Exercise for long term health

Exercise for long term health

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Exercise levels in Ireland have fallen off a cliff. Most Irish people have little or no physical activity in their daily lives. Approximately 24% of Irish people do not engage in any leisure-time physical activity and only about 50% perform the recommended amount of physical activity which is to perform at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (eg brisk walking or light jogging) on 5 or more days per week or 20 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise (eg fast running) on 3 days per week.

Why should you exercise?

Your risk of death is decreased– people who engage in moderately vigorous exercise regularly have been shown to have a 23% lower risk of death than people who are less active.

It can protect against breast and prostate cancer and delay or prevent dementia.

Blood pressure and blood sugar levels are lowered with exercise and your risk of developing diabetes is significantly reduced.

Stress levels are reduced both in the short term (less cranky) and in the long term (less chance of suffering with uncomfortable levels of anxiety and depression).

Blood cholesterol levels are improved both with lower triglyceride levels and also higher amounts of HDL (good) cholesterol.

It helps with quitting smoking.

It helps prevent osteoporosis

Weight loss is a combination of a better diet with more exercise. Diet is slightly more important when it comes to purely losing weight. However, for longterm health, you are better off being slightly overweight but physically very active than being a normal weight and inactive.

If you exercise you burn calories but also you “tone” your muscles which helps to increase your metabolism and burn off more calories during and after exercising.

Tip- If you don’t eat for 4 hours before exercising you will lose weight quicker as this means your body will start using up your “fat” stores preferentially over your carbohydrate stores. You can bring an exercise drink or bar and take it after 15 minutes of exercise but you will still have “tricked” your body into preferentially burning your “fat” stores first.

How to start

Most people do not need to see their Doctor before starting exercise but it is still safest to check first with your Doctor.

Start with low-intensity aerobic exercise like simple walking. Do this on 1 or 2 occasions per week for a few months if necessary. Do not let yourself go below this limit.

The aim is to get to at least 30 minutes per day for 5 days per week of moderate intensity exercise. However, 1 or 2 days per week is better than not exercising at all.

Moderate intensity exercise includes brisk walking (3 to 4 miles per hour), yard work, dancing, slow jog etc. You should be slightly sweaty but able to carry on a conversation with a partner.

Alternatively, if you prefer to get things done more efficiently, you can perform vigorous intensity exercise (faster jogging- unable to easily carry on a conversation with a partner) on at least 3 days per week and you will meet your health maintenance targets.

These recommendations are in addition to routine light intensity daily activities eg casual walking, shopping etc.

Exercise for the day does not need to be achieved all in one go- 3 or 4 ten minute sessions per day achieve the same health benefits.

If you are able to do this then this is generally more than enough. If you are super motivated you would also perform strength training (with weights, resistance bands, your own body weight) on 2 occasions per week. In any routine you should perform some of the following;

An upper body push and pull exercise (10 minutes),

A lower body push and pull exercise (hamstrings curl, knee extension), (10 minutes),

Some core/ pilates work eg bridging, planks etc (5 minutes).

Start with minimal resistance and perform 2/3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. Proper technique is everything. There is absolutely no point in getting injured and losing heart. Be sure to breathe out during exertion. Do not lift heavy weights if you have heart disease.

Remember to do a mild warm up before and a cool down after exercise. This needs to include stretching. You should stretch every major joint (hip, back, shoulder, knee, upper trunk, and neck). This reduces muscle stiffness after exercise. Stretching of your neck and lower back is especially important for people with desk jobs- it is amazing the relief you get from neck and lower back stiffness after even a week of simple stretching. Hold each stretch for 10-30 seconds.

Prioritise exercise

You need to prioritize exercise to reduce your chance of death or disability. This means it becomes one of your top one or two objectives every day. It cannot be left to the end of the day when everything else is done and if it is a nice evening etc. There is nothing more important in life than keeping yourself alive! The hardest initial thing to do is to start an exercise routine- once you start the hardest thing to do then is to stop. If you are struggling to maintain a routine try doing things to make exercise less of an effort eg buy a skipping rope to allow you to exercise at home, do online exercise routines or use your own body weight exercise in the comfort of your own sitting room- the distraction of the television can get you through those short 10 minute exercise bursts.

When to stop

If any of the following occur, stop your exercise and contact your Doctor immediately;

Pain or pressure in the chest, arms, throat, jaw or back,

Nausea or vomiting during or after exercise,

Inability to catch your breath,

Heart flutters or a sudden burst of a very fast heart rate,

Feeling very tired,

Dizziness during exercise.


Contact us at Collins Medical Practice for any further advice regarding meeting your own exercise/ health objectives.