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  • Writer's pictureDoreen @ UnfancyFitness

New to Exercise? 5 Tips to Lessen the Stress

Updated: May 5, 2023

Are you new to fitness? Feeling stressed about it? New to workouts from home or at the gym?

New to exercise? Starting your personal exercise program can be daunting, confusing and stressful. Let's face it. You can find thousands of videos, programs, blogs, websites and live classes with one search. Here it is; one more stressor in your life, right? You don't have to be overwhelmed or confused. Understand and Believe. Prolonged sitting hurts us. Moving more for our mental health is one effective tool to feeling better about ourselves. Movement helps. Exercise is challenging and we've become accustomed to sedentary lifestyles and all that stress doesn't have an outlet.

As "fight or flight" creatures, we tend to save our energy for situations where we either fight or flee. That came from our ancient ancestors. The fight-or-flight response is still very important today. It can help us to stay safe in dangerous situations. However, it can also be harmful if it is triggered by things that are not actually dangerous. For example, if we are constantly stressed, the fight-or-flight response can wear down our bodies and make us more susceptible to illness.So we have this extra energy just built up in our system. In addition, we sit excessively, overeat, and don't flee as much. That's way too much energy conservation!

There are a few things that we can do to manage the fight-or-flight response. One is to learn how to identify our triggers. Once we know what triggers our stress, we can start to avoid those situations or develop coping mechanisms for dealing with them. (Hello Exercise?) Another way to manage the fight-or-flight response is to practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga. These techniques can help to calm our bodies and minds and reduce the stress response.

It's important to make sure that we are taking care of our physical health. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly can all help to reduce stress and improve our overall well-being.

So let's move more.

It starts with a choice.

The decision to begin to exercise comes from your willingness to exercise. Not from any fitness expert, nor your spouse, child, best friend or parent. You. If you want to exercise for your health, you will.

When you start out, look for overall fitness - cardio/strength/flexibility. Focus on how you can individualize your program. The best exercise is the one that you are going to do - whether that be high intensity, walking, cycle, weights, gardening or swimming. So sit back and read about my mess-ups over the years. My mistakes might help you get on the right track to your unfancy yet fit & healthy lifestyle.

  • Only did strength/resistance training

  • No dedicated time for stretching

  • Made no effort to understand calories

  • Didn't rest my body

  • I worked through the pain

Mistake #1:

Choosing Only 1 Type of Exercise

Lifting weights is a great stress reliever

When I began regular workouts in my twenties, I lifted weights. I had no desire or an understanding of how variety in intensity can safely balance the stress that exercise normally takes on the body. For me, back then (many years ago), my younger self became inspired by fit looking muscled bodies without a thought to how I could improve my cardiovascular fitness. And by the way, I don't run. Tried it- not for me- and with my degenerative disc disease - definitely not for me now. Instead, I love walking and my cycle class! Never give up! There's always an alternative!

Strength training is defined as a type of exercise that requires the body's musculature to move against an opposing force, usually some type of equipment. As a fitness enthusiast, one can expect some gains in strength and muscle size or tone when performed for at least 30 minutes 2-3x/week. For the sake of overall health and fitness, we need to incorporate a total conditioning program which consists of:

  • Cardio endurance - run/walk/bike

  • Strength - resistance training

  • Anaerobic endurance - High intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

  • Flexibility - prolonged stretches 30 seconds +

  • Rest - allows muscles/body to heal/rejuvenate

Bottom line - think about exercise as a prescription for total body health. Balance your workouts. Create weekly space for cardio, strength and flexibility. Place cardio and strength training into the same total body workout (time-saver, too!) and make some dedicated time for flexibility. Making time means taking a movement break for only 10 minutes as opposed to thinking exercise time = 60 minutes. Get creative, people! You strive (maybe) for a balanced diet - same for exercise.

Mistake #2:

No Dedicated Stretch Time which can Help Manage Stress

Take a Stretch Break

I can't even tell you how many clients and fellow fitness enthusiasts tell me they won't even try gentle types of yoga because it's too slow. Ughh!! There's that push your body, feel the pain, rest is for weaklings mindset. But I confess that was me for a while!

About 20 years ago I attended my first yoga teacher training and introduction to mind/body movement with Yogafit. I was taught to breath, listen to my body and let go of judgement, competition or expectations that I might have about me and my yoga practice. To this day, I share this philosophy with all students, especially beginners. Just let go, open your mind to allowing your body to move freely and as result make well-deserved time to equally slow down.

Dedicate time for stretching. Period. Understand your body by locating where the tension and tightness is located and get into a stretching routine. Ten minutes a day counts. Longer held poses help us to slow our minds, find our breath and relax. The stretching in a yoga class can be defined as static stretching - relaxing while holding a stretch for an extended period of time. In addition, I also teach dynamic stretching - movements that involve a range of motion such as a seated forward reach to the toes followed by sweeping the arms back overhead and repeated a few more. Dynamic stretching is a good warm-up before a workout.

Try a free Gentle Stretch video from UnFancyFitness.

Mistake #3:

Not Making Time/Effort to Understand Calories

Understand, don't obsess about calories and nutrients

Do you know how many calories were in your breakfast this morning? I don't mean the exact, down to every morsel and crumb amount. I'm talking about an educated guess amount. That's right. Estimate. Read food labels every chance you get. Search "CALORIE COUNTER" and you'll find a wide variety of websites and apps that will do the job. Try to monitor your food intake for 3 days either written down or entered into an online counter. Knowledge of your caloric intake can make or break your path to weight loss or gain. You'll see the excess or the lack of calories. You'll also see where you lack in nutrients. So important. This knowledge is the start to opening up your own awareness to making better food choices.

