Let’s get physical: Exercise A-Z
“Move it or lose it” goes the saying. But it’s important to make the right moves. Exercise can either energise or exhaust you. Heal or harm you. Awareness and expert advice enables you to increase strength, suppleness, stability and stamina without risking repercussions.
Do you sit for prolonged periods? Sitting at my computer, after 30 minutes I feel tension in my eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms, fingers, back and hips and a numb feeling in my lower limbs. If I’m not mindful, my old mates migraine and sciatica could revisit. Being sedentary for prolonged periods contributes to both physical and psychological issues. Stagnant circulation, constant compression, sustained tension and lax or imbalanced musculoskeletal strain lead to pain and problems. To curtail and counter this I close my eyes, breathe deeply, stretch and shift to a fit ball, standing desk or a kneeling position. Mini sessions of exercise refresh my body and mind. Blood rushes back, joints realign and muscles stretch.
How much do you move? Our increasingly sedentary society has screen time stealing away essential exercise. Movement is necessary to maintain and maximise our mental and physical health. Doctors are prescribing movement as medication in almost every condition as science supports its efficacy. “Exercise is the magic pill,” says Michael R Bracko, chairman of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Consumer Information Committee. “Exercise can literally cure diseases.” What differences do you notice when you exercise regularly? More motivation, energy, confidence, calm? Many of exercise’s proven benefits are hidden and long-term. Studies have shown exercise decreases the risk of coronary heart disease, type-2 diabetes, some cancers, osteoporosis, dementia, depression and anxiety.
The exercise elixir also boosts immunity. Professor Tim Noakes, of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, says, “Mild exercise can improve our immune system by increasing production of essential proteins and waking up lazy white blood cells.” Robert Pisto, personal trainer (fitsom.com.au), agrees, “When you exercise regularly it gives you an enormous sense of wellbeing; you feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night and feel more relaxed and positive. Regular exercise can have a profound impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, the list goes on… It also relieves stress, improves memory and boosts overall mood.”
By increasing happy hormones like endorphins, exercise is an antidote to depression and tension. Yoga teacher Jenny Segail (avalonyogacoop.com.au) has seen the stress-relieving effects of exercise. “It is the breath and movement duality that creates a meditative experience and keeps the student focused in the moment. It’s like taking a ‘mental breathing space’ from life’s stresses.”
What exercise enlivens you? Each activity has unique benefits. A balanced blend of the following will bring you to your personal best.
Aerobic or cardiovascular training such as running, dancing or swimming increases your rate of breathing, pulse and oxygen intake. Co-ordination, endurance, energy and strength come from regular cardio exercise. Cardio increases circulation to all tissues, feeding them nutrient-rich blood and flushing out stagnant toxins. Cardio activity also boosts brain function and volume while cleansing the lymphatic system. This not only guards against degenerative brain disorders but improves concentration, cognitive function and reflexes.
Stretching exercises such as Pilates and yoga improve flexibility, muscle recovery, concentration, circulation, organ function and posture and may ease pain. A recent Boston University School of Medicine study found that yoga has a positive effect on mood by increasing mood elevating neurotransmitters like GABA.
Resistance training or anaerobic exercise includes weights, body-weight exercises and high-intensity interval training. This improves one’s strength, muscles and bones.
Stability or balancing exercises such as gymnastics, yoga and tai chi assist balance, flexibility, cognitive function and strength. They also improve co-ordination, preventing injury while optimising posture and performance.
Easy does it
Once motivated to move, you can’t expect to go from sloth to superhero in a few sessions. Many fitness enthusiasts end up trading their gym membership for rehabilitation due to improper exercise. Start low and go slow to reduce risk of irreversible injury. Pisto advises, “The time of day to exercise is purely up to the individual. I believe 45 active minutes on a regular basis (three or more times per week) is great goal to set.”
