24/7, that is all each of us gets. We are constantly confronted with choices for how to spend our time. Finding the time for exercise is a struggle for many. In fact, it is the most commonly reported barrier that keeps people from having an exercise routine.
For some, this is because of demands on time from work and family. For some, it never seems to make it to the top of the ‘to-do’ list, life always seems to get in the way. Whatever the reason, they all stem from misinformation about the why for exercising, how much is enough, and what benefits are most likely to make it a lasting habit for whole-person health.
In this guide, we will go through the four Well-Habit.™ steps to make exercise a time-efficient habit that restores your whole-person health. You will discover how to get more from every minute when exercise is based on movement, motivation, and mindfulness science. With this simple system, you will enjoy greater physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health benefits from exercising in a convenient user-friendly way to feel and function your best every day.
How much is enough exercise?
Good question! There is a hodge podge of recommendations out there about how much exercise is enough. How do you know?
Consider the fact that most of the recommended amounts of exercise have been largely based on self-report studies. People are not great at remembering how much activity they did. When they have to report it, they usually overestimate the amounts.
Other studies that do measure the amount of exercise people get usually use activity monitors. But since physical activity is not the same as exercise, they are not really measuring exercise amounts. That makes a difference! For exercise to be time efficient, it needs to be effective at preventing, reversing or at least slowing the loss of mobility, strength, and stamina that happens with age, inactivity, and medical conditions.
Self-motivation saves you time
Other exercise research gives people a set exercise program, a place to exercise, and pays them for their time to exercise (or if they are students, some other perk). These studies can tell us a great deal about what happens in the body during exercise, but they don't tell how to make it sustainable.
When the study is over, will those folks continue that same program? Not likely when all the external motivators disappear. Since the benefits last only as long as you are willing to do the exercise regularly, we need a real-life guide to how to exercise in a way that supports sustainable motivation. Studies show self-motivation is the most sustainable. One way to save time is to avoid exercise and motivation strategies that won't stick.
Calorie-based exercise recommendations
To make things more complicated, recommendations are often based on caloric expenditure. However, the research on calorie burning started around the time of the industrial revolution.
Factory owners provided food for workers and needed to know how much food was needed to keep workers going. The assumption was created that calorie burning was limitless. The more you move the more calories you burn. Well, you know what happens when you assume!
The Hazda Study
In 2012, researcher Herman Pondzer and his team of researchers studied the Hadza tribe. True hunter-gathers, still living that lifestyle today. They found that individual Hadza had days of more and less activity, and some burned 10% more or less calories than average.
When adjusted for nonfat body mass, Hadza men and women burned the same amount of energy per day on average as men and women in the United States, as well as those in Europe, Russia, and Japan. It turns out, the body has a fixed energy budget. There is a limit to how many calories the body burns, no matter how much physical activity you do.
More Exercise is Not Better Exercise
This insight and information about the recommended amounts of exercise for health frees us from the "more is better" mindset for exercising. It is your one-way ticket out of the “land of never enough”. Focusing on whole-person health leaves you feeling better physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually right away.
Finding Time to Exercise for Whole Person Health
But wait! How can that be more time efficient? Its complicated enough to set fitness goals and exercise for physical health to stay fit. Adding guidelines for mental, emotional, and spiritual health sounds like it will make it really complicated.
It will if you take a parts approach. But these four parts of you are all interconnected. One does not work well without the other.
When you exercise in a way that helps all these parts work better, you get more in less time. It's simple when you use three research-backed skills.
Movement, Motivation, and Mindfulness Science
The Be Well Now Method: The synergy of three sciences for sustainable whole-person health
Movement science is a collection of branches from different sciences; like physics, chemistry, physiology, neurology, and psychology. It is the study of what happens in your whole person when you move your body.
What we know is that not all movement is created equal. Your body is hardwired to move in a way that provides the greatest strength and the least strain.
Watch a baby learn to progress from holding a spoon to running in just 12 months. Every baby does basically the same movements at the same intervals. (with the normal variation found in all of nature of course).
Your whole person is hardwired to move well. This natural instinct is interrupted by sitting in chairs in school, watching tv, doing jumping jacks and long runs in a physical education class, and learning exercises on YouTube that are based on marketing science, not movement science.
To get back to what your body already knows you need to shed the stories about how to exercise and learn to listen to and trust your body again.
