What exercise means to people varies. For some it may be increasing their daily activities, using a pedometer and going out for more regular walks, to others who have either had a short break from exercise through injury of illness so their perspective might be somewhat different. These people take on an altogether heavier duty training programme such as long distance cycling or running challenges for example.
Whatever level you are at, the mind-set changes are the same, whether you’re a couch potato or an endurance athlete. It’s about getting over that hurdle, both physically and mentally. Even for people who are used to exercising but have had to stop… research shows that after two weeks of not exercising, the fitness level drops off the scale.
My own experience recently is of having surgery on my leg, which meant no running for 6 weeks.
For me that was the longest time period I’d not run for in a good number of years. The effect of this meant that I gained weight, and felt tired and sluggish. However I also felt a sense of apprehension when I started to run again. It was patently clear that whilst just prior to my surgery I had trained to run a half marathon in under 2 hours, which I was proud of, yet my first run after surgery was nowhere near the length or speed that I was used to achieving and has required effort and patience to work on getting it back - I felt like a novice runner all over again!
So why do it, what are the health benefits of exercise?
- Reduces the risk of chronic illness such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke
- Helps keep weight under control
- Can improve balance and co-ordination
- Improves sleep, and in sleeping better aids tissue repair
- Boost your self-esteem, giving you a sense of well-being
- Helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
Starting one good habit such as exercise seems to curb the desire to eat the wrong foods, and maintain that ‘feel good’ feeling, so also creating a reduction in regular and heavy alcohol intake.
Before you start check in with your GP are share your ideas of what you’d like to do. The important things to remember are to do something you’re interested in.
It is however important when you start exercising to set a goal, whether it’s to lose weight or complete a specific challenge such as completing a marathon. However it’s important to remember that even your final goal needs to be realistic and achievable if you are going to keep yourself motivated and achieve it.
Start slowly, so if it’s running start by increasing your walking to a brisk power walks and build up to run –walk, then jogging and eventually building up speed. You’ve also got to allow your muscles and joints time to adapt to this new activity. Give them time to become stronger, and thereby reduce any risk of injury.
Stay motivated by ringing the changes, but try and build it into your lifestyle so that it becomes a habit. Find a friend to buddy up with if you can, that way you can encourage each other at least in the early stages of exercise. Similarly if the exercise of your choice requires equipment, just remember that you’re not that top level athlete straight away, so you don’t need the most expensive equipment to start with, so don’t go out and buy that carbon framed bike or all the lycra tights and tops for running. Just start with the essentials to make you safe. You can always buy better gear as a reward as you progress!
It’s important to choose a balanced programme which incorporates:
- cardiovascular activity, such as running, swimming, dancing, aerobics classes
- strength training for a range of muscle groups but not using excessive weights
- flexibility training using slow sustained stretches.
With all exercise remember the warm up and cool down!
Don’t forget you don’t have to do this on your own. There’s lots of information the internet now. Similarly there are athletics clubs, exercise classes and personal trainers who will guide you if you’re feeling bewildered.
You can keep up with Jane's progress as she trains for the 2015 London Marathon here.