Jun 15

Healthy Eating Week: 3 of 5

Get Active

Parents and toddler exercising together

Keeping active is for everyone. It doesn’t matter where you’re starting from.

Although this is called ‘healthy eating week’, the BNF is addressing other aspects of lifestyle as well.  Staying active is one of the best things you can do to keep your body and mind healthier for longer.

The current recommendation is to do 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity 5 days a week.  Of course, you can do more if you want to and are able.  Moderate intensity activity means that your heart rate should go up by 60%.  For example, if your resting heart rate is 75 beats per minute, your heart rate after moderate exercise should be 120 beats per minute.  How do you know what your heart rate is?  Most phones now have an app where you can measure your heart rate, or you may have one of those sports watches that perform the same function.

As well as this, you should also do two sessions of strength training every week.  This can be anything involving weight, but you don’t need to lift weights.  There are plenty of videos that show you how to do resistance activity using your own body weight, or you can use filled water bottles, cans of food, or a resistance band.  You could even do gardening or carrying shopping.

Bored teenage girls (12-16) sitting with instructor in gym class

Fed up with exercise? My tips could help.

The drawback is that exercise isn’t always easy, accessible or enjoyable. Take me, for instance. I loathe exercise.  Absolutely can’t stand it, but I know I need to do it.  Apparently people like me are genetically programmed to hate exercise.  Whereas being active has been shown to be helpful for improving mood, I’ve often found exercise makes me unhappy, and I know from anecdotes that I’m not alone.

Some people can use reframing or other mindset techniques to help themselves tolerate exercise better, but this can be incredibly challenging.  The reason is that, in some people, exercise provokes hormonal changes that make them more prone to low mood.  As I’ve often said, in the battle between willpower and hormones, hormones will always win. That’s their job.

If you love exercise, being active for 150 minutes a week at a beneficial level of activity is easy.  If not, it’s a big deal.  What can you do to make it more bearable for yourself?  Here are 5 top tips from a self-confessed exercise-phobe.

  1. Woman with hula hoop

    Could this be your new favourite exercise? Bare midriff optional.

    Choose something you like. There’s no need to join a gym, in fact unless you really love gyms and plan to go often, I don’t recommend it.  You can injure yourself if you’re not using the equipment properly, and I don’t find them very hygienic places; you’re always putting your hands in other people’s sweat.  In my gym I once found a lady (I use the term loosely) using the hairdryer to dry somewhere unmentionable.  That was the last straw!  Luckily, there are many other great places to exercise.  Swimming is great if you’re able, and if not try aqua aerobics or water volleyball.  Some people love dance classes, but if you’re self-conscious like me, get a DVD and work out at home.  Try something really unusual like hula-hooping and break the mould.

  2. Change it up and break it down. Doing the same exercises all the time is very boring and could lead to injury if you’re always working on the same muscle groups.  Instead, try building lots of different activities into your week.  Even if you’re at home and can’t get to anywhere that’s safe to exercise, there are a myriad of DVDs and You Tube videos you can use.  Don’t have 30 minutes a day, or not able to do that much yet?  No problem.  Two lots of 15 minutes or 3 lots of 10 minutes are just as good provided you can get your heart rate up and keep going.

  3. Two legs or four?  Activity is more fun with a friend (or many)

    Two legs or four? Activity is more fun with a friend (or many)

    Involve a friend. You don’t need to exercise on your own and think how much more variety you can introduce if you play with one or more friends. It’s also safer as you can keep an eye on one another.  Tennis and badminton are great if you can find a friend of a similar standard.  You don’t have to join a club or buy posh whites.  Many parks and councils will have courts that you can use on a pay-as-you-go basis.  If you like team games, there’s a massive range to choose from.  If you really hate sport just going for a walk with a friend or partner is fantastic, or if you’re both a bit scared of going to a class, go together to give each other moral support.   If you’re on a walk, try and balance faster walking to get your heart rate up with natter time.

  4. Older woman stretching by a river

    Let nature be your playground

    Let nature be your gym. There’s some research to suggest that you get more benefit from performing exercise outside than from doing the same level of activity indoors. Where it’s safe and practical to do so, it’s great to be outside.  Walking is free, and it’s not the only thing.  You can use benches to do press-ups or tricep dips, and clean grass makes a nice soft base for sit-ups and planks.  If you’re really brave and it’s safe and permitted you can even climb trees!  Remember that gardening is great exercise if that’s available to you.

  5. Keep track. Take advantage of the free app on your phone or use your fitness watch and keep track of what you’re doing.  You may not feel like you’re doing very much, but those steps can all add up.  On many phones you can set yourself a daily step target.  We’re supposed to do 10,000 steps, but that’s a big target if you’ve got very little time or haven’t exercised before.  Start smaller (but still challenging yourself) and build up.

A note on exercising safely.  How do you know if the You Tube video or DVD, or the new sport you’ve picked is safe for you?  My mate Karl, who’s a personal trainer, has these tips for you.

  1. Make sure the person explains and demonstrates the exercise clearly. Practice with them until you’re sure you know what to do.

  2. You don't need to look like this to exercise; find role models who are more like you.

    You don’t need to look like this to exercise; find role models who are more like you.

    Are any of the people doing the exercise like you? If they’re all super-fit gym bunnies with concave stomachs that’s fine if you’re that person too, but it may not be right for you if you’re a bit less active with wobbly bits.  Many DVDs will show a range of people doing the exercise, and that will tell you if it’s likely to be suitable.

  3. If you’ve got special circumstances, such as pregnancy, post a question or write to the makers of the video to check if the exercise is safe for you.

  4. If you’re exercising in a gym or club, check that their insurance will cover you. Most gyms and clubs have trainers on hand to make sure you’re using the equipment safely and effectively.  Use them.

  5. If you’ve got an underlying medical condition or you’re not sure, ALWAYS check with your doctor first.

Let me know what you’re doing to stay active.

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