Keeping active does all these things, as well as building up your stamina, strength and flexibility. These changes will give you more energy, and make you feel less stressed and more able to cope with life. This is because our bodies are not evolved for slow, inactive lives: we are beings that move, explore and seek out challenges.
Some forms of exercise can help release pent-up feelings. Exercise can be a great way of triggering a relaxation response. The stress response evolved to help us survive emergencies: to fight danger or run from it. But in modern life we rarely have to do either of these things (you can’t run away from an overdraft or a heavy workload). So the effects of stress can build up, and by getting active we can unblock mental and muscular tension so we have more energy and better sleep. And energy and sleep are both very important to our resilience.
If being active can have such a wonderful effect on how we feel, both physically and mentally, why are we not all doing it? Why do some people seem to spend half their lives at the gym, while others struggle to find time to go for a walk? The two reasons that you might find regular exercising a struggle are lack of time and lack of motivation.
Some people manage to stay fit and active not necessarily because they lead lives of leisure but because they know how to exercise and they are confident about the results of exercise. This knowledge encourages them to work out ways of fitting exercise or being active into their everyday lives.
So the journey to being habitually active (rather than inertia and habitual stagnation) begins with a few small steps. This journey can all be triggered by thinking about what it would feel like to move with more grace and less effort
Aim to do at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Don’t panic about the prospect of trying to fit more into your life or exposing yourself at a gym full of people who look like super-models! The trick with exercise is to keep it simple.
Obviously some people will naturally have more active lives than others, depending on the type of job you do or whether you have small children. But, generally speaking, the more active you are, the better.
Here are three golden rules:
- Think about when you might fit being active into your everyday life. Be creative. Once you start to consider all the small steps you can take (like the stairs!) to get active, you’ll find there’s a whole range of possibilities.
- Set specific goals, like walking or cycling to work on certain days of the week. This will give you more of a sense of achievement than vague goals such as ‘getting more active’. You can also then start to build your level of activity at your own pace.
- Find a form of exercise that works for you and that you are likely to enjoy. If you don’t like running, don’t run. If you like dancing, go dancing instead. Forcing yourself to do something you don’t enjoy will only add to your stress.
The aim is simply to get moving. That can cover an enormous range of activities and it can be broken down into manageable amounts of time. Here are a few ideas to help get you started:
Walking to and from work will mean that you start and end your day feeling more energised. Obviously this won’t be possible for people who work too far from home to walk but if you use public transport you could get off a couple of stops early and walk the rest of the way.
- Pedometers are very inexpensive. A pedometer can tell you how many steps you’ve taken in a day. Start by aiming at 1000. Easy. Then 2000, 3000, 4000. More!
- If you work inside, make sure you get out at lunchtime. This will help you get stressful events into perspective. And going for a walk will count as part of your exercise for the day.
- Taking stairs instead of the lift or escalator all adds up. Consider how you might include more movement in your journey to work. Get off the bus or tube one stop sooner. At the very least, that extra stroll might help to break up a boring journey.
- If you have children, get out and play some games together, or get a friend to come with you for a walk in the park.
- Any kind of activity that gets your heart rate up and gets you slightly out of breath counts as exercise. So cleaning the car and doing the housework will all help, providing you do these tasks with briskness and enthusiasm. Just think of them as a chance to get moving.
- Even if feels a bit of a struggle to begin with, as you get more used to using your body, and as you get fitter, exercise will start to feel good.
- The next stage arrives when you start to miss exercising.