The Jul/Aug issue of the Post offers a unique fitness guide (page 38) that matches your personality to an ideal outdoor activity. Whether you’re a “People Person,” a “Nature Lover,” or a “Competitor,” we’ve got an activity you’re sure to enjoy. But we’ve got a few suggestions for “Adventure Seekers,” too. And more expert advice from CEO of Cooper Aerobics Enterprises, Inc., Dr. Tyler Cooper.
Let the Adventures Begin
- Sign up for an outdoor exercise “boot camp.”
- Plan a kayaking trip.
- Search for products that put a new spin on fitness, such as FitDeck (24 decks of exercise playing cards ranging from Navy SEAL to Yoga workouts, available at fitdeck.com for about $15), BPA-free filtered water bottles($20 at BodyGlove.com), Five Fingers shoes ($75 and up at vibramfivefingers.com), and the Skaters Coach for inline skating (skaterscoach.com, summer special price $349 plus shipping).
Fitness enthusiast and researcher Dr. Tyler Cooper, CEO of Cooper Aerobics Enterprises, Inc., and co-author of Start Strong, Finish Strong with his father, aerobics guru Dr. Kenneth Cooper answers your questions.
Q: Does outdoor exercise offer different health benefits than indoor exercise?
A: Exercising outdoors clears the brain, relaxes the body, and frees the mind. It also breaks your routine—something that is especially important if you spend most of your day sitting in an office. A century ago, the majority of people worked outside. That’s not the case in today’s culture.
Fortunately, outdoor activity doesn’t cost much money and can be done in a short period of time. When people are outdoors, they are typically active. Exercise releases chemical messengers in the brain that are similar to how an antidepressant drug works. It actually makes you feel better! Exercising outdoors and enjoying your surroundings triggers a natural high.
Q: How do you motivate your clients to start with a fitness program?
A: At the Cooper Clinic, we tell people to focus on quality and quantity of life. Our institute released a landmark study in 1989 showing that 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week (so not very much at all and any type you like) will increase your lifespan by about six years. Our studies also show that exercising three to five times weekly significantly improves quality of life by boosting energy and reducing the risk of depression and other health problems.
Eating well is a component of healthy living—one instrument, if you will, in the entire orchestra. But I tell my patients that their body weight is consequence of how much they eat and how much they exercise. In other words, diet plus exercise equals weight. I really don’t care how much they weigh if they are eating right and getting regular exercise.
People who focus solely on their weight will start working out and eating right for a couple weeks. Then they get discouraged and quit if they gain a pound or two. They are exercising for the wrong reasons! People often note a redistribution of fat and muscle as the body becomes attuned to an increase in its metabolism. We encourage people to focus on the long haul. Regular exercise will improve both the quantity and quality of life—and it doesn’t take that much. You don’t have to go out and run a marathon.
Q: What’s your advice for people who want get some exercise and have some fun outdoors?
A: Start with something small and easy. We teach moderation. An unattainable goal will lead to failure. Instead, just get out there and start working. Go for a 10-minute walk twice a week. Then, slowly build up to 30 minutes, three to five times a week. Do something outside that you already like to do inside. If you walk on the treadmill or ride an exercise bike, take a stroll or go cycling outside.
Plan active trips. My wife jokes that we take trips, not vacations. Our idea of a vacation is going somewhere to do something active, whether that is hiking, fishing, or skiing. We might sit on the beach and relax for part of the day, but we’ll also play tennis or golf.
Explore local options. People often don’t realize what their own communities have to offer. Go online and search for outdoor activities or local hikes. Chances are good that you’ll find beautiful walking paths, gardens, or parks to get outside, be active, and relax. Look for a nice little destination within a day’s drive to take a hike, have a picnic, and reset your mind.
Break out. It is very easy to get stuck in a rut. Work weeks blend together, home responsibilities become predictable, and we do the same thing each weekend. I believe it’s very healthy physiologically as well as psychologically to break out of those routines. It doesn’t have to mean planning a seven-day vacation. It can be, “Hey, on Saturday, let’s drive an hour and a half to a park I heard about and take a nice hike, relax, read, or whatever.”
People get caught in a routine about their health, too. That’s fine if it’s a healthy routine. But typically, it’s not. We get stuck eating the same foods or not exercising or making the same excuses. Breaking that routine is really important.
