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Exercise gives us a big lift in mood and energy. Seeing friends at the gym, tuning into music, or breathing outdoor air in a park can add personal pleasure to our regular routine, but often we also need to reinvigorate by changing up our program with new activities.

The goal is to build a foundation of fitness so you enjoy moving and using your body in different ways

When I hear from someone that they’ve stopped or cut back on their exercise routine, I often ask: “Did you get bored?”

While some people love a “routine,” other others hate the very word or fall somewhere in between. You might be happy for months with a tight stable schedule and then need to shake it up.

Variety is the Spice of Exercise

Wherever you fall on this spectrum, it’s a good idea to build some variety into your exercise week. According to a October 2016 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, adding variety to your exercise routine may extend your life. Among nearly 3,300 participants ages 59 to 79, those who enjoyed the most variety in their exercise also enjoyed more longevity over the next two decades.

Variety isn’t just an antidote to boredom. It will keep you fitter. If you’re the type who feels most comfortable sticking to one activity, perhaps leisurely swims or walks, it’s important to know you may not be getting the most aerobic benefit you need or be working all your muscles.

Ornish Lifestyle Medicine guides you toward moderately intense aerobic exercise at least three hours per week and strength training at least twice a week. Those guidelines leave plenty of choices and room for change. For example, pedaling on a stationary bike on days you lift weights, and playing squash on the other days. The goal is to build a foundation of fitness so you enjoy moving and using your body in different ways over a lifetime.

Less Limitations

The more activities you are open to, the less you will be limited by injury, weather, or access to equipment and the easier it will be to stay fit under any circumstances.

Injuries are one of the most common reasons people fall out of an exercise routine. Let’s say you develop a knee problem. The solution may be cycling or swimming, which are easier on the knees. If you already cycle occasionally on weekends, you can quickly begin cycling during the week as well, but if you’ve never biked, the transition may take some time.

Joggers or walkers who also join a gym or pool have an option whenever the air quality or weather isn’t ideal.

On the other hand, if you only exercise on a stationary bike, you’ll miss out if you travel and encounter a locked gym-room at a hotel. Go for a brisk walk and see the neighborhood.

Ornish Lifestyle Medicine emphasizes balance, and encourages you to socialize and calm your mind. Exercise can also serve those goals. Although you might use a stationary bike to reliably get your heart rate up, you can add the social aspect if you choose an activity such as bowling or even dancing. Maybe you need more time to yourself, and swimming clears your head better than anything else.

Start Slowly and Focus on Patience

The new research about the benefits of variety also found that people who exercised more intensely were the most likely to die of heart disease.

Quite often when I meet a new heart patient who wants to go gangbusters, I’ll encourage patience instead. When you’re recovering from heart disease, becoming too competitive or self-critical is actually dangerous.

High-intensity exercise  (See Ornish Living article, Is High Intensity Exercise Safe for Heart Patients?) can be fine, but only if you build up slowly. Setting goals is also a good way to ward off boredom, but I recommend against ramping up the challenge too quickly. It’s safer and more efficient to vary your game.

How have you added more variety to your exercise routine?

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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