The 15’s: Fitness for the rest of us

We’ve read it all before. Exercise is good for us. 20 minutes of aerobic exercise, three times a week will increase our energy levels and change our life. If we want to have a long and enjoyable life, we need to be intentional about our physical fitness. If we want to lose weight, we need to take in fewer calories and burn off more.

Health clubs probably make a mint off of all of us that have signed up during the high of a New Year’s resolution to get in shape…and then never used the membership to its fullest. I travel a lot and often choose my hotel based, in part, on whether it has a fitness “club.” But I rarely use it. Do I feel more virtuous by being in the same building as one?

A few times in my life I’ve gotten into a really good routine of aerobic workout. Then some pivotal life change would happen—graduating from college, a child being born—and I’d be off track for months. Even during those “on” times, something seemed off. For one thing, why did it always seem to take much longer than 20 minutes to get 20 minutes of aerobic activity?


Every one that’s watched a Richard Simmons’ video knows you should stretch before and after a workout. But to stretch without warming up is to do your muscles an injustice. Who wants to be unjust? So, you’re there at least 15 minutes before you even get your heart rate up. Then it takes 5 or 10 minutes to hit “official” aerobic activity. Then, if you can make it 20 minutes, you are supposed to cool down, letting your heart recuperate from actually being used. After that is the obligatory stretch.

For overachievers like myself, the stretching was modeled after the hour long aerobics classes I’d taken on and off over my life. So not only was it another 20 minutes, you still don’t want to be unjust, but it really ended with a relaxation/meditation sequence. All of a sudden, the 20 minute resolution I’d made in a fit of virtue is now taking 90 minutes and I’m late for work! Strangely, every morning I seemed surprised that 20 minutes really took 90. Every morning. When will the madness end?

Some of you have no problem at all with this. Exercise is a normal part of your daily routine and you budget your time accordingly. Wonderful! Then there are the rest of us. I’m not a medical expert but getting exercise to be as normal as eating is one of my magnet goals—one of the goals that make up my daily compass. Here’s something that I’ve stumbled on that may help those of us that don’t have it all together. I call it “the 15’s.”

THE 15’S

Shortly after I turned 30, I bought a treadmill. (For some reason, my wife thinks the two are connected.) One of the cool features of this treadmill is a simple set of lights that tells me if my exercise is merely “warm up/cool down” activity or “fat burning” intensity. I found that if I do a 15 minute mile, a “4” on our machine, I’m in the “fat burning” mode the whole time. I love to read and at this speed I’m still able to read a book. This pace is a quick walk for me so I’m not
bouncing around as I would if I were jogging. And, since it’s walking, I don’t feel I need to stretch. It would obviously be better if I did but I rationalize it be saying I don’t stretch after walking to the store.

This system worked well for me but I noticed that my upper body wasn’t getting as buff as I’d liked. So I started doing 15 crunches and 15 push ups. Those take no time at all. And the pay off is incredible. The “20 minutes of exercise” really is 20 minutes. And I find myself benefiting from those 20 minutes all day long! I wake up as completely-—or more completely-—than with a cup of coffee! So I get to actually savor my coffee later at breakfast. And I’m still reading my books!

I shoot for doing my “15’s” three times a week. That’s 3 more miles per week than I was doing before. I know it’s better if I add the warm up and cool down and increase the aerobic time to 20 or 30 minutes. But I’m just glad to be doing something. Especially something that’s working consistently.

[Disclaimer: I’m sharing something that I’ve found beneficial. You should always consult your physician before starting this or any exercise program.]

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