Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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Is one exercise class a week worthwhile?

A friend asked me recently whether it’s worth it for her to go to a step aerobics class once a week. Her job makes it impossible for her to get to a second class, and she feels a little out of shape and self-conscious, and she wonders if she should bother.

Well, of course she should. Something is always better than nothing when it comes to exercise. But her question isn’t unusual, and it made me think of the all-or-nothing approach many of us fall into when it comes to exercise.

Either we work out hard, and often, and as well as everyone else, or we might as well quit. If we can’t do a 10K, why bother jogging? If we can’t bend like pretzels, why do yoga?

Here’s why:

  • Because being sedentary is terrible for your health. (Here is one of many stories on this subject.)
  • Because doing one activity a week can at least help you maintain a basic level of fitness. (“It will help the body burn calories,” said personal trainer Garrett Green, of Green Fitness in Fredericksburg.)
  • Because one activity might just inspire you to do another one.
  • Because exercise gives you a natural high that you can’t get from watching TV.

The beauty of exercise is that it benefits the mind as much as the body. Green said the post-exercise bliss is related to the release of endorphins during exercise. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that create a sense of pleasure and ease pain.

Green also talked about the benefit of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. EPOC  involves your body continuing to burn calories after you exercise, as your oxygen level and heart rate get back to normal. It’s another reason why exercising, even once a week,  has benefits.

“After you exercise, you get this EPOC, where your oxygen raises, and your endorphins raise, and it’s almost like a natural high,” Green said. “And you can’t get your EPOC if you don’t do anything.”

One class a week can turn you on to that blissful, empowered feeling. “And hopefully, the receptors in your brain will be like, ‘That was kind of nice. Why don’t we try to do it again sometime?’” Green said.

What about motivation?

Getting and staying motivated to exercise can require some emotional adjustments.  Many of us put pressure on ourselves to keep up with others, or with younger versions of ourselves. It’s easy to get discouraged when you think you’re falling short — by not going to enough classes or not doing as much as others.

Competition can be inspiring, but the best exercise advice I’ve gotten came from a woman I interviewed years ago for a story about staying fit after 60. She participated in a boot camp class at a local gym — a tough workout even for much younger people. I asked how she kept up.

She didn’t worry about keeping up, she told me. She said younger people sometimes ran circles around her, but she kept going at her own pace, taking rest breaks when she needed them. Over time, she needed fewer breaks.

Her advice: Do what you can. Something is better than nothing. A little exercise is likely to beget a little more, and soon, you may find one class a week is just a fraction of what you’re doing to lead a healthier life.

“I’ve found that people who view exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle choice really look forward to that 30-minute bike ride or that one aerobics class, whether it’s every day or every other day or once a week, ” said Valya Karcher, owner of Pure Pilates in Fredericksburg. “When exercise is part of your overall wellness mindset, the frequency isn’t the driving force because you’re viewing the big picture of your life and living the vision of how you want that life to be,  each and every day.”

One final thought: If you’re feeling unmotivated when it comes to attending a class or doing a workout, consider whether you enjoy what you’re doing. If not, it might be time to switch to something else.

“It’s got to be fun,” Green said. “The minute they feel like they’re doing the same old, same old, they’re going to leave.”