The Cryptic Prescription of Exercise


The last few weeks I have been writing a lot about food and food-related issues, but I don’t want anyone to think that movement and exercise is any less important in your own personal equation of health and wellness.  So, let’s hear about exercise, shall we?
Are you doing it?  You are, right?
If you want to simplify the issue, it’s enough to say you have to exercise regularly.  But nothing is ever that simple and exercise certainly is a very complicated enterprise.  Open your Internet browser and surf around for five minutes, or open a newspaper, turn on the TV, pick up a magazine, and you’ll likely find an overwhelming amount of (often conflicting) information about exercise.  How to do it, when to do it, where to do it, what works and what doesn’t.  There are hundreds, if not thousands of ways to exercise.  There are volumes written on what is the “best” workout and why.
I recently came across a blog post written by a woman named Julie Foucher.  She is a medical student at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine and she is also a competitive CrossFitter coming in fifth overall in last year’s CrossFit Games.  She knows the human body, to say the least.  Anyway, I thought that this blog post from last week was so fascinating and telling.  In it (and I strongly encourage you to read it as well as the resulting comments), she basically says that doctors are very free and easy about handing down the “prescription” of exercise to patients, but pretty much leave them in the dark from there.  She makes an excellent point that if she had strep throat there is no way her physician would make a casual recommendation about what medication to take and then leave it to her to figure out dosage.  S/He would be very specific about what medication to take, when, how much, etc.  Her point is that we seem to be pretty much on our own when it comes to figuring out what to do for ourselves as far as exercise and even our doctors, who we hope are the most educated guides we have as far as our health goes, aren’t much help.
So, it isn’t enough to think to yourself or to hear from a doctor, health coach, or blurb in the media that you must “exercise”.  What the heck does that even mean?  What is the exact prescription, dosage, and timing for effective exercise?
It means something different to everyone and it’s up to you to figure out how you can best serve your body through exercise.  Luckily, there are many helpful hints and sources to help you.  Here are a few to consider:

  • Think about what you like — I know someone will read this and laugh because he/she doesn’t like anything about exercise.  I’m not even going to entertain this kind of thinking because we’ve already established that it’s necessary and non-negotiable.  I’m talking about giving some serious thought to what you can see yourself doing repeatedly and getting a modicum of enjoyment out of.  Or if it helps you to think the other way, rule out what you definitely do NOT want to do.  For me, this is easy.  I do not at all like to dance and so workouts like hip-hop dance classes, Zumba, pole dancing, and all of its cousin workouts are all out.
  • Figure out what time of day works for you — Sometimes figuring out when you can schedule exercise will determine what will work for you.  I met a woman at a holiday party last month who said that in order to fit a workout into her life she had to find a class that she could attend before her kids woke up for the day.  She also wanted something tough and no-nonsense.  She found a early morning boot camp that fit the bill and she’s a regular.
  • Decide if you want to workout alone or with others — Personally I love group fitness classes because I know enough about myself to know that I need a social reason to go.  If I know I’ll see my friends and they’re expecting me to show up, I’ll be even more likely to go.  Some people I know would rather workout alone without the added social element.  The important thing is to know what will work for you.
  • Know your level of ability — This is very important. You won’t be doing yourself any favors if you jump right into an advanced class or if you set out to run a half marathon on your first day.  Find something that suits your current fitness level and build from there.  It is also wise to consult a doctor and a fitness professional about this too.
  • Consult a doctor and a personal trainer for help with any preexisting injuries — Have weak knees and a bad back?  Maybe joining that rugby team isn’t for you.  There are so many ways to get a workout and you’ll need to find one that doesn’t exacerbate any weaknesses or injuries you might already have.  You might want to relive your contact sports days, but if your body won’t allow it at the moment, it probably isn’t the best idea.
  • Consider cost — Between equipment, outfitting yourself, class fees, and gym memberships, exercise can get expensive.  But it doesn’t have to be.  There are many ways to get a workout and mind your budget.  Figure out what you can afford and plan accordingly.
  • Don’t limit yourself to one thing — I think it’s smart to start out with one form of exercise until you get into the habit of it, but don’t limit yourself to just one activity. In any given week I do some combination Pilates, yoga, CrossFit, and running and in a few weeks I’m adding Thai Kickboxing.  I do not do all of them in one week, but I find time for at least two of them to keep my workouts interesting.  You don’t have to commit to just one form of exercise, and there is evidence that you shouldn’t.   Find that you’re growing bored with one activity or your tastes change, try something new.  The important thing here is to keep moving.
  • Listen to your body and how it reacts to exercise — Is biking hurting your back?  Does tennis make your elbows ache just thinking about it?  Maybe your chosen activity (or activities) aren’t right for your body.  Pay attention to the messages your body sends to you about how it’s reacting to a particular movement.  It’s natural to experience muscle soreness and to be tired, but it can be dangerous to ignore pain and injury.  Do not hesitate to consult a doctor, trainer, or physical therapist for more information on your aches and pains.
  • Just do it — Isn’t that under some kind of copyright?  Probably, but it fits here, so I’m using it.  Do not get mired down in the details of what to do and when to do it and how to do it and why to do it and on and on and on.  Start somewhere and do something.  And once you’ve done it once, you’ll have to do it again and again.  You just have to do it.  Talk to your doctor about what he/she recommends.  Don’t accept the cryptic prescription of “exercise” and let that be the end of your conversation.  Ask questions about what would best suit you and why.

So let me know what you plan to do!  For those of you who are already active, what are you doing? Why do you love it and what keeps you going with it?  For those of you who haven’t started yet, what do you plan to do this week to begin exercising?  What are some ways to exercise you would consider?  Share with me in the comments!


  1. Lynsey
    January 24, 2012 11:03 am

    Great post Jillness! You know this will be a favorite of Mine! And Patrick’s too! You couldn’t have said it any better for anybody starting a fitness routine! Thanks for the shout out once again with Pilates, CrossFit and Thai boxing! Love it!

  2. Robin
    January 24, 2012 2:47 pm

    Another great post Jill…and very motivating. I’m so bad about exercise…unless a parade is involved, as you know! I guess I need to march around my house. Love the Helen Hayes quote too. As I’m aging, I know I need to move more…stiffness in the morning, or maybe even just the length of a movie…good grief..I may be rusting!

  3. COOT
    January 25, 2012 8:05 pm

    “if you rest, you rust.” Helen Hayes …OR… “Motion is the Lotion” Alex Pasqua

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