Director of Ithaca College's Wellness Clinic: The Road to Fitness Can Start in Your Backyard

ITHACA, NY — “With summer about to arrive, there’s more daylight, more good weather and often more flexible schedules,” said Frank Micale, clinical associate professor at Ithaca College and director of IC’s Wellness Clinic. “Therefore, there are fewer excuses for not exercising.”

Though 70 percent of Americans of all ages don’t get enough exercise, Micale said, starting a fitness program doesn’t have to mean training for a marathon.

“Find some form of body movement that you like this much,” said Micale, holding his fore and index fingers a quarter inch apart. “There’s got to be something in this world you can enjoy just a little bit. Start there and be motivated enough by that enjoyment to work your way up to higher fitness levels.”

That “something” could be dancing, swimming, walking, running or working in your garden.

“Weeding doesn’t have to be a sedentary activity,” Micale said. “You can burn a lot of calories keeping your garden weed-free. It’s also something people can do with a purpose. Being motivated to grow a good garden can also be a motivator to exercise.”

Other starting points include pushing a mower instead of riding it, using a broom instead of a weed blower, raking, and carrying groceries.

“These kind of activities have even more value if you don’t do them efficiently,” Micale said. “When weeding, don’t put everything in one container and carry it to the compost pile. Make smaller piles and multiple trips. When unloading groceries, don’t back the car into the garage, but park it at the end of the driveway and make longer trips. When shopping, you don’t have to find the parking space closest to the door. Park farther away and walk. And, if you take your kids to a softball game, don’t sit in the bleachers between innings. Get up and walk around. Trying to do something every day for at least 30 total minutes — done in at least 10-minute sessions — will be a good start.”

And, if you can, don’t do it alone.

“Having active parents is the best way to have active kids,” Micale said. “If parents can teach their kids the importance of brushing their teeth and doing their homework, they can also instill the value of making exercise in whatever form a priority.”

That includes keeping active on vacation.

“Some families organize their vacations around long-distance bike rides and rock climbing,” Micale said. “But you can still maintain calorie-burning activity at lower levels of the fitness ladder. If you’re taking a trip that requires a long drive, for example, stop every two hours or so, get out and walk for 10 or 15 minutes. And after that, stretch out your legs and back.”

And when arriving at your destination, don’t ride if you can walk, take steps instead of elevators and do what you need to do to make sure you spend at least 30 minutes a day in motion.

“Gardeners get a good feeling after they’ve weeded their garden,” Micale said. “People also get a good feeling from regular exercise. Once you’ve become consistent with an activity that feels right for you, it will become its own reward. That will be your motivation. Follow it.”

Certified as a clinical exercise specialist by the American College of Sports Medicine and as a strength and conditioning specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Frank Micale has published and presented research on youth activity and fitness, firefighting fitness, circuit training, and exercise quality and goal attainment. He holds a master’s degree in applied exercise physiology from San Diego State University.

Frank Micale