You know that nagging feeling you should be doing more: more exercise, eat healthier, meditate more often, lose more weight…. The list goes on and on and on.

It’s an exhausting place to live, because that thought is always in the background of your attention, reminding you when you see a commercial for weight loss, your Fitbit buzzes, you pass the gym, see someone jogging, or your meditation app sends you a reminder to be more mindful.

Thanks to technology, we have all the information we could ever want about how to exercise, how to eat healthy, how to meditate—pretty much for free and at our disposal any time. This great encyclopedia of health information keeps our brain in the state of never enough through constant reminders that there is more we could be doing for our health.

So how much is enough exercise anyway? The truth is, it has very little to do with calories, steps, or minutes of physical activity.  Why?

Getting 10,000 steps a day, or 150 minutes of physical activity a week, or burning more calories than you eat, are certainly telling your cells you want to be healthy. But they don’t give the specific instructions to keep your body moving well as you age.

For most of us, being healthy is not just being free of disease, it’s about feeling good and being able to do the things you need and want to do without pain and fatigue. It’s about feeling confident in your body today so you can say ‘yes’ to doing the activities you enjoy with the people you care about without worrying if your body can handle it.  Its about having confidence you are doing what you need to continue feeling and functioning well in the future. In other words, we don’t just want to be deemed healthy on our yearly physical, we want to be well.

To do the physical activities you need and want to do, your body needs three basic skills:

  1. The ability to move freely without resistance, which is mobility
  2. The ability to move itself and objects against gravity, which is strength
  3. The ability to move for extended periods of time without getting tired, which is stamina

What’s missing from the calorie, step or minutes goals of exercise is the detailed signals that tell your cells you want the mobility, strength, and stamina to live well now and in the future.

An even bigger problem with these general instructions is that the days you fall short, you feel like you are not doing enough to be healthy, and when you reach those goals you start thinking you should be doing more. Either way, these general measures of ‘enough’ exercise can keep us stuck in the ‘land of never enough’—that place where you always feel like you should be doing more.

Your ticket out of this energy draining way to think about exercise has two parts. The first part is knowing what to do to get and keep the mobility, strength, and stamina you want to live well now.  The second part is doing it in a way you know you can stick with, so you have confidence you will keep them in the future.

Sound complicated? No doubt getting 10,000 steps a day is more straightforward.  But simplifying has little value if you are not getting what you really want.

If you are going to invest some time and energy into moving your body so it’s healthy and well, you get a better return on your investment when you give your cells the specific instructions for what you really want.

The great news is movement science has provided us a one way-ticket out of the land of never enough! We don’t have all the answers, but we have enough information to exercise in a way that gives your body the specific instructions to be confident in your strength stamina and mobility.  And it doesn’t take much time at all.

Here is the general level of enough for:

  • Mobility: At least once a day, move the joints of your body through their fullest range of pain-free motion and put your body in a position that challenges your balance. This tells your cells you want to stay free to move and remember how to regain your footing when you are off balance.
  • Strength: Challenge your ability to move against gravity for the basic movements of daily life for your upper and lower body, with your core as the center of your support as you move. Do this about twice a week with full focus on what you are doing, for 8-12 repetitions for 1-3 sets of each movement.
  • Stamina: move your body continuously for 30 minutes three days of the week or the equivalent in five-minute bouts at a level that brings your breathing to a moderate to comfortable (not uncomfortable) challenge.

This takes less than 2% of your total time per week.  More importantly, there’s enough wiggle room in there to stay consistent even when your time or your body is limited, so your ‘use it to keep it body’ remembers to keep enough mobility, strength and stamina for you to be well now, and in the future.

Sure, it takes a bit more attention to detail, but in the end getting what you really want without living in the land of never enough is a pretty sweet reward!

PS: If this list feels like a ‘should’, stay tuned!  Next week I will tell you how to get out of the ‘should’s’ when you hear any kind of health tip.