Finding the middle ground between sedentary and compulsive exercise would likely be difficult for some. I know it was for me. A lot of this likely stems from improper training and expectations during grade school and high school, while some of it might also stem from social media and entertainment media.
It might sound silly, but a great example of this might be how I did not understand how to pace myself while running or lifting weights for many years. As a football player, my training was geared around sprinting and going big. For clarity, running was about getting from point A to point B in the quickest amount of time, and lifting was all about getting HUGE and setting records. As a result, I was conditioned to push hard for shorter distances, overeat, and over-train. This was simply unstainable as I got older. I can only imagine that others have had a similar experience.
Making it worse, we live in a society that expects instant gratification. We want things now and will do almost anything to experience an immediate result. I believe that something like weight loss or overall fitness is no different. No doubt, this could lead to unhealthy tactics such as over-training or poor eating habits. This is simply not good.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who see the effort the athletes or cross-fitters put into their workouts. Onlookers are reluctant to even get started because they feel that they cannot match that intensity or that perhaps they might be judged for not. This type of discomfort is simply not for most, so it doesn’t surprise me that some simply avoid trying.
Finding the middle ground between sedentary and compulsive exercise can be a challenge. This is especially true for those who are new to serious exercise. I’m not sure that there is one “best strategy” to accomplish this. However, it seems to me that a few things can be done to help you get started and strike that needed balance. Used together, one can transition into a healthier lifestyle while avoiding extremes.
Face the Reality
The reality is that most don’t need to become some finely tuned athlete to become healthy. Another reality is that some of those finely tuned athletes are not actually healthy anyway. Besides, this isn’t about them… it’s about YOU!
YOU want to be healthier. YOU want to feel good about yourself. YOU want to live longer. Well, then don’t set yourself up with the expectation that you need to kill yourself to make all that happen. You don’t. Health and fitness are relative to many things, and everyone will have a different path to achieve what they seek.
Look at the Time and Long-Term
We should pay homage to the idea that it would be unhealthy to lose too much weight or gain too much too fast. Additionally, our immune system suffers when we work out too hard or not at all. So look at the long-term and focus on the time of each session instead. This will allow you the opportunity to get started, pace yourself, and find your long-term groove.
It can be tempting to look at the individual calories, individual sets, weight lost or gained, or the miles logged. However, doing so can set up a dangerous pattern of over-exercise, or it can even discourage some from getting started. So let’s not do that. Instead, look at the overall goal and focus on time.
All Things in Moderation
Don’t burn yourself out! As I alluded to, pushing yourself is a good thing, but pushing yourself too hard is simply not. For example, an hour-long sprint is unreasonable and would be rather difficult for most. Furthermore, trying to do so might create more problems than positive results.
Such strain on your body would also be a drag on your immune system. And if you’re sick, you will likely not work out anyway, which may result in you not achieving your goals. Instead, focus on moderation. Moderate exercise is not only easier to duplicate and track, but it will result in better outcomes than a few minutes of extreme intensity.
Plan Ahead & Be Strategic
It could be argued that nothing is better for goal achievement than proper planning. So plan your workout sessions in advance and know what you want to accomplish before you start. Again, you will want to focus on time. If for nothing else, having time as a focus will ensure that you’re not doing unnecessary things – like gabbing between sets.
With that being said, we should also understand that if you are a few minutes over or under, it’s not a big deal. Depending on your goals and fitness level, you can expect to spend anywhere between 30 to 90 minutes working out about three to five times a week. Also, understand that eventually, time will become less of a concern as you develop the habit of working out and listening to your body.
Listen to Your Body
Your body has a way of telling you things are not right. We need to learn to listen to it. If you are over-training, your body will likely tell you. But you have to listen intently because your body will tell you in seemingly odd ways.
For instance, you might find yourself falling ill easier, feeling fatigued, feeling agitated, having more injuries, being overly sore, seeing decreased performance during workouts, or even having more restless nights. If you experience any of these, take a break and give your body time to recover. By not doing so, you may find yourself not wanting to work out or maybe forced to miss workout sessions altogether.
