Exercise. Some of us thrive when we hear that word. Some of us cringe. It’s not strange that some of us are scared of it, because it’s often got associated with visions of really intense and tough experiences, with people sweating heavily, struggling and grimacing. But it doesn’t need to be like that. In fact, I’d like to talk about movement rather than exercise, because that’s what our bodies are actually wired for.
By Darren Cash, PREKURE Certified Health Coach
We all know that exercise is good for us, right? It helps reduce blood pressure. It helps reduce visceral fat. It helps increase insulin sensitivity, and decrease insulin and glucose levels. You’ve got a lot of glycogen stored in your muscle cells, and when you exercise, you help release that, which helps lower your blood sugar levels.
I tend to think of movement in different layers. Slow, steady movement in the bottom layer, strength work in the middle layer, and a bit of speed and sprint work at the very top.
Exercise increases your HDL and decreases your triglycerides. It’s also great for supporting your immunity function, as long as you don’t overdo things.
I tend to think of movement in different layers. A pyramid is a good example. Slow, steady movement in the bottom layer, strength work in the middle layer, and a bit of speed and sprint work at the very top.
Slow, steady movement
So at the base, when I say slow, what does that mean? Well, at the very elementary level, it’s about movement. It’s about walking during the day. It’s about getting off your butt, and telling your body that it’s actually not in hibernation. It sends a cascade of hormones through your body to say, “Hey, I’m ready to do stuff.”
A classic measure is thinking about how many steps you take in a day. So whether it’s, say, 6,000 to 10,000 steps, whatever your target may be, try to find ways every day to integrate movement into your day.
Building a little bit of movement in every day goes a long way.
I had a client recently who’ve had some good success with this. He parks his car at the very top level of a parking building and has to walk eight stories down every day. And then, at the end of the day, go all the way back up again.
It’s just making those little changes during the day, that can help integrate movement. It’s about going for a walk at lunchtime. It’s perhaps, if you catch the bus, hopping off a stop or two early. Building a little bit of movement in every day goes a long way.
And then, the next step is just steady aerobic exercise. Now, this is at a level that is not actually very intense. It should be at a level that you can talk to people. So it’s great for going out for a walk, a bike ride or kayak with friends.
Another part to think about is flexibility. Every week, I try to fit in one yoga practice. That’s probably not enough. But it’s trying to find things like that, whether it’s yoga, Tai Chi, rolling on a foam roller, or Pilates. Just helping your connective tissue support your body, and support you get stronger as well. Which leads me on to the next layer.
When I say strength, you may think of bodybuilders, lifting a whole lot of heavy weights. It doesn’t need to be like that. In fact, at the basic level, it’s just moving your body weight – doing simple body weight exercises like a plank, pull-ups, push-ups or squats. And for each of those, there is a level that’s right for you.
For example, the push-up is often feared. But if you can’t do a full standard push-up, then you can just start on your knees. And if you can’t do your knees, you can also do them standing up. Stand up and lean into the door frame, and just push up against the doorframe. That’s the simplest level. And just gradually build up. A squat could be something like holding onto the kitchen bench, and just lowering yourself down and up a couple of times, while you’re waiting for the jug to boil.
Try to find ways that you can integrate strength work into your week, and take a different approach to what you think strength work is.
There’s other stuff you can do as well, like a TRX, or a suspension trainer, or kettlebells. They’re great, because you can basically do those sorts of things anywhere. But at the very basic level, just think about moving your body weight, just two or three times a week.
It’s important to find the level that’s right for you.
Continuing with our pyramid metaphor, at the very top there’s sprinting and explosive work. Try this once you’ve got the base levels right. This is something you could do perhaps once a week or once every 10 days. It’s brief and intense. It could be a sprint – say, five or six sprints after a warm up, followed by a warm down. That’s all you need to do. It gives you a great burst of hormones to help your body repair and get stronger, without overdoing it. If you haven’t sprinted for a while, don’t get out there and go charging up a hill. It’s important to find the level that’s right for you. It could be walking, and just adding a little jog. Or going for a swim, and doing half a length really quick. Or it could be on a spin bike, just sitting there on a steady pace and then do a few quick bursts.
Putting all these layers together – that’s how humans have evolved over time, and it’s what will support you in the best way.
Darren’s tip to get started
Here’s an easy tip – get an A4 piece of paper, and write columns across the top with the days of the week. Then have a think about how you can get some movement in each day. How can I get some steady, aerobic activity in this week? What would strength training look like for me this week? Could I do a couple of push-ups? Write down time slots during the week when you could do some push-ups and squats, go for a walk or a swim.
This will help you come up with a really simple plan that you can use to get some form of structure in your week.
All we need to think about, really, is being 1% better than yesterday. Because if you keep on getting 1% better, you’ll gradually improve.
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