Exercise: The Why and the How?
There are many different reasons that people exercise and there are a myriad of different reasons why people avoid exercise, so how is your relationship with the word exercise and everyday physical activity?
The Cambridge dictionary  states that exercise is "physical activity that you do to make your body strong and healthy" Now this is a simple and clear explanation of the activity, but so many of us get tied up in knots regarding how we translate that into everyday life.
Do we: Pump until it hurts, run until we wheeze and flop on the floor, are we scared of gyms, detest it, enjoy it, think we should do it, avoid it...or maybe not know where to start?
Exercise in reality is something that we have culturally separated from the movement of everyday life, as many of us have become more sedentary and less physical or body aware in our lifestyles. Although strengthening, endurance, stretching and yoga of one sort or another have been around for thousands of years, the actual cultural movement of exercise to burn fat and raise the heart rate to maintain health is a relativity new phenomenon and very much tied in with the increase of sedentary lifestyles and high calorie diets in richer countries as well as the general increase in illness and diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
The NHS  as a guide recommends for adults between 19 - 64 "at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week and strength exercises on 2 or more days a week that work all the major muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms)" This gives us a reasonable understanding of ways that we can exercise and how much to do, but what is our relationship with this? We can understand functionally that this is supportive, but how many of us actually listen to what our own body personally needs in terms of the amount and type of exercise? And why do we just not find time in our week to exercise even though we know it is good for us?
One of the reasons that fitness trackers have found a successful market is because they help measure how much physical activity we are doing in daily life, from walking up the stairs or around the office etc... and there maybe a few of us who have invested in them or had them bought for us at Christmas in the hope that this will bring more understanding of the activity we undertake everyday. They can play a part, it is fun and interesting to use apps and fitness trackers to bring awareness of our health, heart rate, sleeping habits, walking etc...And although there is a variety of advice concerning age groups there is now for most adults, a so called benchmark of activity being . "10,000 steps per day indicates the point that should be used to classify individuals as active. This makes it a good daily goal for healthy people who want a quick indicator they are getting in their daily exercise." A goal it maybe and a reasonable guide, however we all have our own requirements and fitness trackers are only part of picture and can give us a general guide but listening to our own body is always best.
With the lifestyles that many of us have it is vital that we make space to consciously be aware of how our bodies going with the activity we choose, whether it is purposeful exercise, work or leisure.
For example, I am a massage therapist and it is essential that I stretch and strengthen my body to best support the longevity, quality and delivery of my work long term. I know that if I do not pay attention to my back strength that I will encounter issues at a later date. This is something that anyone working in the building, cleaning, retail, holiday sector can also be aware of and consider. Many of us want to be more healthy and fit, we know we feel tight, tired and lethargic and we want to feel more vital, energised and flexible, and even those who are dedicated to consistent exercise of one sort or another can find themselves encountering a number of injuries and restrictions in their movement, due to an imbalance in muscle development and over use.
So how do we establish a healthy attitude to exercise and physical activity? One that supports our whole body, our function and our wellbeing?
Relationship with Your Body
Start with building a stronger relationship with your body, how do you do this? Well we carry our bodies around everyday, but we do not necessarily check in with them, we can at times let our heads over ride the messages the body shares. So throughout the day, we can take 'mini stop moments' and check in, how does our body feel?... sore, tired, like it needs a stretch?... is it cold, do I need to go to the bathroom?... maybe its done enough walking or running right now?
Listening and becoming more responsive to the cues our body shares throughout the day enables us to better support it when it comes to the type of exercise, movement, and physical activity that we are asking it to do every day.
We have a natural homeostasis - a term used to describe how the body is constantly responsive and has an in built ability to monitor what our systems require, be it our vascular, hormonal, respiratory, nervous systems etc regulating when and what is needed 24/7. We can if we choose tune into this on a daily basis to optimise our responsiveness to what is needed, whether it is a drink of water, lie down, stretch, walk, swim etc.
Make a stop moment a regular part of your self-care routine, whether it be on the hour, a reminder popping up on your phone, or when you wake or prepare for sleep.
Make it Your Own
Nowhere is it written in law that you must exercise in a certain way. There are many people giving advice, some helpful, some maybe not, we may think we are not the exercise types, or get overwhelmed by the choices and information and struggle to know how to get started. So find something simple, enjoyable and easy that supports you and your body and something achievable you can fit into your day. For example you could begin with a couple of simple back and leg stretches and walking for 10 minutes a day. You could see if you enjoy swimming, you may want to be outside and walk on beach or in a park depending on where you live. The key to adopting healthy physical activity is to make it meaningful and enjoyable for you. Someone who is a builder working all day physically will need a different way of supporting their body from someone who sits at a desk.
