(originally posted December 8, 2011)
As one of my yoga teachers is fond of saying “Do it so that you like it, so that you like doing it”. And I do. I love yoga. It hits everything I need out of a time commitment to exercise: it increases full-body strength, it increases core strength, it’s a mild cardiovascular work-out, it increases balance, it increases flexibility, and it does wonders to relax and reduce stress. What more could I ask for out of 75 minutes, 3 times a week (at my local YMCA, where my daughters love the daycare)?! I also walk and do active play with my kids. Thanks to yoga, I am in the best physical and mental shape I’ve ever been in (better than when I was running marathons in my mid-twenties!).
I’m not suggesting that everyone do yoga. You might love it, so I encourage you to give it a try. But, it also might not be right for you. A nice long yoga class might be asking too much from your schedule or your body or your sense of sarcasm. Maybe you prefer zumba, or martial arts, or swimming, or spinning, or weight lifting. Maybe you like to play soccer, or baseball or ultimate frisbee. Maybe you love to garden, or hike, or go for trail rides on your mountain bike. Maybe you’re an avid crossfitter (is there any other kind of crossfitter?) Maybe you are just getting back into exercise and walking is all your body can handle. Whatever exercise you choose to fit into your life, what matters most is that you do something and commit to doing it regularly.
Whatever activity (or activities) you enjoy, there are a couple of important things to keep in mind:
1. Don’t overdo it. This is one of the biggest downfalls for people trying to follow a paleolithic lifestyle. Pushing your body too hard can cause an increase in stress hormone production, which can decrease your sleep quality, which can further increase stress. It’s better to go for a lovely, long, slow stroll than to feel like you are dying while you sprint for twenty minutes. You can still push your body to do more, but aim for very gradual improvement.
2. Find something that will build strength and something that will provide some cardiovascular conditioning or, better yet, something that will do both. But remember that neither of these aspects of your activity should be strenuous.
3. Protect your joints, your back, and your brain. Whatever activities you do, be aware of the injury risks involved and take precautions to protect your body. This means proper warm up and cool down, proper stretching, proper technique, proper gear and following proper safety protocols. For example, rotator cuff injuries are common in yoga, so I am extra careful with my technique during yoga pushups to not strain my shoulders.
4. Think about the long-term. Find some activities that you can do for your whole life (even if the intensity decreases over time). If you can create a social aspect to your activities, all the better.
5. Do it for enjoyment. If you love your activity, you will love doing it, you will want to do it more, and it will be a hobby, instead of a chore. If you stop enjoying it, take a break and find something else to do for a while. Make sure you are having fun.