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Sticking With Exercise

Sad truth about most exercise resolutions: they’re temporary. The most important choice about an exercise program is finding one that gives enough reward to make it stick, which usually means finding one that is actually enjoyable.

Strategies employed by exercise advisors often include finding a way to make exercisers accountable: post your goals on social media or work out with friends. To me the first one sounds like torture, and the second option is tricky. The exercises I best like doing have brought me new friends, and it works best with old friends simply to plan long walks. Long walks offer nice visits, but don't really meet the criteria I have for exercise. Personally, I want to feel challenged sufficiently that I'm tired after exercise and stronger after successive exercise sessions. 

If accountability doesn't always work, another approach is to figure out what makes exercise fun. Of course many of the answers are individual: better alone or better with a group? Depends on the day! Better in or out of water? Near water or in it if the temperature allows. With or without music? "You call that music?" is what I want to say sometimes at CrossFit! Great music though is personally inspiring and has been shown to boost exercise performance.

It turns out that one strategy seems to be not only effective at conditioning but also more widely enjoyed than many others, and that is a particular format for doing high intensity intervals. Gretchen Reynolds describes the finding in a New York Times column. (I've talked before about the contribution that high intensity intervals can offer to your training plan: promoting fat burning, lower high blood pressure, improving muscle health, and even reducing breast cancer risk.)

Catchy name (10-20-30 intervals), the newly-designed interval routine is actually 30-20-10: 30 seconds (or counts if you lack a watch) of gentle movement, 20 counts picking up the pace and 10 seconds “all out.” Do five cycles in a row without a pause, and then rest for two minutes before repeating. Bearing in mind that you always include a gentle two-minute warm up and cool down, the whole endeavor is done in less than twelve minutes. As with any real workout, this is not a daily prescription, but rather a two to three times weekly. If you want to boost your exertion, do three cycles on the day you exercise, rather than exercising more frequently.

Two cautions: First, choose an exercise that you can do without injury, such as walking, swimming, dancing or rowing, if you are familiar with the rowing machine. And second, remember that recovery is an important component to building strength and fitness. Work out hard enough so that you can "feel" the process of recovery the next day, and return to the exercise only after that day of rest and recovery.

Subjected to a clinical study, 10-20-30 athletes became fitter and, most impressively, stayed with the program more reliably than is usually the case. I haven't tried this interval routine yet (I will!) but I do know that on a day I don't feel like exercising because "I have so much to do!", it's easiest to motivate myself to stop everything and get on the rowing machine when I know I can do a valuable session of exercise, using some kind of intervals, in less than 20 minutes. Or out for a gentle relaxed row (substitute cycle, run, swim or hike), it's nice to know I can just insert a few minutes of high intensity and still achieve a real exercise benefit.

What about you, do you incorporate intervals into your exercise routine? If you try this one, let me know what you think.

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