Why exercise should be more than just a New Year’s Resolution!

Why exercise should be more than just a New Year’s Resolution!

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One of the most common New Year’s Resolutions is the intention to exercise more. However, we know that 66% will abandon a new exercise programme before the end of January! This is not surprising. We also know that 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. Please do not be one of these people!

We do not have a culture that prioritises regular exercise in this country. It is seen as a luxury, something that might be done after everything else in our very busy day has been completed. However, exercise is the closest thing we have to “the panacea of all ills.” If you are looking for motivation to exercise on that cold Winter’s evening when you are tired and hungry think of the following facts;

-Your risk of death is decreased- if nothing else just remind yourself of this fact! People who engage in moderately vigorous exercise regularly have been shown to have a 20-30% lower risk of death than people who are less active. This is typically manifested by a reduction in early death rate as opposed to increasing longevity.
-It can protect against breast and prostate cancer and delay or prevent dementia;
-Blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels are lowered with exercise;
-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);
-It helps prevent osteoporosis;
-You are better off being overweight but physically meeting your exercise requirements than being a normal weight and inactive! A lot of people feel that because they are a “normal weight” they are generally ok being relatively inactive. Unfortunately not!
-It contributes significantly to maintaining any longterm weight loss. If you lose weight by dietry measures alone you may also slow down your metabolism which may result in any weight losses returning. If you add in a regular exercise programme to any dietry restrictions you will actually tend to increase your metabolism and help prevent re-accumulation of previously lost weight.

A very interesting tip I learnt from an Exercise Physiologist regarding how to maximise weight loss while exercising was this. 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. If you have eaten in the preceeding 4 hours, you do not start burning your fat stores until about 20 to 30 minutes of exercise have elapsed. Exhausting!

How to exercise well.

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 longterm is to achieve at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (eg brisk walking or light jogging) on 5 or more days per week or 25 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise (eg fast jogging) on 3 days per week. However, 1 or 2 days per week is better than not exercising at all!

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

There has been a lot of hype around the “FitBit” and 10,000 steps per day. There is no science to support this as of yet. The “magic” number of 10,000 steps was a completely arbitrary figure stemming from a successful Japanese marketing campaign in the 1960s! It is certainly better than not exercising at all but as of yet, it is not proven, possibly due to the fact that it doesn’t take into account the intensity of any given exercise.

Our recently classified “Young old” population (ie those between ages 75-85) and the more elderly should follow these guidelines too when it is within their physical capacity to do so. The only differences for you if you are in these age ranges, is that you should avoid vigorous intensity exercise and also spend time on maintaining flexibility and muscle strength. This will reduce your risk of falls, which is single biggest risk to your health at this age above all else, including cancer and dementia!

There is no doubt that all of this is easier said than done. But remember this. 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 or exercise bike 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! If you do this, your new exercise programme may well last long beyond January in 2019