One of the main obstacles of getting into shape has to do with our initial lack of endurance. We walk into an hour-long yoga session or cycling class and barely make it out alive — and then we don't go back. The truth is, if we're out of shape, even beginner sessions at gyms and studios can be too much. To get in shape, the kind we dream about, we have to build our endurance, and it turns out that endurance is good for more than just Gwyneth-level fitness. Even if you're naturally slender, you should be thinking about building yours. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) having a higher level of endurance means a healthier heart and overall healthier body, one that's capable of fighting off diseases and has more energy throughout the day during our regular activities. I, for one, would love to feel the need for less java due to a healthier physique!
Diet Does Matter
Hate to break it to you, but successfully building endurance starts on your plate. You simply can't increase the intensity of your workouts or general activity without the proper fuel in your body. For those of you dabbling in running, you may want to increase your carbs before you work out (they provide energy that gets burned during exercise). For the rest of us, a mix of healthy carbs, proteins and yes, fats, is essential. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. Hardcore fitness buffs have strict regimens, but novices have the know-how to eat healthier. Pick grilled meats and fish instead of fried, choose green leafy vegetables, whole grains and fruits over candy, white flour-based foods and soda.
Considering you'll be cutting back on sugary beverages, what's a good replacement? Water! Water is so important to be drinking throughout the day, especially if you're building endurance. The rule of thumb is to drink it as often as you can. And know that if you feel thirsty, you're already dehydrated. Being well hydrated is just as important as being well-fueled with the right foods.
Upbeat music has been shown to give the listener a psychological boost during exercise, allowing her to do that last set of lunges, or go that last 1/4 mile, when she otherwise might not. So appeal to your inner music lover and make some workout mixes asap. Be prepared to make more than one, so you don't get too bored too quickly.
Mix It Up
So what do you actually do to build endurance? It depends on your current fitness level, but here are some suggestions. Stick with aerobic activity at first. Walking, swimming, a jog, dancing and biking are all good options. Mixing up activities is the best way to ensure you're getting the most out of your efforts. One way to begin is by sticking to flat land at first and then adding in hills or stairs to increase your heart rate and your ability to endure. Another routine is to begin with just 30 seconds of more intense activity, followed by several minutes of a slower, easier pace. Over time, as it suits you, you increase the time of intensity. The NIH suggests building up to a regular routine of 2.5 hours of activity per week separated over at least three days. If you can get up to a little exercise every day, that's best and give yourself a gold star.
Talk to the Pros
If you want to add in strength training or another activity as you increase your endurance, but aren't sure how much to do and when, it may be time to speak to a professional. Many gyms offer a free initial consultation with a trainer so you can ask your workout questions. My gym offered a tutorial on each and every weight machine, yours may too. Your doctor may be able to point you in the right direction as well. Anything that goes beyond the basics should be consulted by a physician. And to be totally safe, even a basic routine should be given the OK by your doctor. If you suffer from any chronic illnesses, you need to make an appointment before starting any routine.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Fitness professionals agree that the key to building endurance is understanding that you must increase slowly and steadily. No slow walk on the first day followed by a five mile jog the next (or an attempt at one). Start with what you are able to accomplish. No matter how short or small the movements, that's where you should begin and trust that you will be able to increase the time, if only by seconds or minutes, as your body adjusts.
Don't Give Up
The key here is the mentality that this is a lifestyle change, not a way to lose 10 pounds. At first it will be uncomfortable, and if you're doing it right, you should be challenging yourself so that it is a bit difficult (though not impossible). The payoff in your health is worth it and you won't want to go back to your low endurance levels.