Being impatient and pushy with yourself can lead to problems and aversion to exercise. Yoga teacher Eileen Hall (yogamoves.com.au) says, “Stay present. Stay in the now. Most injuries occur when the mind and body are not connecting.” Segail emphasises stability to prevent injury: “Keep stable during yoga. Even though you might not have the flexibility to do the pose properly, if you’re stable, you won’t hurt yourself. Wobbling around on the mat is a recipe for disaster.”
The old “no pain, no gain” axiom is redundant. Pain doesn’t mean progress, but rather a message to modify your movement. Pisto echoes these ideas: “The best way to avoid injury is to listen to your body — you know it best. Warm up correctly and try to exercise at least with a buddy if not at a gym or class to increase accountability.” Tai Chi Australia agrees. “As with any exercise, warming up is important. Take the time to understand the instructions so you can perform correctly. If you have an injury, make sure your instructor is aware so that movements can be suitably modified.” As you gradually gain more strength, skill and stamina you’ll be able to amp up your activity.
To avoid passing out, burnout or injury consider the following precautions.
- Get a medical check-up before embarking on a new exercise regime, especially if you have health issues.
- Optimise exercise and minimise injury through gait analysis and correction with a chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist.
- Don’t do general exercise when unwell or injured.
- Strap, tape or brace areas if appropriate.
- Ask your instructor’s advice regarding preparation. For example, with yoga you’re advised not to eat for at least an hour prior to practice, but aerobic exercise requires ready calories for stamina.
- Ensure sufficient hydration.
- Get appropriate gear, including equipment and shoes if applicable.
- Focus on your form.
- Always warm up by gently moving to increase circulation and lubrication,thereby reducing the risk of strains and sprains.
- Always cool down after exercise to integrate changes, restore normal blood circulation and breathing patterns and reduce muscle soreness. Magnesium and an alkaline diet reduce post-workout pain.
- Don’t compete with others, just be the best you. Hall says the biggest mistake people make with exercise is “aiming for that perfect ideal body. Body perfection is driven by pride, constantly comparing oneself to others.”
- Ease up or stop if you’re feeling breathless, dizzy, nauseous or in pain.
- Vary your exercise to include a mix of aerobic activity, strength training, stretching and stability work. This will minimise overuse injuries.
- To stay safe, ideally exercise with a friend in well-lit areas and wear high-visibility clothing if near traffic.
Ready, set, go!
Ready to move towards a healthier, happier you? Measure your progress, maintain your motivation and meet your goals with a little positive preparation. An initial assessment of your capabilities will help you and/or your trainer devise the ideal individualised program. Data such as photos, pulse rate, strength, flexibility, waist measurement and body mass index can track your success. Invest in a smartwatch or fitness app to monitor your heart rate, distance and calories burned. What is your aim and when would you like to attain it? Writing goals down and repeating them daily while visualising them will turn dreams to reality. Log your progress to stay positive and review your aims. Commit to the exercise by paying up front, scheduling ahead and enlisting an exercise buddy. Hall says it’s ideal to do yoga first thing in the morning if possible, even “if you have to wake an hour earlier do it. I wake at 2.30am to meditate. Breathing exercise followed by two hours posture practice to be 100 per cent present for my students at 6am.”
Have all your equipment set up the night before a session. If you’re really busy incorporate exercise into your existing routine, such as taking stairs rather than the lift, cycling to work, swimming in your lunch hour or taking calls on a treadmill or exercise bike. If you find you’re not enjoying exercise, try another activity, trainer or tools such as music and instructional videos. Hall sees yoga as a joyful journey to mind, body and spirit harmony. “Approach your practice with an attitude of finding peace of mind, get lost in the joy of practice. Celebrate the fun of fitness.”
Reward yourself for persevering with exercise with a massage or pampering session. Remind yourself how good you felt after exercise in terms of energy and accomplishment. Sydney-based exercise physiologist Bill Sukala says, “If you can begin to associate being active with pleasure and how good you feel as a result of it, you’ll be more inclined to stick to your exercise routine.” Incorporate good nutrition and supportive supplements to help your new healthy habits.
