Small fitness goals can yield big results

March 01, 2023

woman with hand weightsJewell Smith does not like gyms. She used to be that woman who hid behind the water fountain for an hour and left without touching the equipment. Dance eventually got her really moving. Now, as wellness coordinator for the Office of the Attorney General and a certified fitness instructor, she teaches classes — including a dance-based workout called Zumba — to state employees. She knows many share her own history with formal exercise, so she challenges herself to make her classes fun. “I know if it’s fun you’ll stick with it,” she says. “If I don’t have any joy doing it, I won’t want to keep doing it.”

Helping people find fitness activities they’ll stick with is also the goal of Rachel Schey. She’s the wellness coordinator at Alamo Colleges District and a certified fitness instructor. “When I first got into the industry the message was ‘if you don’t feel like you’re going to throw up, you’re not doing enough.’” But recent ways of thinking about fitness are centered on getting in smaller, gentler forms of movement throughout the day that add up to a significant amount.

A fashionable term for this is “exercise snacking.” It can look like short walks around your building, doing leg lifts in your chair, playing basketball with your kids or walking the dog. A recent study (and also this review) show that cardiovascular improvements happen not just with sustained workouts, but also in short, intense bursts of activity, such as climbing stairs a few times a day.

Mackenzie McIntyre, wellness program coordinator at the Texas Department of Transportation and a certified fitness instructor, agrees. “My first suggestion for incorporating physical activity in your day is to start small. Short bursts of even two to five minutes of activity will do your body good,” she says. “That may sound ridiculously low to some, but the ‘all or nothing’ mentality is what prevents many of us from moving at all. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Those short activity breaks can add up and give you momentum to aim for more.”

Because what is physical fitness if not the ability to move through your daily life pain-free, injury-free and feeling good? Schey says, “Physical fitness is a mindset. It’s not just doing push-ups and burpees and running five miles. Can you pick up your dog or your kids without pulling a muscle?”

McIntyre, who grew up as a competitive dancer and golfer but was rarely in the gym until college, agrees. “For me, physical fitness is all about moving your body regularly in a way that feels good to you. Physical activity is what gives you the longevity to do all the other things you enjoy in life.”

And because regular activity can increase your life expectancy, the benefits are two-fold: Extending your life and ensuring those are quality years. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “an estimated 110,000 deaths per year could be prevented if U.S. adults ages 40 and older increased their moderate-to-vigorous physical activity by a small amount. Even 10 minutes more a day would make a difference.”

The CDC also notes that the benefits are noticeable right away, such as reduced anxiety and blood pressure, and better sleep. Over time, it helps keep your thinking sharp as you age, reduces your risk of depression and anxiety, guards against weight gain, and improves your balance, bone strength and cardiovascular system. What’s not to like about that?

Including your exercise snacks, you need just 2.5 hours per week to reap the benefits.

That’s at least 150 minutes each week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for adults — anything that gets the heart beating faster. To get the most health benefits, adults also need strengthening activities, such as muscle-strengthening activities 2 days a week.

The Get Fit Texas! Challenge, overseen by the Texas Department of State Health Services and going on now through April 2, helps you think about ways to add a variety of movement throughout the day. Exercise classes of varying lengths and intensities, and even many mundane activities, like gardening and housecleaning, can help you earn credit toward the goal. The year-round calendar of virtual fitness classes is open to active employees and retirees alike.





Favorite Exercises

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On days I wake up with a ton of energy I turn on music and I love to dance. Walking when I don’t have any motivation.


I love walking and strength training most. As someone who experiences chronic back pain, these are two of the best forms of exercise to alleviate that pain.

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Kickboxing. Focusing on the movement distracts me from the huffing and puffing. Whether happiness, anger or sadness, I’m channeling emotion into the movement. 

Pro Tip
Do you. That will help you stay engaged and active at your fitness level. You have to make it a lifestyle, not a trend. That way, you’ll wake up each day and think, “I need to do this for my mental health,’ or to ‘get the stress out of my system.” Start somewhere and just move.
Long-term consistency wins over short-term intensity. If you’re looking for the hardest possible workout or the trendiest, wackiest exercise moves, you won’t find them in my class. I believe in evidence-backed exercise, performed with proper instruction and form, to prevent injury and promote long-term health.

It may sound boring, but having the toughest workout routine is of no help if it injures you or causes you to burn out so fast you don’t return to the gym again for another month or longer.
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The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas Fitness Program offers a digital option that has some really awesome apps like Les Mills kickboxing, barre, yoga and strength training.

The Popsugar YouTube channel is all free classes that are super fun anything from bodyweight to Pilates, with advanced, middle and beginner versions.
Inspiring Success Stories
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I heard from one employee during last year’s Get Fit Texas! Challenge. She was chair bound and said she weighed over 400 pounds. She just started marching in place from her chair; no matter which class we were teaching she followed the modifications and did it all from her chair. She followed up with me and she told me she can now walk and stand, she has more endurance, she got off some medicine, her cholesterol is down and she had lost over 100 pounds!

It touched my heart. Her testimony gives me the motivation to keep going on days when I don’t feel like working out.
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When I was personal training, I had one client who was 71 years old. With two bad knees, a bad hip, a bad shoulder, and poor balance, many other trainers had put off picking him up as a client, unsure of what he could do. We focused on small wins and found a way to incorporate cardio, strength and balance exercises for him. He gained a tremendous amount of strength and balance during our time together, was able to avoid second knee and shoulder surgeries and continued to train with another trainer when I relocated for a new job.

His positive spirit stays with me and reminds me you’re never too old to keep moving, no matter your limitations! Where there is a will, there is a way.
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An employee recently reached out about being in a slump with no motivation. This person was looking back on how they were 10-15 years ago and not being where they wanted to be now. We talked about how life is different from then, about the pandemic and stress of the past few years. We talked about incorporating mindfulness into movement and removing barriers, identifying things that were holding them back.

I helped build their routine of getting back into the gym three times week and improving their water intake. Now they are feeling better.