Exercise, loved by some, loathed by others - but we all know that we ought to do some as part of our daily routine and our quest for better health.
It’s great if you love exercise and already fit it into your daily routine, but for those of you who struggle with it or haven’t enjoyed it in the past or find it difficult to fit into a busy life, or even lack the motivation it is hard - whatever your reasons here are my top 5 tips and things that have helped me to get active!
1. Make the most of daily activities – housework, gardening or other everyday jobs are a real opportunity to get physically active, see them as a chance to get moving and to do some strength training!
2. Find an active hobby or take on a more active job. When I was working in the field as an archaeologist it kept me fit - now I know that we can’t all have active jobs, but maybe you can find a hobby that is energetic and you enjoy. I am lucky that my aunt has always had horses so for me a great joy is to get out riding, and finding a hobby that is physical and you enjoy won’t feel like exercise!
3. Make the most of your commute - when I worked in Brighton, I would cycle to work and this is a great way to get exercise into your daily routine. But if you can’t cycle or it is not practical, get off the bus or tube a few stops early, or park the car further away, and walk. Every little bit of exercise all adds up.
4. Find something you enjoy – for me this is the real key to exercise, as a teenager I enjoyed swimming and dancing and have always been keen on walking. I love being in the countryside and this is when I find peace and tranquillity being close to nature. I also enjoy walking around cities and prefer to walk rather than drive or take the bus if I have the time. I truly believe in the power of walking to benefit both our physical and mental health. In my early twenties I didn’t do much exercise, but later I discovered the joys of running - there are some days I wake up and really don’t feel like running, or I get home from work and feel too tired to run, but what I try to remember is how I feel afterwards! I find it’s a good way to start the day or to de-stress after work and I love the feeling of the post-run high. It also gives me a sense of achievement and strength, being able to run a good distance or up a steeper hill. But I have to admit that I have been through phases when I don’t get out running much – although I always come back to it because of the way it makes me feel. For me, running also gives me the chance to listen to new music and run to the beat, it feels like an indulgence, discovering new tunes and enjoying a zoning-out meditative time. Enjoying running is the key for me, and we are all different, but if you find a sport or activity you enjoy, you will be more likely to stick to it!
5. Setting a goal - your goal can be big or small but by setting one you will be more likely to stick to an exercise plan and it will motivate you to continue. I started training to work on an archaeological excavation in Tanzania and to climb Kilimanjaro, and for me, having a goal to work towards was a big incentive to push myself physically. Climbing Kilimanjaro gave me such a sense of achievement; it was in every sense a high that has always stayed with me. This instilled in me such a love of trekking and being in the mountains that I jumped at the opportunity to trek the Annapurna Sanctuary in Nepal - it didn’t feel like exercise, but a way of enjoying being fit. So choose a goal to work towards, maybe a local fun run or booking an activity holiday, giving you the motivation to get active and think about the sense of achievement you will feel when you fulfil it.
So what are the benefits of exercise? The Department of Health (2011) state that the benefits of exercise are:
Reduces risk of a range of diseases, e.g. coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes
Helps maintain a healthy weight
Helps maintain ability to perform everyday tasks with ease
Reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety
So how much exercise should we be doing? The general recommendations by the Department of Health are:
150 Minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate exercise a week or
75 Minutes of vigorous exercise a week
Strengthen your muscles for two sessions a week
Limit the amount of time being sedentary (e.g. sitting) for extended periods
The amount and type of exercise you are able to do will depend on your age, your physique, your ability, your lifestyle and your likes and dislikes.
If you are new to exercise, or trying to get back into it, just by walking for 10 minutes or more at any one time and building up to 30 minutes a day is a great way to start. There are many great apps out there that count steps and can be helpful - they will encourage you to get some physical activity into your everyday life. Exercise should be something you enjoy if you are going to manage to fit it into your daily routine and keep it up. If you like groups or classes there are many different ones available; it could be dancing, circuit training or boxercise. Or maybe like me you prefer to do it alone, like running and swimming, or using videos at home. But by finding something you enjoy you will be more likely to stick to it.
The Department of Health also recommends building muscle strength which is important too as it helps with daily movement, builds and maintains strong bones; it will also assist in regulating blood sugar and blood pressure whilst maintaining a healthy weight. To build muscle strength you need some sort of resistance, it could be with your own body weight or weights or bands; aim to do at least one set of 6-12 repetitions.
Moving well isn’t just about aerobic exercise and building up a sweat, it is also about helping the body stay fit and flexible and injury free. A great way to look after your body is by incorporating some yoga or Pilates, which help with flexibility and also have benefits for the mind too!
If you have physical complaints, seeking help and advice from a sports massage therapist, chiropractor or osteopath can provide guidance on how best to look after your body. If you are in any physical pain, making movement difficult, consult your GP or seek advice from a qualified therapist, such as an acupuncturist or even try mindfulness which has been shown to help relieve some physical aches and pains.
Like eating well, moving well is about finding what suits your personality, what fits into your lifestyle and what you enjoy doing - we only get one body so we need to look after it! It is also wise and recommended to seek medical advice before starting a new fitness regime.
Top tips for exercise:
Aim to do 30 mins of moderate exercise 5 days a week
If new to exercise start by walking more and build up slowly
Add in some strength and flexibility exercises
Try different sports and activities till you find something you enjoy and will stick to, even just developing a more active life, walking or having active hobbies and making the most of everyday activities will be beneficial.
As you exercise more, you will see and feel your body changing and use this as motivation to make exercise a daily habit.
There will always be times when you don’t feel like exercising, or run out of time during the day, and that’s ok too, just get back to it the next day! Exercise should be something you enjoy and makes you feel good, so keep going until it becomes an enjoyable habit and not a chore!