We all know we need to do it. Most of us wish we did more – so what is it about taking regular exercise that seems a challenge too far for many.
In achieving the goal of maintaining a healthy weight taking exercise goes hand in hand with eating well. But when it comes to making a change; unused January gym memberships, fancy sports equipment gathering dust in the garden shed – somehow the stakes seem higher than just trying to eat your ‘5 a day’.
It may help to really understand the benefits of exercise. Weight loss is of course the draw for many. But getting regular exercise is preventative for many chronic health conditions such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and arthritis, as well as being an effective treatment in those already affected by these conditions.
Exercise has been shown to have a significant effect on mood – improving depression and anxiety directly and also indirectly by improving appearance, self-confidence and energy levels.
Exercise improves muscle tone, strength and heart and lung function leaving you better able to manage fatigue, and with greater stamina to take on physical cores and challenges. In men it reduces the risk of erectile dysfunction and in women has been shown to improve libido. Exercise also improves quality of sleep. Combined with a better sex life and improved mental health all the ingredients are present for a happier, healthier you!
So why do so many of us not do enough?
Well you may be doing more than you think and that is a good starting point. If you are already fairly healthy and just want to keep it that way 30 minutes regular exercise most days of the week is a simple target. This can be done in 10 minute chunks so your daily walk to and from the bus stop may be getting you close to target already. Keep a diary for a few days to find out. However do bear in mind that many of us saunter! Exercise like walking, swimming, jogging, cycling (cardiovascular exercise) should be done at a pace that leaves you feeling warmed up, heart beating and a little out of breath but you should be still able to maintain a simple conversation.
For many time is a barrier. A classic way of increasing exercise is substituting activities that are already in your daily life with healthier ones. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Hoover vigorously! Park in the spot furthest from the door in the carpark. Avoid using the car for journeys less than 5 minutes long . Buy a good rain jacket. Get off the bus a few stops early or change the way you commute altogether.
While it may seem daunting, cities like Dublin and Galway are becoming much more bicycle friendly with free bike schemes and more dedicated bike lanes - although not yet perfect the more people on their bikes the more powerful a lobby group there is for safer roads. Equally country roads are often dangerous for walkers but councils have been improving walkways like Sli na Slainte to provide alternatives – if they are not used they will be neglected.
The tips so far help us improve exercise within our daily lives i.e. the things we all have to do (clean the house, get to and from work, look after children) We each get a 2000 calorie a day allowance to fuel this. If you want to really reap the rewards mentioned at the start then keep reading.
Take it to the Next level
To increase dedicated exercise levels on top of day to day activities the best and simplest start is walking. Get hold of good shoes and a good coat. Don’t be put off by weather. If really struggling: go out for 10 minutes before your favourite tv programme starts – five minutes down, five back – chances are you will go further once out the door. Gradually increase the distance to a route you can cover in 30 minutes. Remember the need to get warm but still be able to chat. Once this is achieved do the same route in a shorter time – when you can do this you will know your actual fitness level has improved. After that – start to challenge yourself.
If you have the bug or need to increase your exercise significantly to combat overweight or obesity variety is key – dancing, gardening, sailing, hill walking, zumba, tennis, a team sport…keep looking for something you love, if you get bored try something new. If your exercise is tied into a social activity, with a friend or a dog you will be more likely to attend and maintain the habit – just make sure it is not a sedate 9 holes followed by coffee and cake – but even that is better than nothing!
Finally our bodies are more than just heart and lungs. Some of the most enjoyable exercise and most beneficial in terms of appearance and physique are muscle stretching, toning and balance exercises. These can range in intensity from dedicated weight training in a gym, (best overseen by an expert initially) to yoga and pilates – which often mix improving core muscle strength, toning and an element of relaxation. Fantastic options for all ages and abilities including those with pre-existing injuries or health conditions and during pregnancy.
If you are not yet convinced there is a fantastic 9 minute easy to watch visual lecture available here http://www.evanshealthlab.com/23-and-12-hours/ which should tip the balance to a healthier, trimmer you!