Experiment with what works...
Once you have chosen something give it a go, be open to learning about your body along the way. Even if you are a seasoned runner or cyclist or gym goer it is well worth looking at and reviewing exercise programs and being honest about how much it is supporting your body. This can be extended to all of our daily physical tasks in everyday life. It may be that our knees are sore and tired and require a rest, so perhaps swimming for a while would work, or we are doing a fair amount of moderate aerobic exercise but need to look at how we can strengthen and use resistance to support our body? What we think supports us now may not be right for us next year or even next week. Experimenting, observing the benefits or issues that may arise, concerning how the body feels, enables us to make more detailed decisions about what is needed at any time.
A top tip: you do not need to get out of breath to exercise well, you can maintain and develop a good level of fitness, without putting so much strain on the body that it hurts. For many of us it is the pain and the strain that puts most of us off exercise, so build up your endurance gently, progress at your own pace and enjoy what you are doing.
Whole Body Exercise
When we exercise we can often go on the cross trainer, flick on our favourite pumping tunes, games, TV programme etc and be just about as far away from our body as we could be....occupying our head with stimulation while attempting to exercise our body means we are not in the moment and not with our bodies.
To be whole body aware and exercise from this attitude is simple, costs nothing and is restorative, because it also means we allow our brain and nervous system to have a rest, enabling a reset and some space from the busyness of our lives and the often repetitive and exhausting internal conversation we have with ourselves, when we let our mind wander. Our mind as part of the whole is an essential part of health and wellbeing.
If we stay connected to our bodies we can become more posture aware, more breath aware and we can continue to refine our exercise movements to make the most out of them. We can attune ourselves to what is occurring in way of improvements and be aware of the need to refine and develop the practice. This refinement and improvement can only occur when we make space to be body aware. Being whole body aware means we start picking up on the details and nuances of the body and it prevents exercise becoming dull or boring.
Quality over Quantity
The quality of our movements are essential for our health and wellbeing. For example we offer exercise programmes at work to support our clients and often the simple pelvic tilt is something we share for clients with lower back pain. There are many ways we can approach doing this exercise - we can use force and push, we can do it gentle and considered, we can count or we can be breath and body aware. Even with the most simple exercise of walking and the example of the pelvic tilt, the more we can aware of the quality of the movement, the more we will get out of it and the less strain we will put on our bodies.
Consistency over big gestures concerning health and wellbeing, wins hands down every time. A 10 minute walk most days and a 10 minute stretch in the morning, will offer a huge support to everyday long term well being, if we are relatively (but not perfectly) consistent with it. This challenges beautifully the idea that we just do not have time, for a 1 hour gym session 3 times a week. By the way great if you do, but this does not always work, so we say "what is the point..!.", and then we often do not bother. However pretty much all of us can take 10 or 20 minutes out of our regular daily routine to gently and consistency exercise the body. And if for one reason or another you have a break, forget, become unmotivated, do not dwell on this, but instead appreciate when you do choose to exercise. This will fuel your enthusiasm, rather than provoke regret and guilt.
A top tip: You are not necessarily more healthy because you do more exercise. People can often encounter major issues with their health due to over use, exhaustion and muscle and joint imbalance if they over exercise. Consistency is without doubt the way forward but this is not about putting undue stress on the body, this is about you finding your way to support your body to be healthy.
Health is Our Foundation
The quality of our life is based on the quality of our health and often what may develop into a chronic lifestyle disease has its root in the way we have been living consistently...so what is your consistent way of moving through life? The foundational health of our body impacts on every other area of our life, whether we are walking to work, cleaning the house, doing the shopping, meeting friends for dinner, playing with our children or grandchildren etc. How we are moving and exercising now will determine how mobile and fit we are going to be in older age. Committing to simple exercise habits and developing a stronger responsive relationship with our body in every day life enables us to live well, vital and ready for the future.
You can make exercise work for you, support your body to stretch, strengthen and gently raise your heart rate, be aware of how your body feels day to day. Continue to refine and develop what is needed to support your whole body health. And do it your way.
*Be aware that this writing is a personal reflection from the author and is not meant as a replacement to conventional medicine or medical advice and as a clinic we are very much committed to being a complement to conventional medicine and advise our clients and readers to seek appropriate advice from their GP and relevant specialist as required.
Contact us to find out about how we can support you with planning regular exercise programmes to support your bodies particular needs and requirements. No matter what stage of fitness you are at or age you are there is something that can support you.
We also offer regular small group exercise classes at the clinic for developing flexibility, body awareness, balance, strength and posture.