Think of the person you want to be come Memorial Day weekend—healthy, energetic, happy. The gap’s not as wide as it may feel, but the hibernation needs to end today. A guide to how to go about just that.
By Rose Nyad Orrell
With spring on the horizon—we may touch 70 next week—you may be feeling the urge to hit refresh on yourself. It’s a natural instinct as the weather becomes more conducive to a healthy lifestyle. The first steps are usually the hardest. I know they’ve been mine since spending a dozen lovely winters in the southwest. This was my third winter back in the northeast, and it’s not getting any easier.
I’ve come to adopt a mantra to get me through winter’s homestretch: Fake it till you make it. There’s quite a gap between hibernation and the active lifestyle we’re striving for. Don’t be daunted by it. Aim to do something, anything, each day. And do it every day. Gradually, a walk will become a run. But if you start with the run, you set yourself up for disappointment.
For the next month, my exercise regimen will focus on developing my stamina. My first sessions will start at 15 minutes and gradually ramp up to a half-hour of some kind of movement, whether it be jogging, dancing, yoga, even gardening. And I’ll do it four to five days a week. Some days may feel better than others, but it’s critical to remember that keeping the pace slow and steady will lay the foundation for everything to come. Press too hard and you’ll make yourself vulnerable to injury, or even discourage yourself entirely.
Once I start feeling as though the exercise is becoming easier—my breathing isn’t too labored, my form is sound—I’ll begin either increasing the duration of the sessions by, say, a few minutes a week (10 percent is a good rule of thumb) or their intensity. That’s when I usually begin incorporating weight training, which will help develop lean muscle mass, a key component to boosting metabolism. It’s also the framework that’ll enable you to begin pushing yourself harder.
The most important muscle not to neglect in this process is the heart. More specifically, your resting heart rate. It’s a good indicator of where your endurance stands. The faster your heart rate returns to a calm level after a hard workout—55 to 65 beats per minute for men, low sixties for women—the better your conditioning.
With a solid base beneath you, begin incorporating a couple of high-intensity interval sessions into your weekly regimen. They’re meant to be short in duration—anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes—but they’ve proven to be far more effective at burning calories and boosting your aerobic capacity than drawn-out, low-intensity exercise. Because it’s so demanding, don’t jump in until you’re ready, and even then, space out the workouts. You’ll want to give to yourself at least a couple days between them. You can exercise during that period, but keep it relatively low in intensity.
The concept behind high-intensity training is pretty simple: Go all out for a brief burst, then give yourself enough time to catch your breath but not fully recover. Repeat. Try this one: Warm up with a five-minute jog. Then, sprint for 20 seconds, jog or walk for the next 40. Aim for five rounds to start. Work your way up to 10. Once you’ve got a high-intensity workout behind you, it’s safe to say you’re back in the game and well on your way to the best shape of your life.
Rose Nyad Orrell is a New Hope-based certified holistic health practitioner (rosenyad.com).