Know and accept that you are going to slip up. You might miss a workout, you might eat the wrong foods, or you might feel as though you didn’t give it your all during a workout. That’s okay! Don’t punish yourself. It happens to us all, and it’s not going to destroy what you’ve built. Remember that any movement is better than nothing, so just forge ahead and keep on keeping on.
Is Something Missing?
So why didn’t I add education to this list? The first reason is that knowledge itself often does not bring upon the necessary changes that one should seek. For instance, we know that it’s bad to eat processed foods, but many do it anyway. We also know that it’s probably a bad idea to eat so much sugar, but most of us do it anyway. So you could educate yourself all you want, but that is simply not enough.
Another reason I omitted it was because most people are told that they should talk to their doctor about diet and exercise. Yet, others rely on sources such as Wikipedia for their research and education. Both of these present a rather significant problem, and I simply would not want to guide someone in the wrong direction. However, this probably deserves some clarity.
Let me start with your doctor. The advice of talking to your doctor about exercise and diet might be a little misguided. This is because many medical doctors are not the subject matter expert. This is a scary thought when you think about it.
According to Dr. Marissa Mastrocola, writing for Op-Med, a review of medical school curriculums found that over 50% of medical students failed to have any formal education related to physical activity. In 2015, Cardinal et al. studied the curriculums of 170 US allopathic and osteopathic medical schools. Of the institutions studied, only 21.2% had one course available to medical students, and only 12.2% had a required course. The majority of these courses focused on exercise physiology or sports medicine, with only 8.1% and 4.7% educating about preventive or lifestyle medicine respectively.
So what about nutrition? A 2018 survey showed that 61 percent of internal medicine residents reported having little or no training in nutrition. And while 94 percent of resident physicians recognize the importance of diet and feel that nutrition counseling should be part of patient visits, only 14 percent feel trained to offer it. This is sort of a big problem.
Perhaps the answer is more school or more health classes? Unfortunately, not everyone can go through such robust health and wellness courses to examine the facts. So, if people cannot take the courses or perhaps don’t like the idea of spending money to talk to a doctor, they will search the internet and rely on sources such as Wikipedia. This is a big problem as well.
According to a recent study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, some online sources for health information are particularly inaccurate. For example, the study found that Wikipedia entries on the costliest medical conditions contradicted the latest medical research 90% of the time. This is just one example of many.
So while education is important, it seems to me that getting the right information is paramount. Be mindful of your sources. Unfortunately, I do not know how to rectify these issues. I suppose my advice is to be careful, look at multiple resources, and look for those who are trained in what you are seeking specifically.
- Cardinal BJ, Park EA, Kim M, Cardinal MK. If exercise is medicine, where is exercise in medicine? review of U.S. medical education curricula for physical activity-related content. Journal of physical activity & health. 2015;12(9):1336.
- O’Brien, M., Shields, C., Crowell, S., Theou, O., McGrath, P., & Fowles, J. (2018). The effects of previous educational training on physical activity counselling and exercise prescription practices among physicians across Nova Scotia: a cross-sectional study. Canadian medical education journal, 9(4), e35–e45.
- Vetter, M. L., Herring, S. J., Sood, M., Shah, N. R., & Kalet, A. L. (2008). What do resident physicians know about nutrition? An evaluation of attitudes, self-perceived proficiency and knowledge. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 27(2), 287–298. https://doi.org/10.1080/07315724.2008.10719702
Want more health tips? Check out my article titled “Let’s Talk About Health Food – Consider This.”
This article was written from a Health Science perspective. Dr. Robertson is a health researcher and educator, not a physician. The information provided here is not medical advice, a professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment, or service to you or any other individual. The information provided is for educational and anecdotal purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional care. You should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation, or the advice of your physician or other healthcare providers. Dr. Robertson is not liable or responsible for any advice, course of treatment, diagnosis, or additional information, services, or product you obtain or utilize. IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY, YOU SHOULD IMMEDIATELY CALL 911 OR YOUR PHYSICIAN.