September is like a mini-January for a lot of people – it’s time to kickstart a new exercise routine! It is often a time when people try to get back into routines once children are back at school and holidays are over. It’s a good time to start getting back into an exercise routine if you fell out of one during the summer and for those who have never been in a routine – it’s a great time to start! With over 15 weeks before the next major holiday (we won’t mention the word – you know what it is!) – there is lots of time to get yourself looking and feeling great for December.
At this stage we probably all know the benefits of exercise. There is a famous quote by Dr Robert Butler, founder of the National Institute on Aging in the US, that says “If exercise could be packed in a pill, it would be the single most widely prescribed and beneficial medicine in the nation.” The reason for this is that regular physical activity has been shown to lower risks of early death, coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, negative blood lipid profile, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and some cancers. Weight bearing exercise has positive effects on bone health too, thereby reducing the risk for osteoporosis. It can also improve sleep quality. Of course, the benefits are not only on physical health, exercise can also positively impact our mental health.
So how much exercise should I do?
The National Physical Activity Plan for Ireland recommends that adults should do 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week. This is probably one of the easiest ways of counting what you do and making sure you do enough. The best way to meet this target is to do 30 minutes on 5 days of the week – however it can be accumulated any way you like as long as there is a minimum of 10 minutes activity.
What is moderate intensity activity?
The easiest way of monitoring your intensity without using fancy gadgets is by your breathing rate, how warm you feel and perhaps some sweating. Your breathing should be faster than normal – but you should still be able to maintain a conversation (e.g. during a brisk walk). You may also feel slightly warmer than when you started off and this may be accompanied by light sweating.
What activities should I do?
The first thing you should consider is what do you like to do? If you like an activity, then you are more likely to do it regularly. Ideally, you will get a mixture of cardio (i.e. increasing your heart rate ) and muscle/bone strengthening through weight bearing activities. Older adults should also aim to include some balance exercises in their workouts.
5 Simple Tips for starting/maintaining physical activity
- Pick a time that suits you – if you know you are tired coming home from work and you know you probably won’t do your activity – then try and fit it in before work or during lunch time (if that is feasible).
- Similarly, if you plan your exercise straight after work – bring your workout gear with you and get your workout done before you go home. How many of us go home to change and end up not leaving the house again?! This becomes even more prevalent when the evenings get darker.
- Exercise with friends/colleagues – when you commit to meeting someone for a class, a walk or whatever the exercise is, you are more likely to do it than if you are just doing something on your own. You’ve made the promise and it’s easier to exercise with a partner.
- If you are going on your own for a jog/walk and find it boring – bring your phone/ipod and listen to the radio, music or even a podcast – your exercise will be done before you even realise it! (Okay that may not be strictly true- but it definitely helps to distract you!!)
- Make a plan for the week – often if you don’t make a plan you might let it go one day and make up for it the next day – but then it doesn’t happen. Whereas if you say – I am going to walk Monday, Wednesday and Friday on my lunchtimes for 30 minutes – then you are more likely to do it.
Each week – plan out your activity for the week. Write down the actual amount you do. See if you can accumulate your 150 minutes over the week. Remember, walking to work, cycling to work, gardening, housework can all contribute to this – as long as you are working at a moderate intensity (see above).
Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t reach the full 150 minutes – just aim to work up to it the following week. We all have days or weeks where things don’t go according to plan – so just factor that in, let it go, and get yourself going at the next available opportunity!