Summer is just around the corner, and it’s never too late to start thinking about an exercise plan to help shed the excesses of a long cold winter, improve your fitness levels, and get yourself looking and feeling great for the warmer weather.
Everybody knows that a little exercise can help you feel lighter on the scales, but an equally important benefit is the extra endorphins your body produces every time you break a sweat.
Endorphins are your body’s response to pain or extreme exertion. These chemicals act as natural painkillers, and can have dramatic effect on your mood, sleep patterns and stress levels. The NHS recommends adults aged between 19 and 64 should be doing two types of physical activity – aerobic and muscle-strengthening. The weekly guidelines suggest:
- 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity like brisk walking or cycling (that’s 30 mins x 5 days per week); or
- 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running; plus
- Two strength sessions working all major muscle groups – legs, hips, chest, shoulders, arms, back, abs.
It’s a big commitment and the one thing we’re never short on is excuses. Too busy, too tired, too unmotivated. Maybe you don’t have a gym membership: it’s too expensive or inconvenient. Perhaps you do have a membership but you find it too intimidating to set foot in the door.
But for every excuse for skipping your workout, there is about 10 more reasons you should stick with it. Here are my tips on how to make it part of your everyday routine and achieving a healthier, fitter you.
Excuse: “I don’t have time to exercise”
Get yourself a good pair of trainers and hit the pavement. Get off the bus several stops early and get a brisk walk in before and after work. Climb the stairs instead of the escalators on the Tube and hoof it up to the office rather than relying on the lift.
Hire a Boris Bike and use the City’s dedicated network of cycle pathways to travel between meetings. It’s five minutes here and there but it will add up to your 30 minutes of moderate exercise before you know it.
Excuse: “I don’t like gyms”
A gym isn’t the only place to work up a sweat, particularly now that the sun is (intermittently) shining. Local councils have been trying to tackle our couch potato lifestyle by installing outdoor gyms in parks across London.
The equipment has been designed to provide low-impact training in an intuitive, easy way with various machines to target the lower body, upper body and core, as well as cardio and weight-based strength exercises.
They’re also completely free to use. If your park doesn’t have an outdoor gym, a bench is perfect for bodyweight exercises like push-ups, tricep dips and step-ups. Your local lido is probably looking a lot more appealing now that the weather is warming up, and swimming is a great low-impact workout that won’t put stress on your bones, joints and muscles – perfect for those who are just starting out or recovering from an injury.
Excuse: “I can’t get motivated”
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to finding the motivation to make exercise part of your daily routine. Some people swear by a morning workout so they don’t spend the day talking themselves out of it, others say they prefer exercise in the afternoon or evening to shake off the stresses of the day.
As we humans are creatures of habit, it does help if you can schedule your exercise for roughly the same time each day to make it part of your routine. It’s no secret that exercise goes hand in hand with a balanced diet, so keep your food choices in mind when starting any new fitness plan.
Processed foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats make us feel sluggish so avoid them where possible and stick to light, high-protein meals like fish or chicken and salad to keep your energy levels up throughout the day. Make sure you’re drinking enough water to replenish any hydration lost through the extra activity.
Start by setting yourself goals that are measurable and achievable. It’s all very well to say that you want to ‘get fit’ or ‘lose weight’, but targets are more effective if they are specific.
Sign up for a five-kilometre fun run or set a target of completing three workouts per week; you will find it a lot easier to get out of bed that hour early each morning if you have something to work towards.
As you start hitting those targets and gaining confidence, exercise will become something to look forward to, rather than a chore.
Ashleigh Wienand is the clinical director and lead physiotherapist of Ultra Sport Clinic ultrasportsclinic.com