I recently set a goal for myself – take 10,000 steps a day. I have been failing miserably at this! I’m shocked. I had ignorantly thought this would be a piece of cake – I’m active, I work out, I’ve got this. I didn’t realize this goal might require running miles a week, or power walking for several hours.
In my efforts to figure out why I haven’t been successful at achieving this goal, I started thinking about the fitness messages I have heard throughout my lifetime.
As a child of the 80s, I think of Joanie Greggains aerobic workout and body builders on Muscle Beach when I think of fitness. The message: Fitness is attainable, for me, or women, as long as you’re okay with wearing spandex. Then I think of the 90s and advertising slogans, “Be Like Mike,” and “Just Do It.” I believed with enough training, a daily consumption of Gatorade, and Nikes on my feet, that I, too, could be physically great. By my 20s, I was just in time for the 5k craze. I was running, and with fun runs like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, I had a good reason to get on my feet. The Biggest Loser came on TV, and everyone got to see the amount of squats and sweat it takes for transformative weight loss.
Throughout all of those decades, one message has remained the same – fitness means work. Like many others, I often found myself questioning what was the least amount of work that I had to do for the physical result I wanted. Thanks to a consumption of women’s health magazines, I felt the recommendations were constantly flexing – a half-hour of working out three times a week, then a shift to one hour, three times a week, and then hearing you “need” one hour 4-5 times a week. Fitness just kept becoming harder to achieve. Now that makes me want to just sit on the couch.
In more recent years, I’ve been introduced to a new message, one of wellness. In 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services issued the federal government’s first-ever Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. This is a much more generous approach to physical activity.
Aerobic activity, defined as an activity that makes a person’s heart beat more rapidly to meet the demands of the body’s movement, is encouraged. Examples of aerobic activity can range from yard work and walking the dog, to more strenuous activities like running and kickboxing.
The recommendations emphasize moving away from a lifestyle of inactivity toward one of more consistent activity. Encouraging all to view activity as a way to attain health benefits, like lowering the risk of premature death, as opposed to being bikini-ready by June.
Take a look for yourself:
Key Guidelines for Adults*
- All adults should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits.
- For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Aerobic activity should be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes, and preferably, it should be spread throughout the week.
- For additional and more extensive health benefits, adults should increase their aerobic physical activity to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate-and vigorous-intensity activity. Additional health benefits are gained by engaging in physical activity beyond this amount.
- Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate- or high-intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week, as these activities provide additional health benefits.
In reviewing the recommendations, I see a pattern of first establishing wellness, and then developing fitness. The first three recommendations encourage behaviors that are key to wellness. Once wellness is achieved, the behaviors in the last two recommendations develop physical fitness. Sounds logical to me. First be well, then be fit.
With that said, I need to lower my expectations. Good-bye goal of 10,000 steps (for now). New goal – 7,000 steps a day!
*U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, page 22.
Kate N, MS, CEAP, joined Empathia in 2005 as an EAP Counselor, then became a Performance Specialist in 2012. Kate has a master’s degree in Educational Psychology and is devoted to helping individuals determine how to make lasting changes. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked in the social work field as a case manager for Child Protective Services. Kate enjoys baking, yoga and escaping into the woods of Northern Wisconsin.