Let me start by saying that, for a health coach, I’m singularly unathletic. At school, I loathed hockey with a passion and could never do a cartwheel (though I was OK at table tennis). Even today, I don’t much warm to the word “exercise” – I much prefer the less intimidating term “movement”, as do many people I coach.
Though not a natural exerciser, I’ve learnt that the benefits of movement are so momentously huge, so undeniably essential to our wellbeing and so myriad that I’ve consciously chosen to make it a part of my life. Our body is designed for and craves movement: being sedentary for eight hours a day is so disastrous for our health that it’s now being talked about as “the new smoking”.
Exercise protects your heart, reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke, reduces inflammation (the cause of almost every chronic disease), balances hormones and makes your cells and muscles more sensitive to insulin, meaning less tummy fat. It reduces the stress hormone cortisol and, in fact, vigorous exercise is a better antidepressant than Prozac! It strengthens muscles and bones, slows the aging process, improves memory, learning and concentration and helps to enhance your mood and boost your energy. Plus, vigorous exercise is a great detoxifier. In short, if it was a pill offering all of that, we’d be queuing up to get our hands on it.
So, how to make movement work for you? Start where you are and remember that all movement counts (that includes gardening, playing footie with your kids or doing the hoovering). The other key thing is to make it fun. Never mind what your neighbour is doing: find something that appeals to you. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for a fall by doggedly forcing yourself to do something you hate – you’re highly unlikely to sustain it. The prospect of slugging it out at the gym may make your heart sink but what about joining a dance class – whether it’s ballroom or pole dancing, you can find a class that resonates with you. Personally, the word “bootcamp” makes me shudder, I’d eat my bobble hat before I went for a run and I wouldn’t ever darken the door of a gym…but Zumba makes me smile and I’ve recently developed a soft spot for Kundalini yoga. I’m also trying to walk as often as I can (a local lady recently asked me straight out if I’d been banned from driving!)
Ideally, you want to gradually build up your weekly movement so that you’re covering aerobic, flexibility and resistance exercises. All three aspects are important for our health and for staying mobile and flexible into old age.
If you’re not sure where to start, why not try 30 minutes of brisk walking: easy, accessible and doesn’t require any expensive gym memberships or fancy equipment. If you can fit it in, exercising first thing in the morning will jump-start your metabolism and set your day on the right course. It also means it doesn’t fall into your “not got round to” pile. Try finding a friend to walk, cycle, run or dance with – it will make it a whole lot more enjoyable and easier to keep up. Lastly, before embarking on a big exercise push, do check with your doctor in case there are any risks to bear in mind.
Right, all set! Now, I just need to follow my own advice and get off my backside. You with me?