Fitness Tips

Building Healthy Habits for the Whole Family

Be a good role model for your family by eating healthy (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low fat foods) and exercising.

If children see you being physically active and having fun, they are more likely to be active throughout their lives. Add exercise to your family time by involving everyone in activities like hiking, biking, dancing, basketball, or roller-skating. You can also do a lot of walking during trips to the zoo, park, or on local errands. Keep your body moving and focus on fun.

Remember, the healthy habits you and your family practice today, will benefit everyone in the future.

Core Strength

While cardiovascular activity is essential to good health, muscle strength is important too.  The core muscles around your trunk and pelvis help your lower back, hips and abdominal muscles work together to increase balance and stability. Having strong core muscles can reduce lower back pain and make everyday activities easier, including your comfort level while working at your desk. This article explains why building core strength is so important to your overall health.

Cater to your core muscles this week with some strengthening activities. Many can be done at home without any special equipment. Be sure to use proper posture to reap the most benefits.

Drinking Water

Remember to drink water when you exercise.

Drink before, during, and after your walk (1-1.5 cups of water for a 20 minute walk). Every system in your body depends on water. Lack of water can lead to dehydration, which can drain your energy and make you feel tired. If you exercise or engage in any activity that makes you sweat, you need to drink extra water to compensate for the fluid loss. How much additional fluid you need depends on how much you sweat during exercise, and the duration and type of exercise. Be sure to continue to replace fluids after you're finished exercising.

Remember that NYC has some of the best water in the country. It’s free, it’s clear and always near. So drink up! 

While thirst is generally a good indicator of hydration, summertime heat combined with physical activity can lead to dehydration and other related illnesses. This Mayo Clinic article provides information on ways to stay cool while exercising in the summer. Aim for 15-20 ounces of water two hours before exercise and have a water bottle with you during workouts.

Stay hydrated this week by getting into the water bottle habit! Carry yours with you full-time to quench your thirst throughout the day.

Exercising Outdoors

Exercise Clothing for the Winter Months

When the weather changes and cold air begins to set in, it can become an obstacle to those who prefer to exercise outdoors. Lower temperatures and harsher weather conditions don’t have to stop you from the activities you enjoy.

Having the appropriate clothing is an essential component exercising outdoors safely. Dressing in layers, with a base, mid, and outer layer, is the best way to dress for the cold. This gives you the option to remove outer layers when you begin to feel warm and to add them back on as you cool down. 

When choosing your cold weather clothing, don’t forget to protect your hands, feet, and ears; which can become vulnerable to frostbite. The layering method applies to your extremities as well.  Try wearing a thin pair of gloves beneath heavier gloves or mittens so that you can remove and replace the outer layer as needed.  Also, consider getting shoes about a ½ size larger that you normally wear to accommodate for either heavier wool socks or two pairs of regular socks.  A hat or headband is a great way to keep your ears warm as you exercise.

Please see these websites from the Mayo Clinic and for more helpful tips and information.

Protect Yourself from Sun Exposure

Did you know that protection from sun exposure is important all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach?
Ultraviolet (UV) rays can reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well as bright and sunny days. UV rays also reflect off of surfaces like water, cement, sand, and snow.

The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daylight savings time are the most hazardous for UV exposure. UV rays are the greatest during the late spring and early summer in North America.

CDC recommends easy options for sun protection

  • Use sunscreen with sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher, and both UVA and UVB protection.
  • Wear clothing to protect exposed skin.
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck.
  • Wear sunglasses that wrap around and block as close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
  • Seek shade, especially during midday hours.

Remember, sun sense is important all year round.

Exercising With a Friend

Did you know that exercising with others can help you meet your health goals?

Don’t do it alone. Exercising with others helps you stay motivated and consistent. Join an activity like a walking group where you can participate at your own fitness level and pace. Lunchtime activities like Walk to Wellness will start you on the right path to fitness. The walks in scenic Riverside Park could make your workout fun and energizing. It’s also a chance to form friendships in a shared activity that you can enjoy weekly. Having a regularly scheduled exercise time is an excellent way of making sure you exercise on a consistent basis.

