May’s Small Step: Go Old School

This month is a travel back in time.  The time before a majority of Americans were struggling with weight gain from growing food portions and decreasing daily physical activity.  It’s is all about eating and exercising old-school style.

Old School Exercise

There are 3 factors that exercise studies have repeatedly proven will make workouts more enjoyable and productive.  More enjoyment means participants are likely to stick with it week after week.  More productive means the most efficient workout in terms of calorie burn.

The first two factors are working out with a partner or group and exercising to fast-paced music.  Both have been shown to subconsciously motivate the exerciser to workout at a higher intensity than if she had exercised alone or without music.  Interestingly, post exercise, participants in these studies were unaware that they had worked out any harder than they had alone or without music and, yet, reported enjoying the workout more than they did sans partner(s) and music.

The third factor, exercising outdoors, has much the same effect.  Outdoor workouts heighten the body’s natural endorphin response to exercise.  Meaning, compared to exercising indoors, the body has higher perceived feelings of pleasure when exercising outside.  This not only spurs the exerciser into working out at a higher intensity but also gives her an increased post-workout “high”, making it more likely she’ll be back at it.  This response is true even on a cloudy day but sunny days increase the good feelings even more.

So, let’s take it outside!  Exercise outdoors one day each week without concern for special equipment, membership fees or a fitness class schedule.  Here’s how to choose what is right for you:

  • New to exercise?  This should be low impact, like walking.
  • Already exercising regularly?  Either add one more day to your cardio routine with an outdoor workout or take one of your familiar weekly indoor workouts up a notch outside.  To up the calorie burn, do walk/power walk or walk/jog intervals.
  • Jog, run or cycle outdoors already? Try some jog/sprint intervals one day per week to keep it fresh and get more out of your usual workout.  If you cycle, either add more hills or do interval sprints on flat straightaways.

Remember, this is one small step – you only need to find 30 minutes to an hour once per week to fit this in.  If you can, partner up with someone but, if not, take your favorite upbeat music with you.  Plan ahead and have a back-up day in the inevitable event that life (or weather) gets in the way of your old school workout.

Stay safe and injury free.  Invest in good quality, proper footwear (walking sneakers for walking, running shoes for jogging/running).  If you have a softer surface nearby to amble on, such as a track or a dirt trail, choose that over pavement for some or all of your trek.  If possible, exercise in daylight.  If you must do your workout in the dark, wear reflective clothing and a light, stay on sidewalk-lined, well-lit streets and always face on-coming traffic.  Stretch all the muscles you’ve worked at the conclusion of the workout.  And stay hydrated.  Plain, cold water is best for the average one-hour workout.

Old School Diet

What I remember about our diet when I was younger is eating out was reserved for special occasions, the only option for fresh produce was in-season fruits and veggies, and large meals were cooked on the weekends, providing several leftover meals during the week.  When you compare the obesity rates from then to now it’s clear we, as a society, were doing something right then that we aren’t doing now.  And science bears this out as well.  The more control we have over what we eat – purchasing, preparing and portioning our own food – the fewer calories we consume and the better the overall nutrition of those calories.

If you eat restaurant/take-out meals one or more times per week regularly, reduce that occurrence by one meal per week.  Next month, subtract another restaurant meal from your weekly schedule and so on.  Remember the Small Steps motto, don’t drop all take-out meals cold turkey, you’ll quickly become overwhelmed and give up.  Start with one per week and go from there.

Maybe your restaurant meals are as rare as they were when you were a kid.  Is your downfall those crazy, busy weeknights when you throw together a meal from a series of boxes, cans, jars and frozen concoctions?  You pay a premium for those processed, pre-made items.  Shift the extra dollars from processed to pre-prepped whole foods.  In large grocers you can find pre-cut veggies and pre-trimmed, deboned lean proteins for an easy, healthy stir-fried, baked or grilled meal in 30 minutes.  Also, make a habit of preparing a large meal on weekends so you have leftover options (and no pans to clean!) on your busiest weeknights.

If you’re good about avoiding pre-made meals then your old school move could be getting the most nutrition out of what you’re eating.  One nice thing about modern-day produce is, if you need fresh strawberries in Vermont in December, you can get them.  But, let’s face it, they’re expensive and don’t taste anything like a Vermont-grown June strawberry.  Nor are they likely as nutritious.  Temperature variants and exposure to air and light over travel time causes fresh produce to lose some of their nutrients.  Make it a priority to buy produce in season and, if possible, local.  They’re likely to be at their peak in taste and nutrition and the most economical.  Eat them raw or minimally cooked to get the most nutrients out of them.

May is a beautiful time of year to get outside and fresh, local produce is beginning to arrive at markets across the country.  There is no better time to go old school with your fitness than right now!

If you’re new to the Small Steps series, you can read about the philosophy and strategies of the series here.  Know the Small Steps strategies don’t need to be done in any particular order and are independent of one another.  So, you can begin the series with this post, continue throughout the rest of the year and pick up what you missed next year.

Previous Small Steps posts: January’s Portion Control; February’s Plan Ahead; March’s Accentuate the Positives, Eliminate the Negatives; April’s Substitutions.

Author’s Note: I am an exercise professional, not a nutrition professional.  My diet recommendations are based on the most current science-backed information provided by nutrition professionals in the fitness industry.  Mine are general recommendations that are in line with the guidelines published by the US Dept of Health and Human Services for apparently healthy individuals.  If you have a health condition that requires dietary restrictions, I recommend consulting a medical doctor or registered dietician before making any changes to your diet.  Always consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.


  1. […] Previous Small Steps posts: January’s Portion Control; February’s Plan Ahead; March’s Accentuate the Positives, Eliminate the Negatives; April’s Substitutions; May’s Go Old School. […]

  2. […] Accentuate the Positives, Eliminate the Negatives; April’s Substitutions; May’s Go Old School; June’s […]

  3. […] Accentuate the Positives, Eliminate the Negatives; April’s Substitutions; May’s Go Old School; June’s +1; July’s Reflect, Revamp & […]

  4. […] Accentuate the Positives, Eliminate the Negatives; April’s Substitutions; May’s Go Old School; June’s +1; July’s Reflect, Revamp & Renew; August’s Reflect, Revamp & […]

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