Exercise is a great way to lose and manage body weight, but working out also comes with tons of other benefits. It helps your body release endorphins, a type of neurotransmitter that makes you feel happy and calm. It also increases mental clarity and focus, reduces stress, and improves self-esteem and self-confidence. (Yes, please!) If this list makes you want to start working out right now, you can! Getting in shape does not require a gym membership or a collection of at-home exercise equipment.
Here are some of my favorite ways to work out without spending a lot or going too far:
1. Walking. More than 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates said, "Walking is a man's best medicine." It's a great, low-impact cardiovascular exercise. Long distance walking (45 minutes to 1 hour or more) is great for fat burning. Make a goal of 10,000 steps per day for overall health, stable blood sugar (helps with energy and curbing cravings) and weight loss or maintenance.
2. Hiking. Grab a friend or family member and head to your nearest nature trail. If you're not sure of the closest hiking area, check online. Hiking is a great way to enjoy and explore the outdoors (if the weather allows for it), without putting too much pressure on your joints. One hour of hiking can burn 500 or more calories depending on the incline and weight you might be carrying in your backpack. Long-distance hiking can also decrease blood pressure and cholesterol and may improve anti-oxidative capacity, which helps fight off disease and lower stress.
3. Jumping Rope. Jumping rope is fun and it works your upper and lower body at the same time. It's also a great way to get your heart rate up and burn calories quickly when you're in a time crunch. It's best to jump rope on a wood floor or an impact mat to reduce stress on the joints. For best results, perform 50-200 reps on the jump rope (3-5 sets), intermixed with a strength-training program (see below).
4. Stairs. Stair climbing can actually burn more calories per minute than jogging. It promotes weight loss and muscle tone and strengthens your lungs and heart. A 120-pound person walking up the stairs for 30 minutes burns an estimated 220 calories. Even two flights of stairs climbed per day can lead to six pounds of weight loss per year.
5. Yoga. Yoga is great for lengthening and strengthening muscles. It helps to build your core strength, while improving your balance and flexibility. You can do yoga using a DVD, an online video or a written guide (found online or in a book). You can also check local listings for "donation only" yoga classes that don't require you to pay a fee.
6. Wii Fit, Xbox Kinect and Other Fitness Games: Fitness games combine entertainment with activity to make working out feel like less of a chore. You can do them with friends, too. They help the time pass quickly, and before you know it, you'll have completed your workout!
7. Strength Training. Using your own body weight can be just as difficult, if not more difficult, than using workout machines at the gym. I recommend incorporating strength training at least twice per week into your fitness routine. Here is a starter plan for strengthening your entire body.
Lunges or lunge jumps: 20 reps on each leg, two to three sets.
Squats or squat jumps: 20 reps, two to three sets.
Push-ups: 10 reps, two to three sets. Make sure you use proper form. If you have poor form at first, do the push-ups on your knees until you improve your strength.
Pull-ups: Do as many as you can, with a goal of 3-10 reps. It's best if you can have a friend assist you and help hold your legs, or they can give you a boost if need be. Don't strain your back or neck trying to do more pull-ups than you can at first. Do what you feel comfortable with and build your strength from there.
Tricep dips: 10-12 reps, two to three sets. This can be done on a chair or bench in your home or at a local park.
Bicycle crunches: 20 reps, two sets.
Core plank: Hold the position for 30 seconds, with 2-3 reps. Your elbows should be directly below your shoulders. Hold your core tight and make sure there is a straight line from your head to your toes. To keep good form, avoid sticking your butt in the air or allowing it to sink too far towards the floor.
Side plank: Hold this position on your right side for 20 seconds, and then hold on your left side for 20 seconds. Repeat for a total of two sets.
"Supermans": Lie flat on your stomach, arms stretched out above your head, legs straight back. Lift arms and legs off the ground several inches at the same time, then lower back down. Do 10 reps, two to three sets. This exercise is great for strengthening your lower back, a muscle that is often weak and missed in most workouts.
Get Going and Keep it Up!
It's easy to get started with a new exercise routine, but it can be harder to stick with it over time. To set yourself up for long-term success and ensure you get ALL the perks you want from your new fitness plan, try these tips!
Create a support network. People are more likely to stay on track toward their fitness goals if they have friends and family keeping them accountable and helping them along the way. A workout partner can make sure you don't miss a walk or a yoga session. You can ask your parents to help by buying healthy foods for the house and maybe a new pair of athletic shoes!
Start slow and set reasonable goals for yourself. Maybe you want to work your way up to 60 minutes of exercise a day. You don't have to get there today or this week. You can set mini goals — 30 minutes, 35 minutes, 40 minutes — so that you get there gradually. You'll find that you gain more endurance, too.
Eat enough, drink enough water and get some rest! Working out feels great, and you may feel inspired to push yourself to the max. But overdoing it can cause exhaustion and dehydration, which can actually set you back in reaching your fitness goals. Make sure to nourish yourself along the way!
Written by Courtney Sullivan