Excercise Your Way to a Better Night's Sleep

Sleeping soundly can be a problem for many people, but did you know that regular physical activity at the right times may help your sleep better? People who exercise 4 days a week report improved sleep quality, longer sleep, and less time falling asleep. That being said, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that you finish your workout at least 3 hours before you plan on going to bed.

Sleep soundly this week by adding exercise to your morning, afternoon or early evening. Track your progress by keeping a sleep journal and noting how you feel when you wake up in the morning.  Need additional sleep assistance? Check out A!Sleep an Alice! Health Promotion sleep initiative that is available to all Columbia students, staff and faculty.

Fitting Exercise into Your Busy Schedule

Being active doesn’t mean having to spend hours at the gym.  You can find ways to work exercise into your life doing things that you love.  Pick an activity that you enjoy doing, like going for a walk, gardening, dancing, or something new you haven’t tried before.  You’ll be getting your daily exercise and barely noticing it!

Having a consistent fitness routine is an easy way to make activity part of your daily life. When planning your exercise, aim for SMART moves (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely): pick a time, place and activity that fits into your life and stick with it! Find three places in your schedule during the week where you can fit in fitness. It may be in the morning, during your lunch break, before dinner or in the evening. Recommit to these times at the end of the week, or adjust your work-out schedule if need be. 

Also, you can try to sneak in exercise whenever you can by getting off the subway one stop earlier, taking the stairs, or doing squats or crunches during a TV commercial. You’ll be surprised by how quickly these small changes add up.  In the course of a week, try to spend about a half hour, two or three days out of the week, doing something you love that is physically active. 

Don’t worry if you can't find the time for 30-60 minutes of physical activity; exercising for a shorter amount of time twice a day can be just as effective as doing your whole workout at once. A study at the University of New Hampshire found that exercising twice a day for 15 minutes can also improve lung capacity more than a single, half hour session. Plus, it's a great way to get in all your activity if one session seems too daunting!

Break your activity into two sessions this week. Try getting in half your workout in the morning or during lunch and the other half after work or back at home. Shorter sessions mean you can still take care of your to-do list! Also, check out some of these time-saving exercise tips.

Get Back After a Setback

It's normal to encounter both victories and setbacks on the road to fitness. As you continue with a fitness routine, you might find it challenging to keep up your motivation.  Sometimes the benefits of exercise aren't readily apparent when you're reluctant to get out of bed in the morning, or itching to go home after work. But the benefits of moving more are just as real now as when you began your fitness journey! Don't fret if you miss a few days in your routine or don't hit your goals as quickly as you expected. Being able to get back on track is a sure sign that physical activity has become a long-term habit!

If you've fallen out of step, lace your shoes back up this week and get moving! Get motivated by thinking about your fitness victories and remind yourself that this was only a temporary setback. Place a note on your alarm clock, dashboard, or desk; wherever you are when you're most tempted to skip your workout. Use it to focus on your goals and stay committed!

If you are looking for additional support to remain committed to your health and fitness goals, check out Weight Watchers At Work at either the Morningside or Medical Center campuses.  New members can join at any time!  Information on the program and how to join can be found here.

Remember to also check out the discounts page on the Office of Work/Life website for information on discounted gym memberships. 

Goal Setting

Are you training for a goal? One way to stay motivated is to set your sights on a new goal.  Maybe just joining and maintaining a fitness program is enough, but if you are looking for more, train for a 5 or 10K, or register for a walk or fundraiser for a cause that you’re interested in.  

The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has a comprehensive “Team in Training” program that allows you to support a great cause while working towards a fitness challenge. The New York City Road Runners is also a great resource for recreational events throughout the city.

If you’ve had a hard time setting and sticking to your goals in the past, make sure that your goals are specific and focused and you’ll soon see a difference. By setting goals and diligently working towards them, you’ll be able to accomplish bigger challenges.

