This month’s Small Step is a trip back in time. The time before a majority of Americans was struggling with weight gain from growing food portions and decreasing daily physical activity. It’s all about eating and exercising old-school.
Old School Exercise
There are three factors exercise studies have repeatedly proven will make workouts more enjoyable and productive: working out with others, with music and outdoors.
In exercise studies, exercising with others or to fast-paced music have been shown to subconsciously motivate the exerciser to workout at a higher intensity than if she had exercised alone or without music. Interestingly, post exercise, participants in these studies were unaware that they had worked out any harder than they had alone or without music and reported enjoying the workout more than they did sans partner(s) and music.
Studies also show exercising outdoors has the same effect. Outdoor workouts heighten the body’s natural endorphin response to exercise. Meaning, compared to exercising indoors, the body has higher perceived feelings of pleasure when exercising outside. This not only spurs the exerciser into working out at a higher intensity but also gives her an increased post-workout high, making it more likely she’ll be back tomorrow. This response is true even on cloudy days but sunny days increase the good feelings even more.
It wasn’t long ago that anyone who was into fitness had no choice but to exercise outside. Full-service gyms and boutique studios are a relatively new phenomenon. Exercising outside – like we did instinctively when we were kids – is truly old-school.
Let’s take it outside! Exercise outdoors one day each week for 30-60 minutes without concern for special equipment, membership fees or class schedules. Here’s how to choose what’s right for you:
- New to exercise? This should be low impact, like walking.
- Already exercising indoors regularly? Either add one more day to your cardio routine with an outdoor workout or take one of your familiar weekly indoor workouts up a notch outside. To up the calorie burn, do walk/power walk or jog/run intervals.
- Walk, run or cycle outdoors already? Try walk or run interval training one day per week to keep it fresh and get more out of your usual workout. If you cycle, either add more hills or do interval sprints on flat straightaways.
If you can, partner up with someone but, if not, take your favorite upbeat music with you. Plan ahead and have a back-up day in the inevitable event that life (or weather) gets in the way of your old-school workout.
Stay safe and injury free. Invest in quality footwear specifically designed for your workout discipline. If you have a softer surface nearby to amble on, like a track or dirt trail, choose that over pavement for some or all of your trek. Exercise in daylight or, if you must workout in the dark, wear reflective clothing and a light, choose well-lit streets (preferably with sidewalks) and always face on-coming traffic. Stretch all the muscles you’ve worked at the conclusion of your workout. Stay hydrated – plain water is best for the average workout.
Old School Diet
What I remember about our diet when I was younger is eating out was reserved for special occasions, the only option for fresh produce was in-season fruits and veggies, and large meals were cooked on the weekends, providing several leftover meals during the week. When you compare the obesity rates from then to now it’s clear we, as a society, were doing something right then that we aren’t doing now. And science bears this out. The more control we have over purchasing, preparing and portioning the food we eat, the fewer calories we consume and the better the overall nutrition of those calories.
- Reduce: If you eat restaurant/take-out meals one or more times per week regularly, reduce that occurrence by one meal per week. Next month, subtract another restaurant meal from your weekly schedule and so on.
- Replace: Maybe restaurant meals rare for you. Is your downfall busy weeknights when you throw together a meal from a series of boxes, cans, jars and frozen concoctions? Replace processed with pre-prepped whole foods. In large grocers you can find pre-washed, pre-cut veggies and trimmed, deboned lean proteins for an easy, healthy stir-fried, baked or grilled meal in 30 minutes. Also, make a habit of preparing a large meal on weekends so you have leftover options and quick clean-up on busy weeknights.
- Refocus: If you’re good about avoiding processed foods then your retro move could be getting the most nutrition out of what you’re eating. One nice thing about modern-day produce is, if you need fresh strawberries in Vermont in December, you can get them. But, let’s face it, they’re expensive and don’t taste anything like a Vermont-grown June strawberry. Nor are they likely as nutritious. Temperature variants and exposure to air and light over travel time causes produce to lose some of their nutrients. Refocus your priorities to buy produce in season and, whenever possible, local. They’re likely to be at their peak in taste and nutrition and the most economical. Eat them raw or minimally cooked to get the most nutrients out of them.
May is a beautiful time of year to get outside and fresh, local produce is beginning to arrive at markets across the country. There is no better time to go old-school with your fitness than right now!
If you’re new to the Small Steps series, you can read about the philosophy and strategies of the series here. Know the Small Steps strategies don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another. So, you can begin the series with this post, continue throughout the rest of the year and pick up what you missed next year.