Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
Q: I don’t like to exercise but I know I would be healthier if I did. Is there an alternative?
A: Well, saunas produce sweat, which is one of the many benefits of exercise. But they don’t tone your heart and other muscles, which is imperative for good health and graceful aging. To put it plainly, we need to move our bodies to achieve optimum health. But there’s a wide variety of options as to how we do it. So maybe we just need to rethink what we mean by “exercise.”
The Best Way to Start
If you don’t like “exercise,” start with walking. As famous cardiologist and vegetarian Dr. Dean Ornish likes to say, “Walk your dog every day, even if you don’t have one.” If walking doesn’t work for you, try seated yoga or mini-barbell workouts. It feels good to have toned muscles—and it looks good too!
Regardless of how we move, the important thing is to move our bodies for at least 30 minutes every day. Try to fit in 20 minutes of walking and 10 minutes of stretching. I love “Yoga with Adriene,” which is a free YouTube program with hundreds of simple yoga sequences that are accessible to anyone—even beginners. The best times to stretch are first thing in the morning, before breakfast, and just after work, before dinner.
Related: The Science of Exercise
Ramping Up Your Regimen
Once you have a basic routine locked in, you’ll be ready to build on your exercise program to increase your fitness. Ideally, you’ll want to work yourself up to two or three sessions of cardio (20–50 minutes each) every week; two weekly sessions of weight training (unless your job requires a lot of lifting); and at least one session of prolonged stretching.
There’s no need to lift heavy weights: one-third of your body weight is plenty to build lean muscle and burn fat. You can use handheld weights at home, or get back to the gym. To start, spend 15–25 minutes on your upper body one day a week (push-ups, pull-ups, planks, dips) and 15–25 minutes another day on lower body (e.g., squats with or without weight, lunges, 90:90 against a wall). Just know that weightlifting requires some training to protect your spine.
If you don’t have access to weights, look into TRX, a fantastic way to use your own bodyweight with straps that can be hooked up in your home.
For cardio, find something that sounds fun—jogging, cycling, spinning, tennis, pickleball, rollerblading, dancing, hiking, rock climbing, aerobics, or just a brisk walk outside.
Related: Getting Back into a Fitness Routine
A cardio session should raise your heart rate (pulse) at least three times normal, to around 200 minus your age. Men can sustain a higher heart rate than women, so I’ve used a lower number than you may have seen before. Short intense bursts of exercise (known as “HIITs” for high-intensity interval training) are more efficient and more effective than pushing to sustain an elevated heart rate for long periods of time.
Find a licensed naturopathic doctor for a virtual (telemedicine) or in-person consultation at naturemed.org/find-an-nd.