Many times when I bring up the topic of a regular exercise routine with patients who don’t currently exercise (or haven’t done so in a long time), they’ll ask me, “What type of exercise should I do?” Similarly, when discussing adopting a healthier diet, a patient will often ask me, “What diet should I follow?”
As we discuss in our book, there isn’t one golden approach to a healthy lifestyle. Although there are numerous health gurus out there who push their own brand of health and exclude all others (and often their way is full of “must have” nutritional supplements and videos that can cost an arm and a leg), the reality is that by following general health principles, you can improve your own health a tremendous amount, all the while doing it in a way that’s palatable to you.
There are numerous diet and exercise programs out there: Low carb, low fat, vegetarianism, paleo diets, no sugar, no white flour, gluten free, various gimmick diets centered around shakes and supplements, etc. etc. Similarly for exercise, there’s running, weight lifting, calisthenics, sports, swimming, biking, yoga, tai chi, other forms of martial arts, dance, etc. etc.
Most programs out there have something beneficial to offer. However, as human beings, we’re all unique individuals who have our likes and dislikes. For example, broccoli is a healthy vegetable. But if I told every person out there that they must include broccoli as part of a healthy diet, I would have many people who simply couldn’t follow such a diet due to their dislike of broccoli. However, if I advised people to simply include more vegetables in their diet, I would likely have more success given the fact that most people probably enjoy, or at least tolerate, some types of vegetables.
Similarly, if I told everyone that they must go on a brisk walk for 30 minutes on most days of the week (a healthy habit indeed), I will likely have several people who eagerly comply (especially if they live in a scenic area with a temperate climate). However, there are many people out there who for various reasons (they live in a bad neighborhood where it’s unsafe to walk, it’s too cold, too rainy, or too hot to walk, they dislike walking, they have chronic foot pain), won’t walk. So when people ask me what type of exercise they should take up, I simply tell them to start doing anything that they enjoy that will make them “huff and puff” a little (I do want to briefly mention that before embarking on an exercise program more intense than light walking, people at risk for heart attacks, strokes, joint pain, etc. should be cleared by their physician).
Even in the realm of smoking cessation, there are different approaches. Forcing everyone to chew nicotine gum or to wear a patch is just not realistic.
The bottom line is to make meaningful changes that you can stick to long term. I can tell you that if you don’t enjoy something, then it probably won’t last.
I know that some of you might be thinking that you enjoy smoking, don’t enjoy any fruits or vegetables, and think that the most physical kind of activity that you’ll tolerate is flipping channels on the TV or walking to the fridge. Hey, it’s a free country, and at the end of the day you can choose to treat your body the way you want. However, what I’m suggesting is finding a happy medium in which you at least adopt some healthy lifestyle measures without spending the balance of your life waking up at 4 am for a 10 mile run followed by hours of push-ups and feasting on nothing more than alfalfa sprouts, steamed asparagus and boiled chicken (unless of course, that’s what you enjoy).
(Image links back to source: NBC News)