Gym Memberships and Fitness Classes

  • Both  Dodge Fitness Center on Morningside Campus and NYPH Fitness Center on the Medical  Center Campus offer memberships at competitive rates.
  • Members of the Columbia community are able to get discounted rates at several other fitness centers.  Please review the wellness discounts page for more information. You can also check with your local gym or YMCA about class offerings and discounted rates throughout the year.
  • This article in New York Magazine lists their ratings for the best exercise classes in New York City. 

Ideas for Home Workouts

Workout videos are a great, inexpensive way to stay fit in the comfort of your own home. 
  • Netflix has a wide range of fitness videos and often has free trial periods for new subscribers. Also, Hulu has a few health and fitness channels that feature instructional videos, mainly for yoga. 
  • Podcasts, such as iTRAIN, enable you to download exercise routines to any MP3 player.  The iTunes store has a long list of podcasts, many of which you can download for free.
  • The Nintendo Wii’s Wii Fit is another fun way to stay active indoors.
  • Develop your own at home workout. You don’t need expensive equipment to get a good workout—just use your own body weight, and some creativity. Or, you can buy an inexpensive resistance band to aid your home work out.

Know Where You Stand

When starting a new exercise program, test your fitness levels to know where you stand. Chart your Body Mass Index (BMI), time a 1 mile walk (an average fitness walking pace is a 15 minute mile) and record your pulse before and after, and see how many push-ups you can do. Knowing your starting aerobic and muscular fitness levels will help you set goals, track progress and stay motivated!

Do each of these activities on a Monday (or schedule a time to do them during the week). Write your findings in a journal and re-test yourself every few weeks to see how you're doing.

Monitoring Your Intensity

When you are exercising, how hard are you working? Especially when starting a new exercise program, it is important to monitor the intensity of your workout to make sure that you are working hard enough to receive maximal benefits, without overdoing it.  There are varying degrees of exercise intensity. Light-intensity activities, like cooking or shopping, don't require much physical effort. Moderate-intensity activities, like a brisk walk or a flat bike ride, work your heart, lungs and muscles, causing you to sweat. Vigorous-intensity activities increase your heart rate enough that you are breathing hard and fast.

One way to measure how hard you’re working is through the rate of perceived exertion. Use this method to rate how hard you think you are working on a scale of 0 – 10.  It is best to stay within a range of about 3 – 5 (moderate to hard) if you are just starting out. Another method is to measure your heart rate. Your target heart rate should be within 50-85% of your maximum recommended heart rate (220 beats per minute minus your age). Beginners should start at 50% and gradually pick up the pace.  Develop a diverse workout by incorporating something from every intensity level (including vigorous). Remember that fitness level and abilities varies from person to person, so you may find an exercise to be more or less intense then your peers

If you are looking to increase the challenge of your workout, you may want to include interval training as part of your routine.  When you use interval training, you include short periods of high intensity activity in the middle of lower intensity activities (i.e. walking steadily at a 5 on the RPE scale, inserting a one-minute interval at a 7 on the RPE scale every few minutes). 

Throughout the course of a week, monitor your intensity and try to step up your workouts by including short periods of high intensity exercise.  As the weeks go by, you can increase the length of these periods to improve your fitness. You should also remember to varry your routines to help maintain intensity and avoid boredom.  

Optimal Time to Exercise

As you continue getting into a regular exercise routine, you may be wondering whether or not there is an optimal time of day to work out.  Despite what you may have heard about the best time of day to exercise, it is best to pay attention to your own body clock.

Know you're not a morning person? Then a.m. work-outs might not be for you. The reverse goes for early birds: your internal rhythm can play a big role in your motivation and commitment to your exercise routine. Some evidence has also linked your body clock to overall physical performance.
Consider and work around your usual ebb and flow this week. At which point in the day are you most positive, energetic and ready to go? That's the perfect time to get active!

Power Walking

Did you know that speed walking can increase your caloric burn rate without the joint jarring effects of jogging? Without a doubt, walking is good exercise. But if you want an extra challenge, try speed walking. Simply put, speed walking, or power walking is walking very fast without running. Arms are swung in pace with the stride, and one foot is on the ground at all times. Your stride is slightly longer and considerably quicker than in a leisurely stroll.

