Why Some Exercise is Better Than None
I’ve mentioned her work before, but I’m going to do it again because it has been resonating so much with me lately: You’ve got to turn yourself on to Robyn Conley Downs and The Feel Good Effect podcast. Her blog, Real Food Whole Life, is great too. But the podcast? It’s speaking to me.
I recently listened to an episode on exercise that hit all the notes I needed it to. Call it confirmation bias (and you’d probably be right) but I don’t care. It was called “The Secret to Finding Time for Exercise,” and featured guest / fitness influencer Robin Long of The Balanced Life. It was about the power of finding small amounts of time each day or just a couple days per week to exercise instead of setting intense, lofty (read: unattainable) fitness goals.
I love this idea, mainly because I don’t have time to start or maintain an ambitious fitness regimen right now, nor do I really want to anyway.
But the question remains: If I’m not HIITting it hard five days a week, should I really bother at all? It sounds all well and good to “take a little walk” or do ten minutes of yoga, and think there’s a benefit simply because I moved differently. But come on, can it really be true?
There was a time when I didn’t think so.
A few short years ago, I didn’t feel accomplished unless I was training for a marathon, following some sort of prescribed weights and cardio plan, sweating it all out at hot yoga or attacking 60-minute high intensity cycling classes. And those sessions and plans definitely reaped benefits for me in the form of increased mental toughness, a sense of accomplishment and better sleep / less stress (oh, and countless hours logged listening to the Twilight series through a pair of sweat-muffled earbuds).
And you know what? No regrets. I’m proud of the races I’ve finished and the long training hours spent covering miles to get there. I’m also good with the cycling phase, the hot yoga moment and the brief Bodypump affair with 24 Hour Fitness. (Laugh if you want, but all those concentric and eccentric bicep contractions singlehandedly enabled me to go from lifting zero children to lifting one two-year-old on a daily basis. WIN.)
But the fact remains that this just isn’t where I am today. With increasing demands on my time and a deeper desire to spend precious hours resting or with family, I’m finding I’m just not as interested in spending as much time on exercise. In other words, exercise isn’t necessarily moving further down the priority list. Rather, the “how” and “when” of it all is shifting drastically.
These days, you can find me on my yoga mat almost every Saturday and Sunday morning at 9:45 for a 75-minute flow class. I’m discovering that these two non-negotiable sessions per week are exactly what I need to stay healthy and sane at this point in my life. Nothing more, nothing less.
So is an abbreviated workout plan like this really enough? For me, yes. Science bears this out as well, and in some pretty fascinating ways. Consider this summary of an exercise study in an article written by The Cut’s Brad Stulberg.
“A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that college students who went from not exercising at all to even a modest program (just two to three gym visits per week) reported a decrease in stress, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, an increase in healthy eating and maintenance of household chores, and better spending and study habits. In addition to these real-life improvements, after two months of regular exercise, the students also performed better on laboratory tests of self-control. This led the researchers to speculate that exercise had a powerful impact on the students’ “capacity for self-regulation.” In laypeople’s terms, pushing through the discomfort associated with exercise — saying “yes” when their bodies and minds were telling them to say “no” — taught the students to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of difficulty, whether that meant better managing stress, drinking less, or studying more.”
Again, call it confirmation bias, but I really think there’s something to what Robyn Conley Downs, Robin Long and Brad Stulberg are saying; that a little exercise every week is better than none. I certainly leave my yoga class (and my weekends) calmer and more ready to face whatever comes at me the following week.
And who knows: I may someday find myself training for another race or falling in love with a new form of cardio or strength + conditioning yet to be invented. But for now, a little mind / body movement is going a long way to keep me mentally and physically strong enough to handle the things that happen when I’m not working up a sweat.