This is the second of a 5 part series on what you can do outside the gym to maximize your progress and overall health. This time, we’ll look at doing some separate light aerobic activity.
We need to remember WHY we need to exercise in the first place to understand the importance of this. Most people today would simply say we exercise to burn some fat or build muscle. The real reason we need to exercise is because physical movement should be a natural part of a human animal’s life from birth to death. Just like we need to eat, sleep, and drink water all thru our whole life, we need to move regularly also! Providing shelter, food, safety, and transportation all required quite a bit of physical effort until recent times. Now, we sit all day for both work and pleasure, and this is very different from what our genes expect. So ultimately, we must exercise as a replacement for that physical activity we are no longer required to do. That’s why exercise generally makes you healthier!
However, sitting all the time and then having one hour blocks where we suddenly exercise hard is still far from a natural human movement pattern. The majority of our natural movement would have been lots of light activity – like walking. If you are totally sedentary outside the gym, exercising 3 times a week for 1 hour each, you are still 98.2% sedentary!
Adding in walking or other light aerobic activities has many benefits.
There’s the reason everyone thinks of – you expend more total energy – but it goes way beyond that. One is that light aerobic work will speed up your recovery from your harder gym sessions. It increases blood flow, lubricates the joints, moves lymphatic fluid, and it may increase the heart’s efficiency. It can help reduce muscular soreness.
Another is that doing a lot of easy aerobic work may improve your ability to do high intensity training sessions. Those who only move when in the gym may find it harder to recover – whether that’s between sets or rounds, or between workouts. Those who move more outside the gym also can handle more work inside inside of the gym.
Maybe the most important reason for adding in light aerobic work is it’s ability to help re-balance the nervous system. Many folks today are stuck in a sympathetic dominant state, in other words, a state of chronic fight-or-flight. Stress hormones run high in this case, and digestion and sleep quality suffer, and you are not able to get into recovery mode well between workouts. You may end up not reaping all of the gains from your hard work in the gym.
Light aerobic work moves the body toward a parasympathetic state, as long as not done in excess. This is the rest and digest mode where repair and recovery happens. If you can move your body more in this direction, not only may you recover faster, but you also may see your blood pressure drop, you may sleep better, and much more.
Walking outside may be the most ideal form of aerobic work to do away from the gym. You can do it anywhere, and at any time. You can do it on breaks at work. Quite a bit of research shows this may increase concentration and productivity also! You don’t need to do a long walk for it to be beneficial. Everything done thru the day adds up. Doing it outside has the benefit of exposure to natural light that helps to re-set our internal clock. I talked a bit about this in part 1, and you’ll see that these out of gym tips all are interrelated in some way.
Some of you may have other aerobic activities you enjoy that work well also. Bike riding is great, but choose something you enjoy. That’s another key point: if you don’t like doing it, it won’t have the same benefit. Making yourself run 20 minutes on a treadmill and hating every minute of it won’t have any de-stressing effect!
For the overachievers out there – keep the intensity and duration low, or it just becomes more work your body needs to recover from. In this case, many of the benefits may nullified. Also, don’t think that if you only have 10 minutes, then you should go hard to compensate. This ends up giving you more to recover from instead of helping you recover..
How much should you do? It depends! Don’t think you need to schedule and micromanage it all – add walks in the evenings or off days, and here and there in your day as you are able. If you want to do a little more, a 60-90 minute bike ride or hike at an easy pace is great on a rest day. Go by feel, and have fun with it!
Three action points:
1) Add in 1-3 short walks during your work day, ideally outside. It does not have to be every day; try to start small and increase how many you do over time.
2) Try to add in a few 10-20 minute walks in the evening or at other times.
3) For those with more time or energy, add in some longer efforts on 1-2 off days from the gym. This could be bike rides, hikes, pickup soccer – something you enjoy.
Increase your overall activity level and see just how much better you can feel!