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Healthy Monday: Going to the gym isn't the only way to exercise
Exercise physiologist Zach Ivie, right, works with cardiac rehabilitation patient Lonnie Zimmerman at the Rehabilitation Institute. - photo by Tom Reed
You bought that gym membership or piece of home workout equipment with the best of intentions, but you’re filled with a sense of dread every time you think about working out. After all, the phrase does contain the word "work."

But getting regular exercise can seem more like fun than a chore, and you should be able to break the weekly requirement into "bite-sized" pieces to make it easier, according to a local exercise expert.

Zach Ivie is an exercise physiologist who coordinates rehabilitation for heart patients at the Cardiac Rehabilitation Center of Northeast Georgia. The center is operated through Northeast Georgia Health Systems.

"People are always asking ‘How far should I walk? How long should I go?’" Ivie said. "I always tell people if you can get in the gym three days a week and you walk a half-hour, that’s pretty good."

The National Institutes for Health suggest both children and adults should engage in some type of activity for 30 minutes most days of the week.

You can split a day’s 30 minute workouts into 10 minute sessions, such as taking a short walk at lunchtime or walking the dog when you get off work, Ivie suggests.

"I try to encourage people to walk or do cardiovascular training six days a week for a shorter time," Ivie said. "By breaking that up, it becomes bite-sized and chewable ... You’re able to insert it into your schedule a little easier; it’s not this big block of time you’ve got to clear your calendar for."

Getting regular exercise is going to have loads of health benefits, too.

According to the National Institutes of Health, engaging in regular activity can increase energy levels; help control weight and appetite; improve sleep; improve blood cholesterol and blood pressure; and reduce the risk of diabetes and stroke.

And a recent study from the group found that seniors who engage in some type of physical activity for 30 minutes most days of the week will extend their life expectancy.

Ivie agrees that getting active is just going to make you feel better.

"Some of the emotional effects are so profound, too, with the endorphin release and the stamina change ... that all comes from just consistency, not how hard you work. ... You feel worlds better."

You just need to make sure you’re hitting your target heart rate throughout your cardio workout to make sure you get the maximum benefit, Ivie recommends.

Don’t know your target heart rate? Ivie says your doctor can tell you that, adding that consulting with your doctor before starting an exercise program is a must for those who have been leading a sedentary lifestyle or are older than age 40. Your doctor also can give you tips on getting started and perhaps suggest some types of exercise you might enjoy.

Ivie says you also can get an exercise program written for you by an exercise professional, such as at a gym. And it doesn’t mean you have to tie yourself to a gym, though Ivie suggests many people have more success with a gym than trying to go it alone. Even having a partner to exercise with you raises your chances of sticking with it, Ivie says. You and a friend can take up a sport, such as tennis, he suggests.

"It doesn’t matter how good you are," Ivie said, adding that having an exercise partner increases your accountability and motivation to exercise.

He said seeing your doctor or another exercise professional before starting an exercise program also helps to identify goals.

"If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not going to get there," Ivie said, suggesting that a person just starting an exercise program identify both small goals they want to accomplish as well as more long-term goals.

The National Institutes of Health also recommend starting off slowly if you’re just getting started with an exercise program, gradually building up to 30 minutes. Like Ivie, the organization also recommends seeing a doctor first if you have been sedentary.

While there are various types of activities and exercises that will burn calories — even just tapping your foot — everyone should strive for cardiovascular fitness, Ivie says. And those types of activities that really get your heart pumping also burn calories, he says.

The best activities that are good for your heart are ones that have you using your legs — the largest muscles in your body — and are continuous, Ivie says. Here are some activities he suggests that you can sneak into your regular routine that should have you hitting your target heart rate.

  • Instead of letting your pets out into the yard for their exercise, walk your dogs.
  • Walk for 10 minutes during your lunch break.
  • Do yard work, such as raking leaves or gardening.
  • Go out and play with your kid; the activity will be good for the entire family.
  • Hop on your bicycle and see the outdoors; you can cover longer distances and see more interesting sights. It’s a lot more fun for most people than just sitting on a bicycle in the gym.
  • Just go outside; people tend to be more active outdoors.

"The weather is so optimal right now to get out and do it," Ivie said. "It’s just so nice to be out and about."

And this is the perfect time of year for squeezing in exercise that certainly seems a lot more like fun than work. Whether you’re hanging out at the lake or the park, or even going on vacation, Ivie has the following tips to help you get the cardiovascular workout your heart needs.

  • Before you leave for vacation, find out if hotel has an exercise facility.
  • Make sure to pack walking shoes and exercise clothes.
  • If you’re driving long distances, schedule a break to walk and move around; activity helps fight the fatigue factor.
  • Ask for an aisle seat when flying on a plane, so you can get up and move periodically.
  • Always drink plenty of liquids.
  • Once you reach your destination, walk as much as possible instead of driving. Get a hotel in town or close to your destination. Many vacation destinations feature walking tours.
  • Get up in the morning and just go for a walk; that gets your exercise out of the way before the heat of the day sets in.
  • Rent paddle boats at the lake.
  • Go for a swim. Swimming is really good low-impact exercise for people who are older or heavier and feel too much stress on their joints from running.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator in your hotel or other places.
  • Rent bicycles and go for a ride to see the sights.
  • If you’re going on a cruise, check out the activities available; most ships have exercise facilities and group fitness opportunities. And there’s always a lot of walking involved on a cruise ship.
  • If you’re going golfing, skip the golf cart rental and walk from one hole to the next. Or, just do it half the time; walk to one hole and then ride to the next.

No matter how you choose to get those 30 minutes of exercise three times a week, the bottom line is that you have to make sure you can stick with it, Ivie suggests.

"Ultimately, you’ve got to make it convenient and you’ve got to like it," Ivie said. "If it’s not convenient or you hate it, you’re not going to do it."