Briskly walking one mile (brisk usually means 3.5 to 4 miles per hour) burns nearly as many calories as running a mile at a moderate pace, and confers similar fitness and health benefits. Even strolling or slow walking (about 2 miles per hour) confers some health benefits.

The number of calories burned during a speed-walking workout depends on such factors as your weight, the length of your workout, and how vigorously you swing your arms. Remember to pick up the pace for your health.

Social Exercising

A workout doesn't have to feel like work! People who engage in entertaining, social activity are more likely to stick to it long term, so add some fun to your fitness. Fly a kite, dance around the room, start a family football game or play a back-yard game of catch; anything to get moving!

Have fun by coming up with two entertaining ways to exercise. Try recruiting friends, family and coworkers, or check out listings for intramural sports.

Strength Training at Your Desk

Studies from the CDC have found that muscle-building exercise can also improve balance, reduce the likelihood of falls, improve blood-sugar control, and improve sleep and mental health.

Exercise doesn’t only have to mean running at the track or working out at the gym. You can find ways to fit in some much needed activity at work! Sitting still for long periods of time may cause aches and pains and/or long-term musculoskeletal issues.

  • Exercising at your desk may not replace regular workouts, but they can help keep you in shape when you can’t get away from the office. Follow these simple exercises to tone up at your desk: Try getting up and sitting down without using your hands. This may seem easy but it’s hard to do if you don’t have balance. Repeat about 10 times.
  • Sitting in your chair, lift one leg off the seat, and straighten it (don’t bend your knees), count to three and lower your foot (stop short of the floor) and hold for several seconds. Switch legs and repeat the motion. Do each leg 15 times. Focus on keeping your movements slow and still.
  • To work your chest and shoulders, you can do chair dips: place both hands on your chair arms and slowly lift your bottom off the chair, straightening your arms. Lower yourself back down and stop when your bottom is a few inches off the seat, count to 5. Do 15 times. Avoid sore wrists by moving your wrists in circles, 10 times to the left and 10 times to the right.

Remember, working out doesn’t have to be complicated – you can get exercise in by strength training at your desk!

For more tips/exercises:


Stretching for Sore Muscles

As you probably know, stretching before and after you exercise is essential, but stretching is also important in its own right. This mayo clinic article explains the basics of stretching and how stretching improves blood flow to the muscles, flexibility and your ability to move your joints. Studies have shown mixed results on the benefits of stretching, but it's generally thought that better flexibility means better athletic performance and a decreased risk of injury. Concentrate on stretching at least 3 times this week. Preferably after your workout (when your muscles are already warmed up). You can try activities like yoga or tai-chi to easily include your calves, thighs, hips, neck and shoulders. Review this slide show for a guide to ten basic stretches.

If you are feeling sore after you exercise, don’t be discouraged.  DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is common after starting a new exercise routine or switching to a more challenging workout. In order to prevent DOMS, begin your exercise routine with a short warm-up and stretch. It is also a good idea to cool down after your workout by stretching again.  

Taking the Stairs

Did you know that climbing stairs are really taking steps to fitness? Taking the stairs is one way to be more physically active. You can take the stairs at home or at work. Choosing the stairs instead of the elevator is a quick way for people to add physical activity to their day; it also saves you time. If your building has a staircase, why not start using it now? The extra steps all add up!

Using a Pedometer

Did you know that walking ten extra minutes a day could help you burn an additional 10,000 calories of stored fat per year? That’s almost three pounds less body fat.

Wearing a pedometer is a good way to monitor your physical activity and remind you to keep walking. A pedometer is a small device that counts every step you make, whether you’re walking around the office or going on a lunchtime fitness walk.

Once you get a pedometer, wear it daily to see how much you move in a normal day. After you’ve tried it out for a few days, set goals for yourself to move more. To start, you can walk an extra 1,000 steps each day, take the stairs instead of the elevator or park further from the office door. For fitness, you want to take at least 10,000 extra steps – that’s one-mile. Pretty soon you could be on your way to walking 10,000 steps or more a day!

Keeping active doesn’t have to be hard, by using a pedometer to track your progress you can make moving around easy and fun!


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