Make Small Changes, Reap Big Results (Part I)

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In the utopia of the fitness professional, everyone sets aside an hour or more a day for a complete workout, including aerobic, resistance and flexibility training. But given today’s pace of life, we all know that’s not likely to happen. And now we know that there can be tremendous benefit from doing less  – much less – that that hour.

I was amazed to see a very extensive study that came out only a few weeks ago showing that a mere one hour of jogging per week could add as much as 6 years to one life. That means a 44% reduction in the relative risk of death over 35 years.

If we turn back the clock about 40 years, we can see the monumental study of Dr. Ralph Paffenbarger called the college alumni study that shows that exercise, particularly running and brisk walking, reduce coronary death rates by up to 33%. His research was based on running or walking 25 miles per week (40 kilometers).  Most studies since then have been focused on 30-35 minutes of aerobic exercise.

But yet another study from last August, 2011, which appeared in the journal The Lancet, found that doing 15 minutes of leisurely physical activity per day was linked with an average three added years of life expectancy – not to mention a 10% decrease in cancer mortality and a 20% drop in cardiovascular disease.

It has become clear that deriving benefit from exercise is not an all or nothing adventure—a little bit can go a long way.

It’s easy to find reasons not to exercise. “I don’t have time.” “I look ridiculous.” “It’s raining.” “It’s too hot.” “It’s too cold.” “I’m too tired.” “I hate exercise.”  Even those of us who understand the importance of exercise have problems from time to time motivating ourselves to do what we know we need to do. And people who belong to a gym or health club may notice the months slipping by (as well as their money) without finding the time to work out. How, then, can we overcome these roadblocks so that we can do what we need to for the sake of our health and well-being?

The single most common barrier to exercise is a perceived lack of time. It’s very easy to convince yourself that your morning session can wait until after lunch, then after dinner, then until tomorrow. Failure to prioritize and schedule our exercise into our busy days almost guarantees that it will not happen.

No time,” however, is a pretty weak excuse. Research has shown that exercise not only improves your health, but it also increases productivity, so you actually can accomplish more!

Another roadblock: Many people claim that they just don’t like to exercise. The first step is to find an exercise that you do like to do or can, at least, learn to like. Try hiking or walking with a friend. Or put on headphones when you are exercising and listen to your favorite music or Torah tape. Sign up for a kickboxing class to release some extra tension.

We are often discouraged from maintaining an exercise routine when we don’t see immediate results from our workouts. The first rule is: don’t weigh in too often; no more than twice a week. Think about what progress you have made even if the weight isn’t coming off as quickly as you would like. Can you walk further or faster than when you started? Are you less winded? Can you lift heavier weights or do more repetitions? Do you feel healthier and more energized? Many people have unrealistic expectations, and when they have trouble reaching them, they are ready to give up. Be keenly aware that exercise is progressive. Have patience and set realistic, short-term goals for yourself. You don’t have to run a marathon to reap the health benefits of exercise. 

Exercise “Lite”

But what if you are one of those people who really don’t have much time? There are several ways to work exercise and activity into your daily routine, and, as noted above, the benefits of doing even the minimum are immense. In 1993, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) in conjunction with the American College of Sports Medicine released their “Exercise Lite” recommendations.

Based on scientific evidence, these recommendations clearly demonstrated substantial health benefits from moderate-intensity exercise. The basis of “Exercise Lite” is that each adult should accumulate thirty minutes of aerobic activity on most or all days of the week, but not necessarily all in one chunk. A two-mile brisk walk will do the trick. Try this on the way to work and back, or on the way to shopping and back. Use the stairs instead of the elevator.

Two days a week, include some resistance training and come up with a basic five-minute stretching routine. This requires only small changes that increase daily physical activity and enable you to reduce your risk of chronic illness, give you more energy and endurance, and enhance you quality of life.

Make Small Changes, Reap Big Results (Part II) offers more tips and information to help you make the most of your health with the time you have.

Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer and a Lifestyle Fitness Coach with over 16 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175 (USA Line 1-516-568-5027), or by email at

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.