Q: Is more always better when it comes to exercise?
A: Again, we at the Cooper Clinic advise moderation. I used to think that more is better, but we’ve learned that going to extremes can be unhealthy. The general recommendation is 30 minutes of exercise on most days, and you can break up that 30 minutes into two 15-minutes blocks and reap almost the same benefit. I tell patients that they don’t necessarily have to pull on the gym shorts and go to the club, or hit the trail. Put on some headphones and listen to music or a book on tape and walk for 15 minutes. Do it once in the morning and once in the afternoon, and you are done. As you get more consistent in a program like that, you are going to find that you want to do more and more because you are feeling better. Our studies show little if any benefit to training for a marathon as compared to exercising 3-5 times a week. The exponential growth is going from no to some exercise, as opposed to going from some to a lot. That’s really encouraging to me, and it seems to be encouraging my patients, too.
Q: What tips can you give our readers to stick with a fitness plan and stay motivated?
A: Be realistic. Beginners might set a goal to exercise three times a week, with the intention to bump it up to five days. If you are the type of person who benefits from having a routine, then pick a time every day that you go exercise.
Put it on your weekly calendar. On Sunday, block in your exercise time for the rest of the week. Put it as a meeting on your calendar. That way, when the time comes, you are going to do it. People often have every intention to exercise after work. Then, they get stuck in a meeting, something happens at home, or they are tired, and they end up blowing it off. That’s a big mistake. Exercise is the most important thing that you are going to do that day for your physical body. Putting it on the calendar and sticking to it is a good way to get it done.
Be accountable.If you have someone to work out with, whether a friend, a personal trainer, a spouse, or a sibling, you are much more likely to have success with an exercise (or dietary) program. It doesn’t have to be crack-the-whip accountability, but just a “Let’s get together tomorrow afternoon and go for a walk” kind of a thing.
One more thing: People who begin an exercise program for the fist time may not feel well during the initial three to four weeks. They may actually feel pretty crummy and ask why on earth they are doing this. But the reality is that they will start to develop good habits and, by the end of the month, they will feel some of the positive effects of the exercise and a healthy lifestyle.
Q: What is your favorite type of outdoor exercise?
A: I run every afternoon on one of the trails and paths that surround where we work—it’s my stress reliever. Sometimes I have to force myself to do it, but 100 out of 100 times, I feel better when I’m finished. I was a ski instructor in a former life, and I water and snow ski any chance I get. I also do a lot of hiking and mountain climbing. I joke that running was not optional in my family. On Sunday afternoons when families spent time together or whatnot, our family would get together for a 5K run. That’s what I am trying to instill in my children: be active and have fun. Make exercise a part of a healthy life that you enjoy and want to do.
Q: What’s new at Cooper Aerobics?
A: It’s an exciting year at Cooper Aerobics Center—we are celebrating our 40th anniversary! We’re always working to advance the field of preventative medicine and research, to keep people healthy, and to detect diseases in the earliest stages, when we can treat it easily and affordably.
Cooper Corporate Solutions works with corporations to develop wellness programs and help control insurance costs by improving the health of their employees. Comprehensive health screening is another priority. I frequently tell my patients: Don’t die of something stupid. Skin cancer and colon cancer are dumb reasons to die, because easy screening can catch those cancers very early, when they won’t cause you a problem. But if you wait, they will kill you. We also focus our energies on the issue of childhood obesity. About 25 years ago, we developed a physical fitness test for schoolchildren called Fitness Gram. Data from that ongoing research show that children who perform better on this physical fitness test also do better on standardized testing than kids who are less fit. Five million school children took the fitness test in 2009. We are hopeful that this fascinating research will help contribute to turning around the problem of childhood obesity. Recently, Cooper Aerobics developed an association with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School related to genetic studies. We keep blood samples on a large proportion of our patients. Working with UT researchers may help identify genetic markers associated with certain diseases, and determine the effect of preventive medicine and positive lifestyle habits on one’s health.
Today, the importance of exercise in overall health and wellness is a war cry. It just makes sense. But when my father wrote his first book, Aerobics, in 1968, he was accosted for promoting exercise. The difference in the way his message is accepted is night and day. It’s refreshing here. I have the great joy of seeing patients, catching diseases early, when we can do something about it, and keeping them healthy for a long time.