We all know we need to move more to maintain physical fitness, as well as a healthy mind. Staying active during the winter months is of the utmost importance in many people’s minds, as the strain on belt loops and clothing waistbands from the festive season can still be felt for weeks after the tinsel and Christmas tree have been taken down.
But how do you move more or stick to your workout or exercise routine when the evenings and mornings are dark and cold? Even if you’re planning to go to the gym or an exercise class, you still have to go outside, in all likelihood to warm your car up and get yourself to the gym. It seems like hard work and an added stress even before you’ve started the workout!
So, should we therefore, become a gym bunny? Exercising for hours a week like it’s the 1980s all over again specifically to lose weight? To my mind, the legwarmers, leotards and florescent sweatbands from the 1980s keep-fit craze should stay firmly in the past and not just for the obvious sartorial reasons!
We need to reconnect with exercise, not as something that is a separate activity to be used solely to lose weight and shoehorned into our busy lives but as something that is part of everyday living – moving more and getting out in the fresh air and daylight are excellent ways to exercise and support both physical and psychological health. In fact, exercise shouldn’t be solely about weight loss, which we’re conditioned to believe especially post-Christmas and at the start of a new year. Weight loss should be a natural side effect of living well, which includes healthy habits from all areas including what we eat, relaxation and sleep. If we do enough with our habits to stay within our own personal thresholds, we don’t even have to think about weight loss or weight gain; our optimum weight is maintained automatically.
An investigation by the World Health Organisation found that, in Europe and the US, 50% of women and 40% of men are insufficiently active throughout the day to maintain health. Research suggests that this is one of the major links to the increased levels of obesity and chronic disease that rise year on year. The good news is that a recent population study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that as little as an hour of exercise a week can help support healthy weight management, as well as combat against depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during colder, darker days. We also know that simply moving more during the day – and here’s the important bit – at regular intervals – helps to maintain long-term physical and psychological health.
But is exercise destroying your health?
But, I hear you cry, you’ve just been extolling the benefits of movement and exercise and now you say it may be harmful to me? Let’s separate these two things: Increasing daily movement (which is a form of exercise) is a good thing for everybody, though going down the extreme exercise regime route may actually do more harm than good in some cases. In fact, many people now, in the name of exercise, actually damage their health.
It’s true that as a society we don’t move enough, but so many people I see feel exhausted, work long hours, don’t rest properly and then still hit the gym or exercise classes with aggressive sounding titles like “Body Battle” or “Battle Ropes”.
This is not to say that these regimes should be stopped, rather ask yourself: “Do I have the energy and reserves right now to do an energy depleting workout?” If the life you’re leading is already exhausting then for many people the truthful answer will be resounding “no”. A growing number of cardiologists also suggest that there may actually be some negative effects on the heart when regularly doing endurance exercise such as marathons.
So keep in mind that increasing daily movement is good but exercise, like everything, has its ideal dose for each individual. The important thing is finding the exercise “sweet spot” that supports your energy but does not deplete your resilience.
You can also support healthy joints and bones to enjoy more movement through a healthy diet and also certain food supplements; magnesium citrate (important for energy production and joint health), B vitamins and glucosamine are key nutrients for joint health. Certain herbs such as Ashwagandha may also support energy levels including for people who exercise, and turmeric can reduce inflammation associated with muscle and joint pain. You can find more information about these areas in the Nutrigold blogs:
Get moving habits
So how do we get moving more in 2019 to stay healthy? I hope that you’ve had a chance to read my blogs on How to Hack Your Habits Part 1and Part 2. By following my “How to Hack Your Habits” programme you will already have in place simple habits changes based around your diet, eating patterns and daily relaxation.
Now you can add in some simple habits based around increasing daily movement and exercise for great health, energy and resilience. Pick between one to three habits from the list below to focus on for the next month ahead:
1. Get moving – prolonged periods of sitting are far more damaging to health than is generally realised. Set an alarm to make sure you move away from your desk or sitting position and stretch every 30 minutes.
2. Walk more – aim for at least 10,000 steps a day using an app or wrist monitor to keep track of your daily step count. It’s not as many as you think – 1,000 steps are around just 10 minutes on your feet.
3. Go for a morning stroll – this gets the blood and oxygen moving around your body; muscles and heart pumping and is energising for the day ahead. You also get a dose of natural daylight to help regulate the body clock. Another benefit is that morning exercise means you are less likely to procrastinate and keep up your new habit.
4. Schedule your workouts/exercise – one of the easiest ways to make sure you stay on track during the winter is to sit down on Sunday night and mark the days you’re going to exercise – this can be as simple as the days you get out for a walk, or maybe you feel energised enough to do a short jog or something more ambitious. By writing them down, you take out the “maybe” factor and make them a definite. You can even take it a step further and write out exactly what workouts/class you want to do, which may help you save on time. Remember though, if you feel low energy or unwell then don’t do any challenging exercise, as this will further deplete your energy and resilience. Always listen to your body.
5. Sign up for a healthy challenge – If you want to increase your movement into safe exercise that supports your energy and doesn’t deplete it then stay accountable by joining an exercise/movement app like from “Couch to 5K” or social media exercise community challenge. By having a daily or weekly goal, you’re more motivated to stay on track. Plus, if you walk/exercise with friends, family or even colleagues on a lunchtime walk at work you’re more likely to keep motivated and moving.
For more information on movement habit changes then I suggest the “Four Pillar Plan” by Dr Rangan Chatterjee – you can find out more by reading my book review “What to Read in the World of Health”.
Wishing you the best of health,
- Harvey et al (2018) Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study. Am J Psychiatry 2018; 175:28–36