It's no secret that movement is important for health and wellness. However, when you break it down, many of us are pretty confused about exactly how much movement we need and what amount we should strive for getting regularly. In childhood, most people who are able-bodied get regular physical activity in school gym class, sports, leisure activities, or all three. But as adults, without the same structure or motivation, we had as kids, many of us find ourselves going from our beds to office chairs to the couch and back again. While we know that isn't healthy, it can be a tough pattern to break.
Fear not: we're here to clue you in on how to know if you aren't moving enough, how to get back into moving your body more than you may be currently, and how to adjust your food intake so that you thrive with the amount of exercise you'll be getting. WeStrive App Trainers Cory Becker and Tommy Hockenjos shared their secrets about these topics with us.
Meet the Expert
How to Tell You Need More Movement
Symptoms of needing more movement in your life can be both physical or emotional.
On the physical side, Hockenjos notes that "most people recognize that they need more movement after they find out that they have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity," or another health condition. However, not having a health issue doesn't mean you're getting enough exercise. Hockenjos also points out that according to The Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, less than 25% of men and less than 20 % of women achieve the aerobic and muscle-strengthening guidelines.
Becker adds that physical symptoms of too little movement also include getting tired easily, getting out of breath or being unable to keep up when playing with your pets or kids, or your clothes not fitting like they used to. In addition to those symptoms, not moving enough can manifest with poor sleep quality or insomnia, dull skin, frequent hunger, stiff joints, low immunity, and irregularity moving your bowels.
On the emotional and mental side, symptoms of too little exercise in your daily life include mood swings, depression, feeling stress or tense often, difficulty focusing, and anxiety.
How to Start
When you decide to move more, as positive a step as that is, it may be a potential shock to your system. Becker says that "any extra movement that you add from what your normal life has consisted of is beneficial. If that means extra walks instead of driving or sitting during your kids game," that's perfectly fine. However, he notes that "the key to sticking with your health goals is for them to be manageable."
Hockenjos warns us to start slow, saying, "You don’t need to do crazy workout classes. But instead, find a way to make your physical activity social, find a spouse, friend, coworker, etc., to go on daily walks with you on lunch breaks, or shoot the basketball around work." Beginning in this manner with exercise that doesn't feel like exercise will not only keep you from overdoing it, it might initially be a more fun experience than going from zero to daily gym time. Hockenjos tells us that because it's easy to overdo it initially, "it is important to remember to stay consistent and find activities that you enjoy doing. Exercise doesn’t have to include a weight room or extreme structure, but instead, it can be anything you want."
Becker advises reaching out to the employees there for help if you do want to join a gym. For example, he suggests, "if you just bought your first gym membership, then ask about personal trainer options or if they have a free guide to show you how the gym equipment works. They can show you some machines or exercises that you can do two or three times a week, not leave your body sore to the point everything hurts to do the next day. You can learn why it will help you giving you mental stimulation and satisfaction." He points out that "easing your way into it will not only prevent injury and ensure correct movements, but you will be able to see changes in three weeks or less which will give you more drive to better yourself."
How can you tell if you're moving too quickly with getting more movement? If you injure yourself, you're best off pausing, letting yourself heal, and then starting more slowly when you give fitness another try. Presuming (and hoping!) that you haven't injured yourself, Hockenjos says that the first signs of overexerting yourself too much too soon "include lack of motivation, fatigue, and extreme soreness."
Adjusting Your Nutrition
The needs of a sedentary person are, not surprisingly, different than the needs of an active one. However, don't feel like you have to do a sudden overhaul and live on chicken breasts and broccoli now that you're exercising more. In addition to not being enjoyable for most people, we all have unique bodies with unique requirements, and eating foods we find enjoyable is an important part of life. You don't have to take an all-or-nothing approach, either. Becker says, "Being healthier can be as simple as not eating a candy bar that you eat mid-day at work, or maybe swapping out fast food after a workday with a premade meal at home."
To best fuel yourself and your activities, Hockenjos recommends that "when we begin to exercise, we need to focus on eating proper amounts of carbohydrates and proteins. The carbohydrates we should focus on eating are lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Our proteins should come from lean sources (chicken, fish, turkey, etc.)." Outside of that, he suggests no more than 10% of your calories coming from added sugars or saturated fat each.
Avoiding burnout from altering your nutrition too quickly or in too extreme a way is key. Becker notes that "diet adjustments should be made 200-300 calories at a time and follow your physical patterns." For example, "if you add an extra run while you are losing weight, your body will need some extra calories or else you will feel fatigued." He also recommends that for your diet, you "make a single change and give it two weeks to notice a difference." Then, "once you do, you can make another small change to make it more strict or maintain where you are currently."
Both Hockenjos and Becker point out that exercising more equals eating more. Put, if you're exercising regularly, you should expect to feel hungry, and you need to make sure to eat enough. If you don't, you'll end up in a different but not much better place than when you weren't getting enough exercise, because your body will be stressed and undernourished.
Though it can be difficult to figure out exactly how much exercise you need and how much movement you should get regularly, the good news is that your body is here to guide you. If you're looking to begin exercising, start slow, and begin with activities that don't feel like exercise at first. When or if you do feel ready to go to a gym, reach out to the professionals there for help to make sure you use the equipment correctly and safely. Your diet is bound to change a bit because, with movement, our bodies need more calories than without. But just like starting slowly with exercising, you should make dietary changes gradually. A focus on more fresh food is a safe bet. If you're likely most people, you could probably use more exercise--and with these tips, you can start getting it safely and enjoyably.
The Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, Published 2018.
Kandola AA, Osborn DPJ, Stubbs B, Choi KW, Hayes JF. Individual and Combined Associations Between Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Grip Strength With Common Mental Disorders: A Prospective Cohort Study in the UK Biobank. BMC Med. 2020;18(1):303. doi:10.1186/s12916-020-01782-9