Exercise is a wonderful thing.
It releases those feel-good endorphins, helps you get a better night’s sleep, improves organ function and lowers the blood pressure.
Sounds pretty good to me.
Unfortunately, there is also a lot of contradictory advice about exercise these days — what works, what is a waste of time — and it is hard to sort the fact from the fiction.
What confuses a lot of people is the question of exactly how much per week is the right amount to stay in good condition.
The bare minimum
If you are time-poor — and who isn’t these days? — finding room in your day to exercise may be difficult.
But do not fear.
You need not run marathons to be healthy.
The National Physical Activity Guidelines for Australians recommends 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 to 5 hours) of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity each week.
So if you have joint problems or simply don’t enjoy sports, you can still stay healthy by undertaking moderate levels of activity on most days.
But make sure you walk at a brisk pace to keep the heart rate elevated otherwise it is a walk in the park (literally).
If you are chasing peak physical fitness you will most likely be hitting the gym three to four times a week, combining a mixture of cardio and weights for optimum effect.
It all comes down to what you are hoping to achieve.
If you want to lose weight
Nothing drops the kilos quite like cardio, in particular high-intensity interval training.
Scientists have discovered that if exercisers perform to their maximum capacity in short bursts followed by recovery periods then they will burn more calories than if they were working at the one consistent pace.
There are plenty of cardio options that you can explore.
Whether it be group fitness classes at a gym, running on a treadmill while you listen to music or exercising in nature, there is something to suit everyone’s tastes.
Don’t forget to add some body weights or resistance training, too.
The real trick to staying slim is a high basal metabolic rate, and the more muscle you have the more calories you will burn.
If you want to feel stronger
Strengthening your muscles is extremely important and will help give you a strong core and prevent injuries.
Strength exercises can also increase bone density and help prevent osteoporosis, which is important as you get older.
But you don’t need to do dead lifts to build muscle tone.
There are a number of exercises that require you to take some or all of your body weight that will help build muscle.
Some of these include planks, lunges, mountain climbers, push-ups (knees or toes) and squats.
Yoga is also an excellent exercise for building muscle tone and there are plenty of styles these days to choose from, from powerful high-energy yoga to gentle stretching.
Yoga has the added benefit of improving your full range of motion of your muscles and joints, too, which we gradually loose as we get older and become stiffer.
So, whether you can fit in the exercise regime of an elite athlete or only manage a few sessions at the gym each week, it doesn’t really matter.
The point is there is no ideal for everyone, it depends on what you are capable of, and what you are hoping to achieve.
Of course, the real trick is keeping motivated.
Here are some tips to help you:
- Build the habit. Experts reason it takes more than two months for something to become habitual so establish a routine and stick to it.
- Exercise with a friend. It will feel less like a chore and you can keep each other motivated.
- Find a fitness-based activity you actually enjoy. I know for my wife it’s a game of golf that works for her, for others it could be hiking or salsa dancing.
- Post a picture of yourself at your most unhealthy on your fridge to deter you every time you reach for comfort food rather than heading to the gym.
- Reward yourself when you reach a certain fitness milestone or lose a certain number of kilos.
- Purchase a Fitbit device that you wear around your wrist. It will track how many calories you burned, your heart rate and how many steps you have walked that day.
A bit of a stretch
Before you all head off newly motivated for today’s gym session, here is some interesting information I unearthed in my research.
A second Croatian study from the University of Zagreb found people who only practised static stretching as their warm-up reported a 5.5 per cent reduction in the stretched muscles, with the impact increasing in people who hold individual stretches for 90 seconds or more.
It appears that pre-exercise stretching may do more harm than good!
According to the experts, the key is gentle warming up, rather than stretching, although this does not apply to stretching after a workout, which is great for the muscles!