yourself.

For example, let’s say you like to exercise with others, and you have a daily lunch break. Consider a brisk walk with friends for half of your break (the other for eating your lunch). Be sure that your goals are specific, achievable, and motivating.

Try thinking up some activity goals for the upcoming week, two weeks from now, and one month from now. Write them down on a piece of paper or in a planner.

Step 5: Identify any obstacles to increasing your activity level

What might interfere with your plans? Some common barriers include a lack of motivation, forgetfulness, lack of equipment, lack of time, and feeling unsure of how to perform an activity.

Write down some potential obstacles and how you will deal with them.

For example: “My biggest obstacle is motivation. So I will plan to exercise with a friend and we will help motivate each other.”

Step 6: Track your progress with a daily activity diary

Change requires tracking your progress. This will help you know when you’re on the right track. A daily activity diary can help. Here, you record:

  • Your activity throughout the day, including a description of the activity
  • The duration and intensity of the activity
  • Any comments or thoughts you had before, during, and after the activity

At the end of this section, there is an example of a “daily activity diary” that you can copy. Use this diary as long as you like, or until exercise becomes a habit. After a while, you might find that you no longer need to keep track of your progress.

Step 7: Reward yourself

Finally, a good action plan includes a reward to celebrate your success. How will you reward your progress? How often will you reward yourself? Come up with a reward plan and write it down.

For example, you could write: “At the end of a successful week of lunch-break walking, I will reward myself by going to a movie with a friend.” Or, “When I finish two weeks of doing yoga regularly, I will reward myself by shopping for some new clothing.”