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How Often Should I Work Out?

It’s a rocky question: “how often should I work out?”. Most fitness magazines will tell you three to four times a week-- but I don’t exactly agree! Two reasons: first, working out means intense physical training, but exercise doesn’t have to be hardcore. According to the Department of Health, the standard is 2.5 weekly hours of moderate physical activity-- moderate, not intense! Second reason is that frequent, high-level workouts are not for everyone.

Some people have mental health challenges or struggle with life management. So realistically, asking how often you should workout isn’t the right question. You should be asking, “how often should I do healthy activities that motivate me?” Here are some insights to help you along.

Change your view of “working out”

Let’s first redefine our understanding of working out. Then you can decide what type of schedule fits with your comfort level.

Work out vs. general physical activity

We shouldn’t confuse working out with general physical activity. As the American Council on Exercise explains, working out suggests a focus on building your body, whereas physical activity can be any active pastime that gets your heart rate going. It could be rollerblading, hiking or biking.

If your lifestyle is under-active, make a health goal that focuses on getting more physical activity. Try two activities per week, maybe swimming or a beginner’s dance class. All that matters is you’re moving around more often to feel good. Eventually, you can add a third day of physical activity into your week, or even, if you're ready, start experimenting with workout videos.

Mental health over appearance

Not everyone can manage hardcore working out. For those with mental health challenges, you may be grateful to have one decent-feeling day a week. It’s okay.

Here’s a mindset to keep for life: don’t work out to improve your appearance; workout for your mental health. And if you can’t workout, invest 2-3 hour per week doing a physical activity you love. Studies show that frequent physical activity helps boost your mood, release stress and balance your hormones, according to Doctor Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. in their article, The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise.

But if your goal is merely to enhance your body, your focus is not enhancing yourself on the inside. So rely on healthy activities that nurture your mental health. If you can only manage once a week at the beginning, you should feel extremely proud of your progress!

Set your goals

Your first goal should be to develop a routine that includes more physical activity. For instance, if your current routine is going to bed at 11pm, try going to bed at 10pm and wake up an hour earlier in the morning for a 30 min bike ride in your neighborhood before getting in the shower and dressing for the day.

Or if you’re not a morning person, try using half of your lunch break to jog outdoors. To get you motivated, create a song list of upbeat workout tunes to keep you going. Music has a fantastic power to distract you from feeling tired, keeping your mind on the positive energy of sound.

Start this ritual twice a week, and after a month or so, try adding one more day of physical activity to your schedule.

Making an effort is the first step, friends! What kind of physical activity ideas can you share? Tell me about your goals. I’d love to hear them!

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