Extra bites of this and that each day add up! Big time! Made me think before I grabbed a snack. Was I really that hungry? How did my body feel in relation to hunger? I began to appreciate the listed calories on menus in restaurants. Those calories posted help you to determine if a meal is enough or just too much. When it comes to daily food intake - moderation is key. But what the heck is moderation, really?

Moderation is what makes weight loss successful. Moderation is simple. You judge what is enough. But you judge with informed knowledge and honesty with your own well-being in mind.

In my sorted past with food, I thought I could get away with fads to help me keep my weight in check. Let's see - fad supplements, caffeine and excessive exercise to "negate" the food. Or diets that eliminated food groups - low-fat, high-protein, no carbs - all just not very effective for long-term healthy living. Think about yourself. Are you really going to live on a low-carb diet forever?

"Diet" can be such a bad word! Much worse than the ones that so often come out of my mouth! Ask my family!!! Back to fad/extreme diets. In the long term, they just don't work. (Your turn to say a bad word!)

Food choices suited to your own health needs and tastes work. Enjoy your grandmother's lasagna recipe or your famous loaded nachos. Just enjoy once-in-a-while. Makes the moment even yummier and special. That's moderation.

Friend, live your life. Give yourself permission to feel the joy in foods that are tasty and meaningful in your life/culture. Ditch the diet plans that you stick on the fridge. Or those free plans you get on the internet. Just learn about calories and nutritional content. Understand food is made to nourish your body and to create a sense of family, home and comfort. Not a form of punishment, negative feelings or a fad.

More on this to come.

Mistake # 4:

I Didn't Rest Post-Exercise

Rest is underrated but necessary for our physical and mental health

Rest is hard isn't it? Hee! Hee! There's my little chuckle because rest is easy but we tend to associate rest with laziness because we are a go,go,go - FOMO society. I hear that one loud and clear! Lack of rest and fill-my-day with endless chores, excessive work, projects etc. is a sign of strength and hard-working virtuosity. Right?? And your workout suffers from lack of rest but who cares! Right?? You are already strong because you're able to stretch yourself too thin throughout the day! NOT! Don't buy into it, friend.

Rest. WHY? Rest. HOW?

Why rest days in between high-intensity resistance and cardio workouts? You'll avoid increased fatigue and burnout. Lack of rest repeatedly leads to overuse injuries. Depending on the type of exercise, your muscles and cardiovascular system need time to recuperate and rejuvenate as these systems get stronger and more efficient.

How to rest in-between workouts? Let me count the ways!

  • Take a bath using epsom salts

  • Go for a casual walk, swim or bike ride

  • Rest days are great prolonged stretch days- Gentle Stretch class anyone?

  • Exercise but at a low or moderate level - light weights or no weights with much less intensity - a short barre or yoga class

  • OR

  • Dedicate one day to no formal exercise training - I usually take Sundays off. Forget about your workouts today. That's right. Just chill and read a book or go on a leisurely walk or do some gardening.

  • Focus on sleep and if not sleeping well, find the reason and work at improving your sleep with a professional.

  • If you must binge-watch your favorite show. Get up every hour or so, jog in place, walk up the stairs, do some jumping jacks for about 2 minutes. You can fit this in-between episodes!

Mistake #5:

I Worked Through the Pain

Exercise is about nourishing our bodies and minds

Sometimes exercise would hurt and way-back-when, I was a tough gal following the message at the time, "No Pain, No Gain." Nice. Let's hurt and get fit! That was me. Feel the burn. I know people who have puked after workouts. Gosh, we are so driven to push ourselves no matter what the cost. So please. Do not perform any exercise if it gives you pain or creates dizziness, vomiting and excessive fatigue. Yep. I write this because over the years as a gym rat and exercise instructor in many fitness facilities, I've seen all of this unnecessarily occur.

Be good to yourself and in order to make exercise gains, push to the point where you feel uncomfortable but in control and feeling able to continue to the end of your workout. Can everyone say "Let's Have Fun!??"

Be Mindful of What You do to Your Body

Just Move and Just Breathe

If I could go back, I would have taken better care of my body, identified and avoided the pain when I exercised, stretched more as a form of recovery and rested more as part of my exercise plan. I wish I had better knowledge of calorie counts and the Biggie; I would have varied my exercise plan to include more cardio along with my strength training.

Today, I deal with back pain due to 4 degenerative discs in my lower back region. At one point I was terrified I would lose my strength and ability to move enough to continue to exercise. I often wonder if this was a result of working through the pain I often felt over the many years of repetitive exercise that exhausted me and made me sore all the time!

As a society, we've broken into the rut of "push hard every minute of the day or you're not working hard enough."mindset. So rest and relaxation becomes extra and minimal and a sign of weakness. Many from the fitness industry push"experts" on us who want to claw at your every weakness when it comes to body image, weight, age, muscle and pant size. So even fitness becomes stressful and we internalize all of our supposed shortcomings, feel bad and don't start.

As we move on each day and continue to strive to keep our bodies healthy inside and out, remember that excess exercise without rest can be just as dangerous as too little. Finding the right balance involves research and trial and error. Understanding your own exercise requirements for your body and mind and at the right level and intensity will take some time. Make the time. As much as I made mistakes, I also made great successes and I look forward to sharing the best of my fitness career with you. Until then.

Be Well,



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