Our physical, psychological, and emotional health all benefit from physical activity. Physical activity lowers risk of serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. It has also been shown to influence mood, decrease depression and anxiety, relieve stress, and give you better sleep quality – all while providing opportunities for social interaction. In fact (and as a nod to my husband), exercise physiologists will tell you that “exercise is medicine.” Moreover, it’s a “medication” that, unlike pharmaceutical approaches, can singlehandedly improve all these conditions with minimal, if any, negative side effects.
Yet, for various reasons, barriers to exercise exist, and many people find it hard to remain active. A quick review of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ physical activity guidelines for Americans may help remove some of those barriers. For adults, the overarching message of these guidelines is that some physical activity is better than none. In a nutshell, move more and sit less. So, consider simply taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking farther away from an entrance, getting up from your desk a few times per hour, playing with your kids, exergaming, and taking the dog for a walk after dinner.
For greater benefit, adults should do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity. Examples of this include swimming, cycling, pickleball, martial arts, and jogging. For even additional health benefits, the federal guidelines state for adults to do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate intensity that involve all major muscle groups on at least 2 days a week.
We are blessed to have a community that enables us to meet these physical activity guidelines. Family-friendly PARA facilities offer indoor swimming, pickleball, exercise classes, and weights at reasonable membership rates. The flat, paved Riverwalk parallels the beautiful Black Warrior River for several miles. Lake Tuscaloosa is a great place for skiing and paddle boarding this summer. Sokol Park has miles of tree-shaded single-track trails that are good for hiking and mountain biking.
My hope is that this nugget of information will empower you to remain active in 2020. As you go, keep in mind that behavior change is a complicated process that takes time. Also, small changes render great benefits. When we make resolutions, we sometimes fail to account for these two things. I imagine that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we remember this month, must have understood this when he said, “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Kelly Wingo is an Atlanta transplant, a soccer mom and a wife, and an academic advisor and instructor for the public health program at the University of Alabama. She lives in Tuscaloosa with her husband, Jonathan, her daughter, Maya, and a lovely golden retriever named Ellie Mae.