Recognizing that day-to-day tasks often involve movement is an opportunity to “build physical activity habits into our everyday lives,” he added.
Every weekday, after driving his kids two miles to school, Dr. Gardner said, he parks his car and walks home, occasionally calling into meetings as he strolls. Then, in the afternoon, he walks back to the school to retrieve the kids and the car. “I’ve formed a habit of asking myself,” he said, “with all the tasks I do each day, whether there’s a way to do those in a more physically active way.”
You could decide to walk a mile to get a sandwich for lunch instead of grabbing one from the deli around the corner. If you live in a rural area and can’t bike to get groceries, try spending 20 minutes a day weeding or reorganizing the garage. Anything you’ve been putting off, like digging up an old stump or hauling yard waste, becomes a more inviting prospect when you think of it as a workout.
But maybe don’t start with Costco.
“The most important thing,” Dr. Fortier said, “is that people find ways to make their bout of exercise — be it walking the dog or biking to Costco — the most enjoyable possible.” In her work with clinically depressed women who are inactive, Dr. Fortier tells her patients to start out by picking a nice day to go for a walk, and then setting a timer for 10 minutes. If they’re feeling good when the timer goes off, maybe walk a little more. If not, call it a day.
Listening to Dr. Fortier, I realized that by beginning my new exercise regimen with a grueling grocery run, I ran the risk of squelching my enthusiasm before I’d barely started. Best to pay attention to the pleasure principle, begin with easier challenges, and work oneself into shape.
So run your first exercise errand on a sunny afternoon: Take a stroll to the nearest post office to mail a package. Ramp up for a few months, and your to-do list will start to fill up with more strenuous tasks. You may even find yourself buying a used bike trailer on Craigslist and scoffing at an incoming rain squall, and loving every minute of it.
Andrew Leonard lives in Berkeley, California and writes a newsletter about Sichuan food, Chinese history and the Dao.