Starting an Active Lifestyle: How to build a routine that works for you
We all want to be healthy, and living an active lifestyle is a good way to maintain our health. That doesn’t mean that we all have to be distance runners or gym sharks. Having an active lifestyle is about finding the activities you love and sticking to them — with some thought and commitment, you’ll see that the rewards coming back to you are well worth the effort.
After a period of inactivity, choosing to live a more active lifestyle is a significant challenge that is a little intimidating. It is confusing to try and understand what distinguishes an active lifestyle from an inactive one — especially considering our modern ways of life that reinforce inactivity, like desk jobs and Netflix binging.
The truth of the matter is that having an active lifestyle is very different depending on your personality, age and experience with physical activities.
What Is an Active Lifestyle?
“Being active” is something that looks different for everyone — there is no one-size-fits-all definition. Generally speaking, an active lifestyle is simply one that integrates physical activity into everyday routines. That can be as simple as biking to work, walking in the park a few times a week or as advanced as regular aerobic exercise.
In this way, starting to build an active lifestyle is as personal as the other lifestyle choices you make. Be honest with yourself about your level of activity now, and don’t be afraid to admit that there is work to do. Don’t expect to turn into someone who runs 5Ks overnight. Instead, think about where you are in terms of your daily physical activity and set a goal for your future self — then you can try out a few activities of interest as you build a new routine that works for you.
Physical and Mental Benefits
Starting, and more importantly, maintaining an active lifestyle comes from the benefits that it provides. After all, motivation comes when we feel good, so give some thought to what types of benefits you expect and be mindful of how your body and mind feel on this journey.
Physically, an active lifestyle comes with many familiar health benefits: lower risk of disease and medical conditions like diabetes or heart attacks, lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol levels, to name just a few.
On top of the physical payoffs, you get many mental benefits from regular activity. These benefits require a bit more reflection on an individual level, but they can be much more rewarding than the more straightforward physical ones.
Leading an active lifestyle with regular activity leads to feeling more energized throughout the day, increases your overall happiness, lowers stress levels, and helps you feel stronger and more confident in your body.
Get your 30
You’ll have to explore a bit in the beginning to learn more about what type of activities you enjoy the most. When you’re starting to do this after a period of inactivity, remember that starting slow is the way to build a realistic routine.
If you begin with high-intensity activities, you will risk injury and will almost certainly not feel able to stick with it. Temper your expectations a bit and think “rather than a run, I’ll take a longer walk instead and see how I feel after.” You can always increase the length and intensity as you progress.
No matter what activities you do, a great goal to keep in mind is to simply try and get your 30. This means aiming to reach around 30 minutes of activity per day. You can get your 30 through many different activities — a walk, playing in the yard with your children, opting to take the stairs a few times a day, going for a run or bike ride. Get creative and try a few different things in the beginning to find what you enjoy.
Different Types of Activity
Try a few different types to see what sparks your interest and makes you excited to keep going. We gathered a range of activities here, based on what you might be looking to get out of them.
To build community, join a team sport like football or handball, a sports club, or volunteer organization. Having a community not only builds friendships, it also helps with accountability to get moving.
Younger people might enjoy a running or football club, but getting out the door and doing volunteer work can have a similar effect for those of us who are less fit or a bit older.
Search online or check with your local community center to find information about clubs, teams, and volunteer opportunities.
To calm your mind, do yoga, mindfulness practices like breathing routines and meditation or t’ai chi. Physical activity nurtures the connection between your body and mind. Activities like meditation, pilates and t’ai chi require balance, calmness and close attention to your body.
A simple breathing exercise to calm your mind is the 4, 7, 8 Technique. To begin, do this exercise 2 times a day.
- Sit up straight.
- Inhale through your nose for 4 seconds.
- Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
- Exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds.
- Repeat for a total of four times.
To release tension, do HIIT training, fast walking, running, or other high-intensity cardio activities. On stressful days that just need a release, cardio exercise helps because it shifts your attention away from outside stressors and onto the physical movement you’re doing. You don’t need to do it every day, but aerobic exercise 3-5 times a week is an excellent goal to maintain cardiac health.
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a relatively quick way to achieve a full-body workout. To start, combine cardio moves and bodyweight exercises to form a 25-minute circuit with 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest. Other options:
- Running on the spot
- Bodyweight squats
- Press-ups (from the knees for beginners)
- Reverse alternating lunges
- Elbow plank
- Repeat for a total of five times
To build strength for your everyday, do resistance training or mobility exercises. These types of exercises can make you feel more confident about everyday things like carrying a particularly heavy grocery bag home or picking up your grandchildren.
Complete these exercises for mobility to increase the range of motion in some of the most commonly problematic areas. Spend 40 seconds on each exercise, alternating sides and directions.
- Wrist rotations
- Shoulder circles
- Hip openers
- Neck rolls
- Hamstring stretch
No matter where you are in your journey to a more active lifestyle, one of the biggest challenges for anyone is motivation. Motivation to lace up your shoes, stand up off the couch, press play, get outside – to just get started. In those times your mindset is your most valuable tool. It’s important to remember all the feel-good benefits (FGBs) of regular activity. That means achievements or improvements that don’t have to do with the number on a scale or the time on a stopwatch.
Feel-good benefits are value based: maybe you feel more energized throughout the day, or notice clearer skin or are able to run around and play with your kids or grandkids more easily. These things are hard to quantify, but they mean a lot more than a simplistic number.
As with everything else, FGBs are different from person to person, so it is important to reflect every once in a while to identify your own. Try asking yourself these questions to find your own feel-good benefits:
- What can I do today that I couldn't do 1 week/1 month ago?
- How do I feel after physical activity?
- What are my energy levels like through the day when I am active?
- How do I feel about myself today compared to 1 week / 1 month ago?
- How does it feel to achieve a goal?
Building some reflection into your everyday gives you a mental fortitude that will help you through the tough days, because tough days are bound to come — but an active lifestyle is just that: a lifestyle to practice everyday, not a trendy diet or fitness routine. It’s about making a change in your life, so you have to know enough about yourself to make it work long-term.
Make Today “Day One”
Anyone anywhere can have a more active lifestyle. Any day is a good day to start; just tell yourself that today is the day that you will push yourself to include a bit more activity than yesterday. Simply making this decision to be more conscious and move your body more will help you achieve your goals — whether that means setting a new personal record or keeping up with your energetic kids and grandkids.
Especially when you’re starting out, remember to reflect on your own goals, what activities you enjoy the most and what routines are sustainable for you. With both commitment and reflection, you’ll quickly get hooked on the feel-good benefits of activity, not just the physical ones.
About the author
Halle Jarvi is an American health writer and editor based in Copenhagen. She is always practicing her own version of an active lifestyle and is passionate about empowering others to do the same. Her background encompasses health and lifestyle writing, editorial work as well as communication strategy and branding