I don’t have to convince you that exercise is a necessary component of good health. Some of its benefits include that it can lower blood pressure, improve cardio health, lower your risk of certain cancers, reduce your risk of arthritis, prevent osteoporosis, and improve your energy, sleep and metabolism. I think of exercise as a celebration of what our bodies can do!
When I was growing up, my mother had the attitude that the only reason to exercise was if you needed lose weight. She rarely exercised, and had a heart attack at age 63.
The fact is that while exercise, when done right, is a fantastic gift to our bodies, it isn’t the most powerful weight loss tool. It takes a lot more time to exercise more than to eat less.
As a weight loss coach for foodies, I encourage my clients to set a minimum baseline for exercise for health reasons. I have them commit to a no-excuses level of exercise each week. For those new to exercise, that may be just five minutes a day, three days a week. Who can’t do that?
Some of my clients tell me they don’t want to set foot in a gym. They’re intimidated by the machines or the big sweaty guys or the buff women in their midriff-baring workout clothes. Others feel self-conscious working out with a lot of other people around. Some don’t live near a gym or membership isn’t in the budget.
You don't need to go to the gym to take the same approach to exercise as the six-year-olds whose parents bring them to my gym. They’re excited to run around the track and to try new things. They don’t care whether they can do these things well. They aren't self-conscious. They just love the joy of moving their bodies.
Explore some of the gym-free activities listed below. Don’t be self-conscious, and don’t be afraid to look like a beginner. Be excited to try new things regardless of the stage you’re at. There are so many fun options to keep you moving.
A few things to keep in mind about exercise. A balanced exercise plan includes several elements, although you don’t need each one in everything you do. It’s best to have a mix of these three elements among your exercise choices: (a) cardiovascular exercise; (b) strength-building (prevents bone loss); and (c) stretching and flexibility. If you’re new to exercise, it is always a good idea to check with your doctor before starting.
Be excited to try new things regardless of the stage you’re at.
Remember, you’re more likely to exercise if you schedule a specific time for it.
Here are some great alternatives to going to the gym. Many are free.
1. Tai Chi: I put this one first because the benefits, especially as we age, have been in the news a lot lately. Tai Chi is effective at increasing muscle strength while making arteries more flexible, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. Tai Chi also offers the advantage of being considered the best exercise for improving balance and reducing falls in older people. Studies have shown that practicing Tai Chi improves symptoms of people with arthritis and Parkinson’s disease. It’s also meditative, so it works at calming the nervous system. Although it’s great to learn in a live class, there are videos available to purchase, and courses online through Udemy, and even some on YouTube.
2. Qigong: This is closely related to Tai Chi. It involves fairly simple coordinated flowing movements to cultivate and balance energy. It’s excellent for improving balance and coordination, and helps bring about a calm, meditative state of mind. If you can’t find a class in your area or prefer to practice on your own, there are videos to purchase from SoundsTrue.com and other sources. There are also some excellent beginner videos streaming for free on YouTube. Some of my favorites are Yoqi and Mimi Kuo Deemer. Lee Holden also offers an inexpensive 7-minute a day 30-day qigong challenge that you can access HERE.
3. Yoga: I’ve been practicing yoga for, dare I say, 47 years! At age 63, I can still do splits, backbends, and headstands, and I credit yoga for my flexibility. You can practice yoga without doing any of those trickier poses and still get amazing benefits. Yoga not only increases flexibility, but makes you stronger and more relaxed. Taking a class with a certified yoga teacher is the best way to start. I highly recommend finding a teacher who doesn’t just demonstrate yoga in the front of the room, but walks around and makes corrections to be sure you’re doing it right. When people get injured in a yoga class, it's usually because the teacher isn't making sure the students are doing the poses correctly. There are many styles of yoga. I choose to study with an Iyengar teacher because the certification process is considerably more rigorous than regular yoga teacher certification, requiring a minimum of four years of mentoring and a thorough assessment.
If you prefer to go it alone, there are many videos available to purchase or to stream online. My favorite is a British website called Movement for Modern Life (affiliate link) which also offers some qigong videos. There is also an assortment of yoga videos available for purchase or streaming on Amazon Prime. If you want something a little more dynamic, give Kundalini yoga a try.
4. Walking is an obvious choice for many people. I love putting on my trainers, heading out the door and walking in the many beautiful spots in my town on the coast of Maine, USA. Walking allows me to move my body while I clear my head. If you need motivation and like company when you walk, plan to walk with a friend or join a local walking group.
5. Hula hoop: Were you good at the hula hoop when you were a kid, back when you didn’t think of it as exercise? Well, the hula hoop is a great workout, although it may be harder than you think! And you only need one inexpensive piece of equipment to do it. It’s a great choice to whittle your middle.
6. Bicycling: Having developed some ankle arthritis, I invested in a new bike last year. Bicycling is a great low impact aerobic workout that you can do almost anywhere. Although it can be dangerous in some cities, most have bike paths where you can ride safely.
7. Workout and dance videos: I own a number of workout videos that I turn to when bad weather makes outdoor activities not very inviting. I also subscribe to Acacia TV, which is inexpensive but provides lots of variety with well-known instructors, and videos are searchable by exercise type, length of workout, fitness level and other criteria. I love the dance videos, and Acacia has Latin salsa, Hip-Hop, Bollywood and other dance styles to choose from. There are also many free exercise videos online, including on YouTube. There is sure to be something that fits your style and fitness level. Use your discretion here though. Because you may not know the level of training of these instructors, if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!
8. Nia: If you love to dance like I do, Nia is a wonderful low-impact workout that combines dance, martial arts and mindfulness into one movement experience. Check NiaNow.com to see if there are classes in your area.
9. Snowshoeing and Nordic (cross-country) skiing: If you live in a climate that gets lots of snow like I do, there’s nothing like strapping on a pair of snowshoes or cross-country skis and heading out into the quiet of new fallen snow. Granted this option is only available part of the year, but both snow shoeing and Nordic skiing offer great aerobic conditioning, move lots of different muscles and burn a lot of calories while getting you outside for some fresh air and sunshine!
There must be a few things on this list that interest you, right? So get moving!