Right now I don’t do a lot of exercise. I believe in exercise. I value it. I have a vision of my future as a person who exercises. It was certainly a major part of my past. I quite like it, but I haven’t been consistent. There are lots of reasons why not. This includes pain from an old injury, and some illness challenges, but also overwhelm, fatigue, lack of organisation and the barrier of fear when I look at the wall of effort needed to forge ahead. Where do you sit (stand or run) on the spectrum of advocates for being active?
READING TIME: 4 MINUTES
We hear a lot about the health benefits of being active. It can be hard if you are starting from a place of inactivity or with complex health challenges. Is it worth the effort? There are the immediately recognisable physical benefits, including a healthier body and the ability to walk up stairs while holding a conversation (admirable). Stronger muscles and a stronger heart will help ward off other health complications. Reducing obesity, through a healthy diet and some exercise, will help us manage our other health challenges. All this is good news, but is it enough to get me out of bed in the morning? To be honest, it hasn’t been, at least not often enough– I really love to sleep.
Being active is not just about the physical long term benefits that we can achieve. There is evidence that exercise has some immediate benefits which could contribute to improving our day.
Improve your mood. Taking time to be active either by yourself or with people you like, can help change the way you are feeling. This might be as spontaneous as taking time to stop what you are doing and walk outside for a while; or participating in a planned activity as part of your daily routine.
Anxiety, stress or depression, can all be impacted by exercise. There is some evidence that moderate intensity exercise will moderately improve the symptoms of depression. Depression is also improved by psychological or pharmacological therapies, and exercise was not found to be more effective in some comparison studies (Importantly, speak to your health care practitioner before considering any change to your depression treatment plan).
Rather than watching TV, scrolling through social media or even eating junk food, taking 30 minutes or more to do some moderate exercise is likely to improve your mood (with benefits starting to kick in as early as 5 minutes after you get moving).
Brain fog. Working for long hours, or sitting still for a long period can start to make the brain and body tired and lethargic. Rather than a signal for naptime, it can be that a change of pace and doing some exercise, can restart the body and brain, and increase focus.
ARE THERE HEALTH FACTORS HERE? We do know that exercise helps reduce our risk of dementia and prevent cognitive decline, therefore regular exercise is a significant benefit for maintaining cognitive vitality. There’s not a lot of information about what exercise is best but there is a general consensus that any exercise is better than no exercise at all, and working up to moderate and intense levels of exercise has a better impact on overall long term cognition. The improvement to our brain health happens across the short, mid and longer term, so exercise has benefits both now and later.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU. We need to make activity as easy as possible. The more barriers there are to being active, the less likely we are to do it. I used to walk in my pajamas because I found that getting changed into ‘active wear’ was exhausting; I was physically too tired to walk by the time I was dressed for walking. I’ve recently organised a morning walking buddy because I hate getting up in the morning. Be real about what is getting in your way.
We need to recognise our own goals and not look to others and get side tracked. Taking your own health into account, what is your best path forward when it comes to physical activity?
A WAY FORWARD. Are you too busy to exercise? Are you too ill to incorporate some form of movement or physical therapy in your day? I know that for some people with severe chronic illnesses and other issues, movement is very challenging; but for many of us, we could do a little more. All change related to getting moving is change for the better. So let’s find ways which are enjoyable and feasible for us. I like walking. I want to climb Everest. Feasible? We’ll see.