Sarah Kemp, physiologist and fitness expert AXA PPP healthcare, shares her wisdom on fitting in change into your lifestyle.
If you’ve made a decision to start making healthier choices, moving more, loving your body and what it can do for you – it’s the best choice you could possibly make for your wellbeing! Your future self will thank you for it in ways you might not appreciate right now.
Getting more active can be a little intimidating, knowing what to do and when. With so much information at our finger tips, new fitness industry trends and buzz words, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and worried you’ll end up doing the wrong thing. If you don’t know your isometrics from your plyometrics, don’t panic, you’re with the majority of the public!
Just know this; the basics work. When all’s said and done – you’ll reap the benefits of being active if you move your body in a way that you enjoy and is right for you. Swimming, walking, cycling, or playing a team sport, whatever’s your thing!
What’s more, you don’t need an hour-long session in the gym to keep fit. The NHS suggests that we do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week. That could be 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Or you can break it up into shorter bursts of 10 minutes. In addition, the NHS also suggests at least two strength days working major muscle groups.
Of course, what you do depends on your existing health and mobility. Our goals and what motivates us are as individual as we are. I always recommend exercising for health, with anything else, such as weight loss, improved muscle tone and definition (aesthetics, essentially), being a bonus.
So, where do you start? Here are a few handy hints to think about before getting active, as well as some tips to help you fit exercise into your busy life.
First of all….
Consider your reasons to exercise
It’s important to understand your goals. For some it will be about reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. For others, it could be improving cardio fitness, increasing their range of motion, or purely for the mental health benefits.
If anything, weight loss is a bonus after the multitude of other benefits that physical activity provides for our long-term health, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, some cancers, type 2 diabetes, as well helping to prevent injuries and mobility problems in later life and helping to alleviate symptoms of depression.
Find what’s right for you
If you don’t enjoy running, don’t do it! If gyms aren’t your thing, don’t join one! Find something you will enjoy and remember that, depending on what your goals are, different activities will bring different health benefits. For example:
Aerobic exercise, such as running, swimming and cycling will help to increase cardiorespiratory fitness, as well as burn calories. Once the body is used to doing this type of exercise, it adapts and becomes more efficient (so starting with this if you’re keen to lose some weight is a great idea).
Resistance exercise is not only effective for strengthening muscles, but also the connective tissues that surround the joints; your ligaments, tendons and cartilage.
Many people tend to worry it might make them look too muscular or give them a ‘bodybuilder’ look when, in fact, it provides so many more benefits depending on the type of training you do. For example, basic squats, lunges, press ups, etc. can be really good for our posture and supporting our joints, as well as helping us to maintain bone density and muscle mass, which we start to lose as we get older. This can help us to stay mobile and flexible, reducing the risk of injuries or falls, as well as aid us in everyday tasks that may become more difficult as we age. Movements such as carrying shopping bags, getting in and out of a chair, or lifting heavy objects in the house, can all be made easier if we incorporate resistance exercises into our lives. We use many of the same muscle groups to perform a squat as we would to crouch down and tie our shoes, or to sit on the toilet.
When you’ve got the hang of using your body weight, you could progress to integrating weights while performing the same moves. Maybe try holding dumbbells either side of your legs when lunging. This’ll give your metabolism an extra boost as your muscles will continue to burn calories long after you’ve finished.
Pay attention to form
Becoming more active isn’t just about moving more, but moving better. There’s no point flaying your body around doing a new workout routine if you don’t nail the basics. Incorrect form (not moving correctly through a squat or push up for example), can lead to pain and injuries.
Once you know what you want to achieve and what’s right for you, how’s best to fit it all in?
There’s always time, if you really dig deep. It might mean getting up earlier, or using your lunch break, toddler nap time, or prepping your dinners at the weekend to free up more time in the evening for a post-work wiggle. That social media rabbit-hole we often find ourselves in – imagine less time hunched over our phones scrolling and more time moving!
If you really don’t have time – say you have a busy week coming up – it’s useful to know that even small amounts of activity can be beneficial to our physical and mental health. In fact, this activity breaks up time spent sitting and can have positive lasting effects on our long-term health. Excessive sitting is linked to weight gain and obesity, some cancers and type 2 diabetes. It also slows the metabolism, which can affect how our body regulates blood sugar, as well as breaking down body fat. The good news is that it IS possible to reduce these risks by getting up and about for five minutes every half an hour. Cleaning and gardening are also good examples of moderate activity that count towards your 150 minute target each week.
It’s possible to increase the efficiency of your workouts (if workouts are your thing) by doing a circuit using compound moves that target major muscle groups at once, giving you more of a full body experience. A compound move could be something like a weighted squat with an overhead press, or a simple burpee.
There are times when you’re just not feeling the gym and that’s fine! A home workout isn’t any less effective – and you save time because you haven’t had to go anywhere. Why not create a little home workout circuit, using stairs, chairs or sofas for your resistance exercises? Pick 5 or 6 moves to repeat, 10 times each – then complete 5 rounds, or however many you can fit into 20 minutes.
One way of finding time for physical activity and maintaining consistency is to attach an activity onto something you already do. For example, can you do 20 squats while brushing your teeth every morning? How about 10 press ups while you wait for the kettle to boil? Repeating the same activity at the same time every day will help it become automatic.
Follow a programme
Consider following a fitness programme to keep focussed. There are many available, so it’s just a case of researching and picking one that’s right for you and your goals. It can save you ‘thinking time’ when you’re wondering which workout to do in the gym or at home. Pick your workout and follow it! Happy moving!