An activity A–Z
With endless exercise options, what would be practical, enjoyable and empowering for you? Whether you’re young or old, able or disabled, there will be an activity to enhance your life. If you’re a beginner or have special needs it’s ideal to have a teacher to guide you through a personalised program. Ponder your next physical pursuit from this activity A–Z.
Acrobatics, gymnastics and callisthenics
The awe-inspiring performers of Cirque du Soleil and Olympic gymnasts exhibit humanity’s boundless potential. For greater confidence, flexibility, strength and stability, acrobatics, gymnastics and callisthenics are amazing. The focus and problem-solving required also develop cognitive function.
Get on your 70s headband because any aerobic workout will stimulate sweat. Remember, sweat is fat crying, circulation streaming, lymphatics cleansing and heart fortifying. If you find it hard to sweat then wear an extra layer of clothing.
Plié your way to a balletic body that’s strong, supple, svelte and stable. Ballet-inspired classes like Pure Barre and Bar Method are a low-impact option for perfect posture, flexibility and core strength.
Basketball, netball and volleyball
Get a good cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and co-ordination boost with ball sports. Teamwork also increases interpersonal skills and the drive to succeed.
Toned muscular legs are the reward for regular cycling. Cycling increases endurance and heart health, plus your social circle if you join a club.
Chiropractor Dr Kelli Rickard highlights the physical perks of board sports. “They offer the perfect balance to offset stressful sedentary work life, improving cardiovascular function, core stability, balance, flexibility, co-ordination and upper-body strength.”
Pump up “Eye of the Tiger” and smash stress to smithereens with a jab, upper cut and hook. Boxing involves fancy footwork, speed, core strength and agility. Classes can include mixed martial arts (MMA) style kicking sequences. Warm up with skipping and punch your way to increased endurance, power and hand–eye co-ordination. Buy your own punching bag, stand, gloves and skipping rope to emulate Rocky at home.
Qigong and tai chi
Both qigong and tai chi are especially appropriate for elderly and those recuperating. Qigong is a gentle way to increase qi and calm the mind. Tai Chi Australia (taichiaustralia.com.au) says, “The slow flowing movements of tai chi develop and strengthen all parts of the body, improving muscle tone and power, flexibility, balance, co-ordination and concentration. The mind becomes tranquil by focusing on the co-ordination of movements and breathing, promoting relaxation and relieving stress.”
If you’re a tad ADD with exercise, then circuit training will keep you engaged as you cycle through diverse cardio, stretching and strengthening exercises without rest. It’s a very time-efficient way to work your whole body, burn fat, build muscle and fuel fitness.
This high-intensity power fitness workout is perfect for professional athletes and fitness enthusiasts who prefer challenging strength training. The one-hour class includes warm-up, strength or skill, workout of the day and cool-down. It can incur injuries if not practised under expert supervision. The functional exercises of CrossFit may be an effective workout for losing weight and building strength, agility, flexibility and aerobic fitness.
Many gyms are offering dance-based exercises. Fitness First offers Zumba, “an exhilarating, easy-to-follow, Latin-inspired dance and fitness workout, suitable for all levels,” along with Bodyjam, “an addictive fusion of the latest dance styles and hottest new sounds with the emphasis as much on having fun as on breaking a sweat.” Dance is a wonderful way to connect with others, express emotions, release stress, increase co-ordination and tone and improve cardiovascular health.
Mark Twain said, “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” Nevertheless, this sometimes frustrating sport has many avid devotees. Exploring healing green golf courses with good company is mental therapy in itself. Golfers can gain greater heart health, improved sleep and better brains and lose weight. A study by the Karolinska Institute found that golfers have a 40 per cent lower death rate, or a five-year increase in life expectancy.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) comprises short bursts of intense exercise followed by a brief rest to increase oxygenation, boost metabolism, balance blood sugar and maximise caloric output in minimal time. It can include sprinting, cycling or other body-weight exercises.
