It feels like we are constantly being reminded about the importance and benefits of exercising. Although, we know it’s for our own good it can sometimes sound a bit ‘naggy’ and leave us feeling a tad inadequate and possibly even guilty. Every study confirms the findings of previous studies. We all need to exercise regularly and most of us are probably not doing enough. If you were waiting for a contrary survey, saying you would be better off sitting on your sofa, most of the day and having a large slice of Victoria sponge, prepare to be disappointed. On topics, like coffee and red wine, there is regular conflicting evidence on their potential harm and benefits, but on exercise, it’s all positive, unless you overdo it, of course. The votes have all been counted and the results are clear.
Yes, it’s well documented that exercise is beneficial for our physical and mental health. However, for most of us it just seems a bit of a chore and it can be very tiring!
When I was younger I never exercised. I didn’t need to. I cycled or walked everywhere. I even ran sometimes and I regularly played sports. Exercise was a by-product of my daily life.
As you get older and your circumstances change, it feels like there are not enough hours in the day to fit everything in. Finding the time and effort to exercise regularly isn’t easy unless you can find a way to structure it into your daily routine. You could just do a bit randomly when you’re in the mood but the chances are you will do it for a couple of weeks and then it will tail off.
If you have mental health issues, exercising regularly is even more important. You need to release those mood-boosting endorphins that exercise provides and do it on a routine basis. I know when things are bad, you may prefer to hide under the duvet but it probably won’t make you feel better. Although, you shouldn’t beat yourself up, if you really can’t face the day, on occasion.
If you’re like me and find most exercise a bit of a chore, then you need to find a way of making it seem less of a.. er… chore!
To begin with, don’t do too much, too soon. You will find it too exhausting and will soon get bored and probably give up completely. Never mind what you’ve heard about how much exercise you should be doing. Do as much exercise as you can comfortably do, to begin with. Build it up slowly. As you get fitter and stronger, you can up the time spent and intensity.
So what’s my exercise plan or regime? Well for a start, I don’t call it things like a ‘plan’ or ‘regime’. That already makes it sound like a tiring ordeal. I know it may be a chore, to begin with, but I don’t want to make it sound like one! I just want it to be part of my daily activities, like emptying the dishwasher or cooking dinner.
Firstly, I still play some sports. Not as much as I would like but a lot of sports require you to have friends! Ok, I do have a few friends but everybody is busy nowadays. I do play badminton, when I can find a partner, as I still like the idea of exercise not being the main focus, but rather a by-product of another activity. Playing sports with others also has the added benefit of providing a social occasion. You may find your local Sports Centre has a badminton club you could join if you want to play but can’t find a partner. I used to go to a badminton club but got fed up with being thrashed by players twice my age! While you’re at the Sports Centre, see if they’re offering any free ‘taster’ classes for Zumba, pilates, spinning or anything else. Give them a go!
I go swimming once a week, for an hour or so. I’m not a strong swimmer so I can get a good cardio workout without doing too many lengths! Swimming is great, especially if you have problems with your joints and therefore find activities like running, painful.
I go for a bike ride, once a week, too. Normally, just a few miles for about an hour. Again, due to the low impact on your joints, it’s suitable for most people.
I go for a walk most days, sometimes for only 30 minutes but it’s useful just to get everything moving and to slightly raise your heart rate. A walk in the countryside is particularly good for you mentally, too. If you’re unable to get out of the house, just walk up and down the stairs a few times, to increase your breathing. It’s all good!
I used to go to the gym, before the pandemic. In truth, I didn’t really enjoy it, so haven’t been back. Instead, I bought a frame for doing sit-ups and a couple of dumbbells. My philosophy with exercise is little and often. Five minutes of sit-ups are fine. In the morning, I put my porridge in the microwave for two minutes, during which, I get out the dumbbells. I get them out during a commercial break when I’m watching TV. By just doing regular ‘bite-sized’ exercise sessions, it doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s believed, a few minutes of intense exercise is more beneficial than several hours of moderate exercise.
If you have a desk job, just regularly standing up, has been shown to have a positive effect on health, according to Dr Michael Mosley. So any exercise is better than nothing, for your physical and mental wellbeing.
I know there will be days when you just won’t feel like doing any exercise. Not a problem. Don’t feel guilty, you’re entitled to a break but hopefully, you will have enjoyed the benefits of feeling fitter and want to continue again soon. Over time, exercise may feel less of a chore and more of a pleasure.