The secret to sticking with your New Year’s exercise resolution once and for all

Every new year, we hear about people resolving to exercise more.

If you don’t exercise at all, that’s an admirable goal. But if you do already exercise, popular culture—and even your own personality—may sabotage your resolution before January has even ended.

Many people get the idea that unless they adopt excessive exercise routines (what I call “excess-ercise”)—like “pumping iron” for hours on end in a stinky, sweaty, germy gym… or running a marathon—they simply can’t achieve fitness.

But that loony idea couldn’t be further from the truth. As I’ve written before, when it comes to exercise, a little bit goes a long way.

In fact, a large new study of older women shows that simply standing up—rather than sitting all day—can increase your longevity by as much as 37 percent. (It doesn’t get much simpler than that!)

But another new study found basic personality traits like introversion and extroversion can actually influence the effectiveness of different strategies for boosting physical activity.

So, let’s take a closer look at each study, and then I’ll share my tips for keeping your healthy—and sensible—New Year’s exercise resolutions throughout 2021.

Get up, stand up…for your life

A new study from the University of California at San Diego found that light exercise, including just standing up, can benefit your health and substantially increase your life span.1

(To paraphrase Bob Marley and the Wailers: “Get up, stand up, for your life…”—or John Milton: “They also [are well] served, who only stand and wait…”)

The research team monitored activity among nearly 6,000 women, ages 63 to 97, who participated in the Women’s Health Initiative (which I had helped start during the mid-1980s while at the National Institutes of Health). The women wore a high-tech accelerometer for seven days to precisely measure how much time they spent sitting, standing still, or moving around.

The researchers found that the women who spent the most time standing had a 37 percent lower risk of death compared to those who rarely stood. The most “stand-up” group put in almost 90 minutes per day on their feet. But benefits were seen with standing for as little as 30 minutes per day, too.

Plus, the health and longevity benefits were even greater when standing and moving around.

As this research shows, light, low-intensity physical activity, such as standing and walking, is important not only for your health—but in terms of feasibility and safety as you age, too.

Of course, the researchers also pointed out that many people over the age of 65 struggle to meet the guideline of 140 minutes of moderate activity per week. In fact, according to the researchers, many Americans spend up to 11 hours sitting per day.

So, how do we reverse that troubling statistic?

I believe the key to encouraging more people to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives boils down to acknowledging—and honoring—their individual personalities and preferences.

How you think can affect how you exercise

Ten years ago, I developed a personality-type index (based on “emotional types”) to help predict what kind of mind-body disorders a person is more likely to experience, and the natural, mind-body therapies that are more likely to work best for them. (To learn more, check out my book, Your Emotional Type. You can find it in the “books” tab on my website: www.DrMicozzi.com.)

Based on that research, I’ve always thought that exercise preference and sticking with a fitness routine also very likely depend on personality type.

Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (my alma mater) must have had similar thoughts. They decided to see whether attitudes and approaches to physical activity could be studied to match up to individual personality type.2

In a prior clinical trial on 602 overweight or obese adults, the researchers found that competition-based strategies to boost physical activity worked better than approaches based on collaboration, cooperation, and social support.

For the new trial, the researchers drilled down their analysis even further. They divided the 602 people into three major sub-groups: (1) extroverted and motivated, (2) less active and less social, and (3) least motivated and at-risk.

The researchers discovered that that competition-based strategies for boosting physical activity were most effective for extroverted and motivated participants (group 1)—but these people were less likely to remain active after the program ended. They needed exposure to other “competitors,” and were less self-motivated.

Meanwhile, both competition and collaboration/social-support strategies worked for the less active and less social group—and they remained active afterwards. They tended to be more self-directed and less reliant on others.

Sadly, none of the strategies were effective for the group of least-motivated and at-risk participants.

The Penn researchers concluded that targeting exercise motivation approaches to the people who are most likely to benefit from them, based on personality types, yields the best results. Just like my own research targeting therapies based on personality types—and treating each person as an individual.

So while one person may prefer quiet, reflective solitary hikes in the forest, another person may prefer that their actions (exercise) accomplish something, like yardwork or housework. And others may require the “competitive” approach of trying to improve their time or distance while walking or jogging around a track with others participating or watching.

(Though I have to admit, the appeal of this approach has always puzzled me…it reminds me of a cartoon my daughter, who is a wildlife biologist, shared with me, titled “Jogging from the perspective of animals” by Jake Likes Onions. It shows a wolf and a bear watching a jogger going by in the distance. The wolf says: “What are you running from, apex predator? Are you chasing prey? You need to conserve energy.” A bear sticks her head into the frame and says:, “The hell is that guy doing?” Wolf says, “I don’t know. I don’t understand.” My caption: “Maybe he’s running from the truth.”)

The point is, you are more likely to stick with a fitness regimen that you enjoy, based on your own personality and preferences, rather that just adopting whatever sweat-inducing fad workout is trending this week. Which brings me to my final point…

How to exercise the right way this year

It’s important to remember that science consistently demonstrates how moderate types and amounts of physical activity are associated with optimal health and longevity. In fact, study after study shows you only need a total of 140 minutes per week (not per day) of moderate exercise.

Not to mention, “excess-ercise” is especially dangerous as you get older. As I often report, research shows that working out too long or too hard can take a cumulative toll on your joints, heart, nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, genitourinary system, and even your eyesight.

Instead, try a more sensible approach to your physical activity habits, like housework, yardwork, swimming, walking, and hiking. You can also incorporate mind-body exercises like yoga and tai chi.

And if you’re one of the increasing number of people working at home these days, it’s easy to incorporate a walk around the yard or the block into your daily routine. You might even consider setting an alarm to stand up and get moving for a few minutes every hour, to avoid sitting for too long.

Whichever exercises you choose, just remember to keep the type and amount moderate. This sensible approach is the best way to fulfill your New Year’s resolution of safe and healthy exercise.

Sources:

1“The Relationship of Accelerometer-Assessed Standing Time With and Without Ambulation and Mortality: The WHI OPACH Study.” The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, glaa227, 2020.

2“Association between behavioral phenotypes and response to a physical activity intervention using gamification and social incentives: Secondary analysis of the STEP UP randomized clinical trial.” PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (10): e0239288.


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