Hiking and walking
This free and easy activity is back in fashion. Whether you’re strolling the streets or trekking up a hill walking, you’re burning calories, conditioning your cardiovascular system and clearing your mind. A 2011 study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that elderly subjects who walked for 40 minutes three times weekly for a year experienced a 2 per cent average increase in their hippocampus, the brain area ruling memory and emotion. A 2013 study in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, showed daily runners and walkers lowered their blood pressure by at least 4.2 per cent and their risk of heart disease by at least 4.5 per cent.
Equestrian activities are a fun way to strengthen the core, legs and arms. Balance, concentration and a connection with the horse and the environment are essential to stay in the saddle.
Master kung fu instructor Scott Smith (dragontaokungfu.com.au) says, “Martial arts gives one greater health, fitness, confidence, ability to defend oneself, a calm mind and life-saving skills.”
Pilates is a very safe way to align the body, stabilise the spine and find perfect posture. Instructor Jenia Goulter explains, “Pilates works from inside out. You visualise the deepest muscles rippling through to the superficial layers. You learn to listen to your body and talk to it confidently.”
Regular rebounding enhances health on so many levels it’s like taking a daily multivitamin. Studies support that this weightless workout improves circulation, lymphatics, heart health, weight loss, balance, core strength, bone strength, stress and organ health. Rebounding recruit Anthony Robbins bounces every day saying, “Rebounding strengthens every organ in the body.”
Climbing enlists every muscle and complete concentration. A review in the Journal of Human Kinetics in 2011 reported that “elite rock climbers often have lower body mass indexes, lower body fat percentages and increased handgrip strength.” Climbing hones strength, strategising, flexibility, courage and confidence. The rewarding view from the top gives one a taste for achieving goals.
Get out of the stands and on to the field for a great mind–body reboot. Providing they’re practised safely, soccer and rugby are fun ways to increase aerobic capacity, cardiovascular health, strength, flexibility, endurance, co-ordination, concentration and teamwork.
Water washes away your worries. Swimming is a soothing low-impact, gravity-free exercise that can help asthma, cardiovascular fitness, tone and strength. Butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke, sidestroke or freestyle all work the major muscle groups and enhance endurance.
Bjorn Borg called tennis “a thousand little sprints”. The short bursts of activity burn calories on court and give a great overall workout. Tennis also improves mood, according to a study done at Southern Connecticut State University. Tennis players had higher energy, optimism and self-esteem and lower depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension than other athletes or non-athletes.
TRX suspension training
This Navy SEALs regime enlists straps and one’s body weight. It promotes a strong athletic body and increases lean muscle mass. Pull-ups strengthen the upper body and core while stretching the spine.
Lifting weights has become increasingly popular for optimising body composition, forging strength and stability. Proper form is essential to avoid injury.
Yoga is a workout and a work-in. This holistic mind, body, spirit activity connects one to empowering energies with the ultimate aim of enlightenment. Of the eight limbs of yoga the asanas are the physical poses bestowing endless benefits.
Not in the mood to move? Try slipping on some active wear, getting some props or equipment and taking a sports supplement. Whether your aim is to get healthier, feel happier, trim down, bulk up or tone, there are handy tools to help. Focus on fat loss and muscle gain with prebiotics, probiotics, digestive enzymes, plant protein and slimming supplements. Supplements to enhance weight loss and increase energy include garcinia cambogia, raspberry ketones, carnitine, green tea, green coffee, N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC), alpha-lipoic acid, chromium, DL-phenylalanine and L-glutamine. Prebiotics are filling fibres that feed probiotics, providing satiation, healthy gut flora and fat loss. Protein powder satiates appetite, curbs cravings, hastens recovery and builds muscle mass. Extra branched-chain amino acids support muscular endurance, increased blood flow and enhanced nutrient delivery for an easier workout. Herbs such as ginseng, ashwagandha and Tribulus can give an energy edge.