The Benefits of Exercise
A balanced diet is essential for a happy, healthy life but no amount of kale or quinoa will make up for a lack of movement.
Regular physical activity has incredible benefits.
Exercise is so important for cardiovascular health, and even more importantly, exercise reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and some cancers.
Exercise is a great way to increase energy levels, helps you sleep better, balances your mood and helps maintain your weight. There is a mounting body of evidence supporting the role of exercise in managing depression and anxiety and improving mental health.
Next time you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious try a 10 minute brisk walk or dance to your favourite tunes and observe how stressed you are compared to before. Almost always you will feel better than before.
When we exercise we release the hormone serotonin, commonly known as the ‘happy hormone’ which has an uplifting effect on the entire body. Many anti-depressant drugs work by increasing serotonin production.
The key is to be active. This does not mean compulsively exercising to ‘burn off’ your eating sins. I encourage my clients to move their body every day. Movement is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, but not to the point of exhaustion or obsession. Over-training depletes the body, leading to hormonal imbalance, high cortisol levels, fatigue and injuries. When you are exhausted an intense workout can feel good but only temporarily. Within hours you will feel exhausted. This kind of distress causes the body to go into crisis mode and couple this intense exercise with our overly busy lives and we end up feeling tired and anxious.
Too much high intensity exercise can trigger our stress response. Our bodies are smarter that we are, it does everything to make you slow down. Our bodies need time to move, rest and recover. Balance is key.
What Type of Exercise Works Best for You?
Think about what you loved to do as a child. Did you run, swim, cycle or hike? This is a good place to start when looking for a new exercise routine. Embrace your inner child and try new things. Take up a new sport or sign up for that new class. It’s not about perfection, it is about progress.
Listen to your body
Know that exercise is just like food. Once you understand how different types of movement nourish your body in different ways, you can put together a menu of activities to keep yourself in balance. Ask yourself what your body needs, whether a restorative workout or an intense one will benefit you.
If you are feeling exhausted and stressed try yoga, pilates, brisk walking and meditation rather than pounding the road or treadmill.
The key is to move your body every day as much as possible and making sure its in harmony with how you are feeling.
I balance high intensity sessions like spinning and running with a gentler form of exercise like a walk in nature or a yoga class. Yoga activates the parasympathetic system by focusing on the breath and mindfulness. It’s a wonderful form of movement and a brilliant way to support yourself.
Choose your movements wisely
The key is to be active and to embrace incidental exercise every day like opting to take the stairs, playing a game of football with the kids or going out for a family walk. It all counts.
When do you feel most energetic?
Just as some people think more clearly in the morning and others think more clearly at night, some people prefer to exercise first thing in the morning, whilst others prefer to exercise later in the day. There’s no right or wrong, it’s simply a matter of personal preference.
So, what’s the secret to a successful and consistent routine?
Schedule your workout into your calendar and make this time non-negotiable.
Stop relying on motivation. As Robert Making famously wrote – “Action precedes motivation”.
Practical tips that you could use include laying out your exercise clothes the evening before and plan to meet a friend to keep you committed.
Be experimental and find a routine you can nourish yourself with on a daily basis. Pick 2-3 forms of exercise you enjoy, and schedule them into your week.
Once you find out what works for you and start noticing all the benefits you are gaining, exercise will be second nature and your body and mind will thank you for it.