If external motivators are known to work short-term, why do we rely so heavily on activity monitors, trainers, classes, competitions, apps, and exercise partners? Because they work, they will get you moving. The problem is, they rely on stress as a motivator. Since stress is the hinge point of health, they not only don't lead to lasting motivation, but when heavily relied on, they perpetuate chronic stress.
Self-motivation is built on three skills according to the Self Determination Theory.
Embodied Confidence: Knowing what to do does not lead to motivation because your body needs to know you can do it. Moving based on movement science is the way to move with the greatest strength and the least strain. Adding mindful awareness to those movements helps your body and brain build confidence so you can move to feel and function better.
Personalized Connection: When exercise is done to burn calories to lose weight it is so far removed from what you value most in life and how you will thrive now, your brain will not keep it a priority. Your brain wants your body to have less pain and more energy right now. When exercise leaves you feeling and functioning better right away, in a way that lets you enjoy what matters most to you in life, your brain, and spirit want you to repeat it.
Meaningful Choice: Exercising because you know you have to lose weight or be healthy is the least likely to be sustainable. Your brain and spirit both want you to thrive. That direct connection between what you do for exercise, feeling better now, and what matters most to you means that the choice to exercise will be a no-brainer for your brain.
Ensuring exercise has these three elements means you will spend less time thinking about exercising or feeling guilty for not exercising. It also provides a personalized guide to doing enough without wasting time on motivation strategies that won't last.
"You Science": Mindfulness and Self-Compassion
Mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment with an open curious mindset. Babies are mindful. Their natural curiosity makes movement play.
The advice to use distraction to get through a workout, and personal trainers to push you to ‘just do it’ is marketing science. These are the tools athletes use to win a competition.
When you apply them to exercise for health, you will always need someone to push you. That carrot-and-stick approach to staying motivated takes a great deal of energy.
Mindfulness is a key skill for getting back to simply enjoying moving. Combined with getting back to moving the way you are designed, exercise is taken off your task list and put on your self-care list.
Self-compassion or being Kind Inside™ is a key element to mindfulness. It is when you give yourself the same consideration and kindness you would give someone else. It can feel awkward and selfish at first. The research on both mindfulness and self-compassion is rock solid on this one though. Integrating this skill into exercise is one of the best ways to get the best ROI from exercising for your health and your motivation.
How Much is Enough Exercise for Whole-person Health?
Your body needs three skills to feel and function your best in everyday life.
Each of these skills helps the other but one does not replace the other. That means one of the most effective uses of your time for exercise is to use it to practice a balance of each of these skills. More of one is not the answer.
The balance of the three is the key. When you do each of them mindfully, as an act of self-care, moving the way you are designed, enough exercise for whole-person health is:
1. Mindful Mobility Moments once or more a day.
Stretching mindfully releases tension so it does not build up from the small and large stressors in your day. It also tells your body you want it to be able to move in a wide range of ways. By keeping that freedom to move, your body is less likely to resist movement if you fall or move suddenly. That means less pain and injury and more calm in daily life.
2. Mindful Strength Moves one to three nonconsecutive days a week, one to three sets of 8-12 times of the six movements of daily life as an act of self-care.
This not only tells your muscles, bones and connective tissues to keep their strength, it also tells your whole person you are strong, embodying confidence. That means you release your inner strength to get through the tough parts of your day with greater confidence.
3. Mindful Stamina Practice three times a week for thirty minutes at a moderate to comfortable challenge level for your breathing.
You can break this up into smaller bouts of as little as three minutes! The key is to stay engaged in how your body feels in the moment and let your energy level be your guide. This means you tell your body you want to keep the equipment (ie: mitochondria) to turn that lunch break into energy. Now the food you eat and air you breathe has much more power to energize your cells.
You can trust these ranges of enough exercise because they are based on physiology, rather than outdated calorie-burning predictions. They are enough to change your brain chemistry and your body physiology so your whole person feels and functions better. The added benefits from mindfulness and self-compassion as you move make exercise more time efficient at shedding tension and restoring your whole-person in a quick convenient bout of mindful kind movement.
Exercise that works even when life gets busy
Life is anything but predictable. The best part about this whole-person approach to exercise is that it works during stressful days and busy schedules. When you take exercise off your to-do list and use it as a way to feel and function your best, it is an essential part of using your time efficiently and effectively.