Benefits of exercise

karate classWe all know how important exercise is. Staying fit has a knock-on effect on so many aspects of our general health, from keeping our hearts and lungs healthy, to improving our mood and energy levels.

So we know why we should exercise. But with the pressures of school, college, work or daily life, it’s easy to put it on the back-burner. We promise ourselves we’ll walk to work tomorrow, or play football after school another day. Staying motivated is the biggest challenge we face when trying to get fit and stay healthy.

If you have medical difficulties or feel pain when you exercise, talk to your local doctor before starting a work-out routine. Check getting help for more.

Advantages to exercising

  • Improves your strength, fitness, and confidence.
  • Raises energy levels.
  • Increases your flexibility and mobility.
  • Helps you manage stress.
  • Helps you sleep better.
  • Improves metabolic rate, which helps prevent weight gain.
  • Helps manage anger.

Getting started

Starting is the hardest part, because it’s when you’ll be most unfit. It’s going to be hard work, and you’re going to want to crash out on the couch in the evening and not go for a run around the park. Some tips on getting started:

  • Start slow – if your fitness levels aren’t great, don’t sign up for next week’s marathon. Taking on too much too soon can be stressful and you can end up feeling more unfit than you really are. Start with a brisk run or some simple stretches, then gradually build up from there. When it gets easier, increase the time and intensity of what you’re doing.
  • Do something you enjoy – while it might seem like a good idea to join an aerobics class, if it’s not something you’ll enjoy, you’ll find it harder to stick with. Try and tie exercise in with your interests, like joining a salsa class if you’re into dancing.
  • Work it into a routine – some people just don’t like gyms, no matter how hard they try. Exercise classes leave them cold and tread mills give them nightmares. If you’re one of these people, you might be better off trying to exercise in a way that fits into your daily life. For example, cycle rather than take the bus, or start walking home from work. That way you’ll be getting a daily dose of exercise, without really having to change your routine.
  • Exercise with a friend – you might have more fun that way. You could try walking together, going for a run or for a swim. Having someone else around may help to motivate you. A healthy dose of competition can help you push yourself that bit further.
  • Make it fun – being active shouldn’t be a chore. Kick a football with friends, play tennis, go for a walk while listening to music or take the dog out. Playing a team sport is also a good way of meeting new people.

Make a plan

It sounds boring but you’ll see better results if you make a plan of action. Remember, any exercise routine you form will only work properly if you look after your nutrition too. Here’s a simple outline of a program you can follow:

  • Step 1 – start with moderate levels of exercise for four to six weeks. Always warm up at the beginning at the end and include some aerobic activity and toning exercises. If your heart rate increases and you need to breathe deeper you’ll know you’ve worked out properly.
  • Step 2 – increase your levels of activity slightly every couple of weeks. Your body is getting used to the exercise, so you’ll need to push it slightly harder to keep getting results. Increase the length of your exercise sessions, or the intensity of them.
  • Step 3 – after about six months of consistent exercising, the average person will have reached a level of fitness they’re happy with. By now, you’ll hopefully be used to doing a regular amount of exercise every day, and the challenge will be keeping it up for the long-term future.

For a more detailed plan, check out Nutrition and Health Foundation’s interactive exercise pyramid.

Don’t give up!

There can be an initial buzz about finding an exercise routine that works for you. If you’ve lost weight you’ll feel good about yourself and you might have more energy. But this doesn’t mean you can relax, throw caution to the wind and return to your couch-potato ways. Staying fit means changing your long-term lifestyle for the better, not just joining a ten-week exercise class.

Don’t be too hard on yourself though. If you miss a class or skip a training session, give yourself a break. Pushing yourself too hard may result in burn-out and it’s impossible to sustain over a long period of time. Try keeping track of your progress in a notebook. Looking at written evidence of all you’ve achieved can help keep you going.

Exercise dependency

Exercise is an emotional activity as well as physical. After we exercise, we can feel like we’re on a high because of the adrenalin we’ve released. So like anything that makes us feel good, we can get addicted to exercising. If we start losing weight, sometimes we become fixated on our body image and feel compelled to lose more.

Some of the signs of an exercise dependency include feeling compelled to exercise every day, feeling anxious when you skip a session and experiencing significant mood swings when you work out. Some of the dangers include:

  • cardiovascular and muscular damage
  • increased chance of infection
  • a suppressed immune system
  • sporting injuries, including stress fractures
  • fixation with body image can lead to eating disorders.

Recognising the problem is the first step towards dealing with an exercise dependency. Some tips on how to cope:

  • Break your routine – try changing your timetable around. Try a new type of exercise, at a different time, or even try giving yourself more chill-out time. Sticking too closely to a routine can encourage obsessive behaviour.
  • Talk to a professional – drop by your local gym or sports centre or talk to your PE teacher at school. They can give you tips on figuring out a healthy exercise plan and how to avoid becoming too dependent on it.
  • Talk to yourself – ask yourself why you’re so concerned about keeping fit or losing weight. Sometimes addictive behaviour can be a sign of low self-esteem. Talk to someone you trust to try and figure out what’s going on in your head.
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