Moving daily is vital for mental health, strength, vitality, emotional well-being, a good metabolism and even for healthier skin. By moving a bit more every day, bodies simply function better!
The bottom line
“Want to feel better, have more energy and even add years to your life? Just exercise,” say staff at The Mayo Clinic. “The health benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are hard to ignore. Everyone benefits from exercise, regardless of age, sex or physical ability.”
“People who don’t exercise can get overwhelmed by the idea of exercising,” says Juanita Bouwer, a Biokineticist at Ubuntu Family Health Centre in Sandton. “Perhaps they feel they have left it too long and they don’t know where to start. Maybe they are a little overweight and don’t have the confidence to get out there. Perhaps they have time constraints that are stopping them from exercising.
“There are many reasons, or excuses, for not exercising. But, for every reason not to, there are many more reasons to exercise. It starts with the decision to take the first step and then it is like a ripple effect. As you begin to feel better, more energised, you will want to move more. Moving then becomes a daily habit.”
It’s all in your head
Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress, says dietician Arlene Semeco in the medical blog, Healthline.
“It produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It can also increase brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression.
“Additionally, exercise can increase the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain.
“Furthermore, exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms in people suffering from anxiety. It can also help them be more aware of their mental state and practice distraction from their fears.
“Interestingly, it doesn’t matter how intense your workout is. It seems that your mood can benefit from exercise no matter the intensity of the physical activity,” reveals Arlene.
How to motivate yourself
One of the most compelling reasons to exercise is that it boosts energy, stamina and improves mood thanks to the release of endorphins, says Juanita. In today’s frantically paced world, good energy levels and emotional well-being are crucial to managing stress and coping with the daily demands of life. These effects are felt with every exercise session.
Equally important but not felt immediately are the biological reasons for exercise, like improved circulation and better lymph flow. In fact, they may not even be noticeable. And while weight loss, improved muscle tone, enhanced mobility, better heart function, improved digestion and elimination may take time to show, “if you keep moving, you will get there,” says Juanita.
Make it a priority
Juanita says people should make time to move every day, even if it is a 20-minute walk with the dog after work, taking the stairs instead of the lift at the office and parking further away from the entrance to the mall.
“Family obligations or a busy work schedule might make you feel like you don’t have time to exercise. But all it takes is 20 to 30 minutes a day. Set the alarm earlier in the morning and walk or attend an exercise class at the gym before you leave for work or before the rest of the family wakes up. Make the decision to make time,” she encourages.
But “remember to check with your doctor before starting a new exercise programme, especially if you haven’t exercised for a long time, have chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, or you have any concerns,” recommends the Mayo Clinic team.
Ready, steady, go
Juanita’s tips for successfully starting an exercise programme:
- Diarise your exercise sessions and keep the appointment. If it is important to you, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse.
- Find an exercise partner. You are less likely to ditch your exercise session if you know you are meeting someone.
- Remember there are different strokes for different folks. Find an activity that you really enjoy. If you hate running on a treadmill indoors, there is no point in forcing yourself to do it. Joining a group that walk or run outdoors might be more up your alley. That way, you are more inclined to stick to a regular routine and reap the benefits. Weekends are loaded with different events, from trail running to obstacle course runs.
- Set a (realistic) goal. When you have a goal and you set out the steps you need to take to achieve it, it evolves into a plan. Maybe there is a bucket list event that you have always wanted to take part in. Determine what is needed to achieve it and get going. Goals will be different for each person but the feeling of accomplishment in achieving a goal, regardless of what it is, is the same for everyone – awesome!
- Take notice of how you feel. Regular physical activity brings about such a wide spectrum of benefits – a better quality of life, weight loss and stress management. The world is your oyster in this regard. When you notice welcome changes, write them down. When you feel averse to exercising, go and look at the changes for the better that you have noted since you got active.
- Listen to your body. A dreaded muscle strain or a distant niggle that has become much more pronounced, can halt your progress in its tracks. Seek professional advice quickly if you have pain or a strain that is stopping you from moving. Visit a physiotherapist or biokineticist to address the cause of the problem as soon as you can. You might need to focus on more specific strength training to prevent it from recurring. On the upside, this approach might just improve your performance of your chosen activity, leading to even higher levels of enjoyment.
- Don’t overdo it too quickly. Build up slowly, to exercising for longer periods or more often during the week. If you suddenly start exercising six days a week after years of inertia, you will become overwhelmed and might give up altogether when you realise it is not sustainable.
- Remember to include rest days in your weekly routine. Rest days are critical to replenish fatigued muscles, preventing burnout and injuries and it makes for a happier, more athletic version of you.