By: Christine Morse, M.S., Certified Personal Trainer and daughter of Dr. William Morse, TPCA Integrative Family Medicine physician.
I often tell people that exercise is like brushing your teeth. Once a week you don’t pile on seven times the amount of toothpaste you normally need and then skip brushing for the remainder of the week. It’s the same with exercise. You can’t skip three, four, five or six days in a row and then punish yourself with an extra intense workout, expecting the same results as five or six exercise sessions. A little daily goes a long way. Daily, consistent exercise habits are crucial for several reasons:
Healthy habits are lifetime habits. Everyone who has been on-again, off-again with exercise knows how quickly good exercise habits can unravel. After a string of about three or four great excuses, suddenly you’ve missed a week of workouts. It may be time to retrain your brain to make exercise a more important part of your life. Remember that just like brushing your teeth, healthy habits can be practiced every day for the rest of your life. It may only be ten minutes of exercise per day but maintaining the habit is vital.
Gradual Progressive Overload. This is a principle of exercise that basically means, “When things get too easy, make them more challenging.” Seems simple, right? As you train your muscles and cardiovascular system to adapt to exercise, there will come a time when what you are doing is too easy for you. Your body will adapt to whatever stimuli of exercise you give it. Some people plateau here and continue doing the same thing day in and day out without varying. The gradual progressive overload principle suggests that you will never get better if you stay in this place. Over an appropriate amount of time, you should be changing your load–weight, speed, incline, resistance, volume, repetitions, etc. — to the point that you are “overloading” the muscles. Overload just means that the muscles are struggling, possibly to the point of failure and maybe even to the point that you are a little sore the next day. If you take five days off and then attempt the same workout, it will probably still seem challenging. It will be very difficult to make your workout harder if you only perform it once a week. Gradual progressive overload requires regular exercise habits. You will get stronger, leaner, faster, and fitter if you exercise frequently enough to allow for gradual progressive overload.
Days off won’t destroy your progress. If you workout only twice a week and miss one day due to illness or emergency, all of a sudden you have skipped 50% of your workouts for the week. However, if you are accustomed to working out six days a week and you miss a workout, you still have over 80% of your weekly workouts left. While this may seem like a very obtuse way to portray your exercise habits, the point is this: If you are banking on only one or two jam-packed exercise sessions and you miss one, your week is bankrupt. Missing a workout is not devastating for people who exercise daily.
Exercise becomes the rule, not the exception. Think of a random day last week. Did you eat breakfast? Did you shower? Did you brush your teeth? Of course you did! I hope. Did you exercise? Of course you did! I hope. Exercise should be as habitual and automatic as brushing your teeth. “Of course I did!” should be the answer. For many beginners, exercise is the exception. An average week is mostly sedentary with a couple of exceptional exercise sessions. Let’s see if we can flip that rule on its head. Make exercise the rule, not the exception. Imagine a week where “of course!” you exercised daily and there was just a day or two of exceptional rest and recovery.
Everyone can exercise daily regardless of physical fitness. Don’t overdo it. This is a long-term commitment. Exercise regularly and consistently for best results. Enjoy your daily habits. Keep brushing those teeth, exercising each day, and you will have something to smile about1