Move Your Way to Better Health and Well-Being

Person walking with a guide dog
Person Walking with a Guide Dog

by Audrey Demmitt, R.N.

We have become a sedentary society as we engage more with technology and less with physical labor. Healthcare professionals say sitting is the new smoking! Physical inactivity is causing heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic health conditions at alarming rates. Our bodies need to move and stretch to maintain physical and mental health. So, why do we resist the very important self-care practice of regular exercise?

Think of Exercise as Self-Care

Self-care is an intentional practice of caring for our body, mind, and spirit. And regular physical activity is the most beneficial thing you can do to care for yourself. It is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, it should be considered necessary maintenance, not an optional activity. Exercise does not need to be a bone-crushing, muscle-tearing experience at the gym. It can feel good and be fun at the same time. Just like brushing our teeth, we need a daily routine of moving our bodies.

Benefits of Regular Physical Activity

Perhaps you have never made physical activity a habit because you don’t like to exercise or feel like you don’t have time for it. Well, it’s never too late to start this healthy habit. Consider the following:

  1. Regular exercise promotes muscle strength, flexibility, range of motion in joints, and strong bones for greater mobility and ease of movement.
  2. Muscle-strengthening and balance exercises can help prevent falls.
  3. Cardio conditioning improves heart and lung functions for better stamina to meet the demands of a full life.
  4. Daily physical activity helps regulate emotions, promotes better sleep, and lowers stress levels for improved mental health.
  5. An active lifestyle improves the body’s immune system, helps prevent debilitating chronic diseases, and helps manage weight.
  6. Keeping your body fit promotes longevity and a greater quality of life.

Forming Your New Habit

There are helpful steps to take when establishing a habit of regular physical activity. Habit formation involves examining undesirable habits, removing barriers to healthy behaviors, choosing new behaviors and routines, and adopting new beliefs about the desirable behavior. New habits take time and intentionality but can become automatic behaviors with health outcomes and intrinsic rewards. Health coaches recommend these steps:

  1. Reframe your thoughts and attitudes about physical activity. Root out the negative self-talk like, “It’s too hard’, “I don’t like to sweat,” and “I don’t have time.” Then replace such negative thoughts with positive messages like, “My body needs it,” “It will improve my health,” and “It can feel good and be enjoyable.”
  2. Find your motivation or your “why.” Ask yourself, “How can exercise improve my health and quality of life? Why is it important to me to have a strong and healthy body?” Take a moment to honestly assess your physical condition, abilities, and limitations. Maybe you are overweight and feel sluggish. Perhaps you have joint or back pain and have trouble moving. You may be experiencing a health condition like prediabetes, diabetes, or heart disease, and you know it can cut your life short. You haven’t been able to travel or keep up with your grandkids, and you wish you had more energy. Name your motivation and write it down. Create a mantra to affirm your “why” such as, “I love my family; I love my life.”  You have the power within you to improve your health through increased physical activity; it’s all up to you!
  3. Set a S.M.A.R.T. goal and use a small-step approach. Goal setting will lead you to success. You need a plan. Start small and be kind to yourself. It is good to write your goal down and remind yourself of it often. An example for this may be, “I will take a 10-minute walk three times this week.”
  4. Identify activities you enjoy. Maybe it is walking, dancing, gardening, or swimming. Start there, and then explore new activities you want to try. Don’t underestimate yourself as you look for new ways to move your body. Many activities can be adapted for people who are blind or low vision.
  5. Schedule these activities into your daily life. Set a special time aside for your exercise. Clear away distractions and protect this time for yourself. Create new routines such as putting your walking shoes on when you wake up, packing your gym bag each night, and putting it at the front door as a cue.
  6. Ask for support and accountability from family and friends. Go public with your new goal to exercise and enlist accountability and support partners. Choose people who will keep you on track and encourage you along the way. Someone who will do the activity with you is even better!
  7. Track your minutes of activity and notice improvements in your fitness level. Health trackers that count steps and smart devices such as the Fitbit or Apple Watch can be powerful tools because they record and measure your activities. It’s also very gratifying to see your numbers! You can track in other ways, too, like keeping a journal. The important thing is to use tracking to motivate you and record progress toward activity goals.
  8. Celebrate your successes and enjoy the rewards of your efforts. When you accomplish a goal, it is important to mark the achievement positively.  This will empower you to keep going and give you a mental boost. Share with a friend when you meet a goal. Plan a special outing or make a purchase that supports your efforts. Then set the next goal. Soon these small goals will add up and transform you!

Get Up and Move!

If you have been sedentary, walking is a great way to begin moving your body. It is accessible to most people and can be done indoors or outside. Try marching in place or walking around your home for 10 minutes several times a day. It is recommended to get up and move every hour. Think of it as an “activity snack.” Every minute you get your heart rate up counts, and these minutes add up. Here are more “activity snack” ideas:

  • Put on lively music and dance.
  • Take your dog for a walk.
  • Vacuum or sweep floors vigorously.
  • Get the mail.
  • Play an active game with your children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking and at least two days a week of activities that strengthen muscles. Aim for this guideline but think of it as a minimum level. Be as active as you can be.  When getting in shape, challenge yourself to use the “FIT” principle by increasing the activity’s frequency, intensity, or time to optimize your fitness level.

According to the CDC, regular exercise benefits everyone, and it’s one of the most important efforts to improve health! So, get moving and keep moving! If you lose your way, be gentle with yourself and begin again. Every day is a new chance to love and care for your amazing body. I like to say, “If you are doing nothing, do something. If you are doing something, do more!”

Read more in this Self-Care Series.

Learn More

Check out these links for accessible exercise ideas for people who are blind or low vision.