There’s an old saying that good habits are hard to form and easy to break, while bad habits are easy to form and hard to break. In other words, it takes a lot of time and willpower to eat kelp for dinner, but it requires almost no effort whatsoever to wolf down a candy bar for dessert.
The same thing applies to physical fitness. One recent study concluded that it takes about 66 days of near-continuous behavior to form or break a habit. Even an extremely mild injury is almost always enough to interrupt a workout routine, and once the schedule goes off track, the interruption becomes the new normal in only a few days. Re-starting the exercise routine means starting over from the beginning, and no one likes to do that.
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Stretch After Exercising
Yes, all these years we were doing it backwards. Even today, many people still “warm up” by stretching before they run or embark on other cardiovascular exercise. This idea is not completely misplaced, because warm muscles are easier to tone than cold ones. But placing artificial tension on cold muscles is usually a bad idea, because it might actually increase the risk of injury. Stretching after a workout is usually a good idea, because the muscles are more elastic and pliable.
The issue of when, or if, to stretch is very hotly debated, at least in certain quarters, so you can find evidence to support almost any position. However, it’s very difficult to see how a little stretching at the right time could possibly be bad.
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Always Challenge Yourself
A stale workout has very few benefits, but it’s hard to know when to run an extra half-mile or do a few extra reps on the stairmaster, because the oft-repeated “rules of thumb” may have little or no scientific basis and certainly are not customized to your body and your life.
Fortunately, there is a fairly easy way to know whether your workout is efficient, if you know your optimal heart rate. This metric is especially important for cardio workouts, because getting the heart pumping is pretty much the whole point of running or whatever.
This chart is probably not the best one in the world, but it is pretty easy to understand and it comes from an authoritative source.
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Keep Going Through the Pain
When we talk about persevering through discomfort, we’re obviously not talking about a broken ankle or a punctured lung, but rather something like planter fasciitis (flat feet) or other conditions that aren’t necessarily serious but are extremely painful.
Once the leg, foot, or knee pain hits, and it almost inevitably will at one time or another, it’s very easy to take a day or two off and rest. Unfortunately, we know what the end result will be. A day or two often becomes three or four, and then you’re back to square one.
So, for mild pain, it may be a better idea to keep moving forward, but don’t simply grit your teeth and shout slogans to yourself. Be smart about it. To return to the planter fasciitis example, a good arch support strap can help you stay in the game.
Eyes On The Prize
When your knee hurts, when it’s too cold or too hot outside, or when you’d just simply rather stay in bed, remember that with every stride, you’re not only adding time to your lifespan, but also ensuring that that extra time is quality time. Just a few moments of mental focus does wonders for any physical discomfort or lack of energy you might feel at that particular time. The clock is ticking, and it’s up to you to answer the bell.