In order to get you going slowly, I am going to make this change simple. But I will ask that you think about this change on a daily basis, for the rest of your life. As you know, small changes make a big difference and with this change...you will feel the difference.
Current ACSM recommendations for exercise are that the average adult should get in 150-250 min. of moderate intensity exercise per week (or at least 30 min of exercise, at least 5 days per week) and that an obese individual should aim for 150 min. of moderate intensity exercise per week an average of 200-300 min of exercise per week is needed for weight loss. If you are an athlete, you are doing just that...and more I am sure. But, please read on.
If you are getting into exercise for the first time, getting back into a routine, or just fed up with the way you look because it is "another year", I am not suggesting that you go right into exercise with that "high intensity burns the most calories" approach. So here is change #1.
I am going to ask you to take at least 30-60 minutes out of your day to just walk.
For all of the athletes out there, we have it really easy to get in exercise into our daily schedule. We are among the few (or many in some places) who actually use the word "love" and "exercise" in the same sentence. We raise people's eye brows when we talk about our easy week of training and unconsciously speak as if we are so lazy. Here's how I see it (from a subjective and objective perspective): While at first your intention to train is for performance gains, after a while, you develop a love for your new trained physique or your love for having an excuse to eat whatever and however much you want. This love for training becomes a love for burning calories and you find yourself needing (not necessarily for performance reasons) to get in a workout every day of the week (sometimes twice a day). While I do believe that sticking to a consistent and well balanced training routine will take you to the next level, it is important that you ask yourself if you are exercising for the right reasons.
I find that many athletes get obsessed with working out and the day doesn't seem fulfilled unless there is a workout. Specifically, I am talking about that day off when you know you should rest or actively recover. Because so many athletes have no idea how to eat unless there is at least an hour workout, I find that there becomes an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. While most days of the week you are eating for fuel, there are 1 or 2 days a week where you "have to" get in that workout in order to burn calories or else you feel "fat" all day.
While you may not think of it like that and I understand that not everyone is like this and of course, I would never want you to back down on your training (especially if you are training with a well-designed schedule) I ask you if you can take a day off from eating and not feel guilty about the way that you eat? Can you take a day off from training and still feel like the day has a purpose? It is ok if you said no but I also ask you, would you know how to maintain your weight if for some reason you were injured or had to miss your typical training routine for a few days or weeks? It is likely that you would say no because most people exercise in order to eat.
So, as a competitive athlete, I am asking you to redefine the way you train in order to get one step closer to that balanced life.
If you are the athlete that feels the need to workout 7 days a week (although you claim that 1 day is an easy 3 mile run), I am asking for you to give yourself, give your family, give your body just 1 day a week every now and then (if not on a weekly basis) of walking, for 30-60 min. This means that I don't want anything high intensity, I just want you to walk., You could even do yoga at home (or stretching), gardening, cooking, cleaning, etc. Just something to keep your body moving that is not swim-bike-run. I am all for an active recovery day of swimming or biking and 6 days of specific training but I want to be sure that you understand how to eat for fuel and that you aren't becoming obsessed with your training routine and feeling as if you can't miss a workout because you have absolutely no idea how to eat unless you workout hard. Last time I checked, you are going to burn the same number of calories in 30 minutes of running as you would in 60 min. of walking if you are covering the same 3 miles. Perhaps the run will make you feel more fulfilled but if you ask me, I would much rather workout in the morning, take an hour walk in the evening and make a healthy and portioned controlled dinner than making myself go for a 30 min run. in the evening for a second workout for the day.
As an athlete you would never consider walking as "calorie burning" because well, you likely don't get a good sweat. But, you are burning calories through everything you do when you move your body. Walking is a great way for you to give your body a little rest from the monotony of swim-bike-run. In many cases, athletes are afraid to take that day off from training for the fear that the love relationship they have with the way that training allows them to eat, will cause them to get fat in one day of "no exercise". By just walking, you are going to prevent overtraining, prevent a risk for an injury and most of all, learn to appreciate the value of food rather than just eating because you "worked out". Hopefully, this new found love of physical activity (for me, in the past year it has been walking with Campy in the evenings rather than working out twice a day) will transcend into your weekly routine and you will learn to get more out of your workouts and hopefully become a better athlete because you are able to look at the way you eat much more differently than just "I can eat x-food because I trained".
As for my newbies, those who don't get the way that us "athletes" think, that is ok. We have all been in your shoes and we promise, you will get addicted to exercise and become one of us. Ok-maybe not that far but with a low intensity exercise routine, you are more likely to feel in control with your exercise routine and most of all, keep it up.
If you just get outside (or inside depending on the weather) and walk 30-60 min a day or find 10 times during the day to walk 6 minutes, you will burn calories. In many cases, the mentality of "I'm just going out for a walk" may become too easy and those walks turn into runs. Or, rather than telling yourself that you have to go and run for 30 minutes at high intensity after you get out from work in the evening, you find it much easier to make working out a morning habit by waking up 1 hour earlier in the morning in order to just walk.
There are so many ways to incorporate low intensity exercise into your current routine but in my opinion, walking is the best way. How many times have you woke up in the morning and just said "I'm too tired to exercise!". Even as athletes, we have those days. Now, this isn't about those times when you are on the verge of burn out or just at the edge of being injured. In that case, time to take a day off and re-design your training routine so that you get the most out of your schedule and inforce quality over quantity.
But, athlete or not, maybe you took it too far with your love for training. All of a sudden, every day is a workout day because you have to burn calories and/or you just don't feel good without a workout. Maybe you are just getting into exercise and you can't seem to stick to a workout schedule. By just walking a bit more on a daily basis (up stairs, in the parking lot, to the grocery, to the post office, to work, to the gym) you are likely to burn way more calories than just "taking the day off" because you are "too tired to exercise".
So, for everyone out there, take a look at why you are exercising, how you are designing your workout routine and how/why you are eating to support your exercise routine. Do you have a healthy relationship with exercise? Do you have a healthy relationship with food? If you are an athlete, slow down 1 day a week and give your body a little rest every now and then. You don't have to push at 100% 7 days a week. If you are injured, traveling or busy, it is important that you learn to eat to maintain your weight as you find ways to just stay physically active. You can still burn calories by not "training" 100% of the time.
If you are a new to exercise, think small. Just getting yourself out the door for a few 10 minute walks a day is much better than telling yourself that you are too tired to exercise today but you will workout out for 90 minutes tomorrow.