We all know that exercise is good for us. There are many health measures which are shown to improve with exercise – mental health, cardiovascular health and through to pain management, the list goes on. The gains from exercise are not short term. They are gains which accumulate over months, years and decades. So how do we safely incorporate exercise into our long term lifestyle and experience these gains.
Here’s my 5 tips on staying in the game:
1. It has to be fun – no really it does. The best way to keep involved is to experience the enjoyment. Sometimes this comes as we get fitter but often the social aspect of playing or participating with family and friends is the most motivating factor. I recently took part in the xrace with my 8-year-old son and we had a blast. It was a one off event a bit like an amazing race but the thrill was doing it with him. Luckily these days there are lots of options, lots of different activities and sports that you can explore. Be brave and ask a friend along too.
2. Working at the right level is important. If you haven’t run before then don’t set yourself a target of running a ½ marathon. Instead look at realistic goals which might instead be working toward a 5 or 10 km run. It will be incredibly frustrating breaking down with pain and injury if you are too keen. Remind yourself that it’s a long game. When I am helping someone get back to running (you can substitute any activity in here) we often concentrate on time rather than distance and instead of running all the time I lower the loads by getting a mix of walking and running. We build the total running and then play with the intensity.
Understanding the quality of your movement is also important. If you move poorly or weakly (like your knees buckle in when you squat) then you are more likely to have irritations as you start to increase loads. Some early advice on how to improve your movement can make a massive difference.
3. There is a lot of evidence about ideal training. The recommendations are that you can be active for as long as you want at low intensity levels eg exercising at a pace where you can still hold a conversation (doesn’t work if you are scuba diving but you get the idea of intensity); and for high intensity training where you are really pushing yourself to the max, the duration should be a maximum of 20 minutes. The rationale for this is that after 20 minutes your body, being under stress, releases stress hormones like cortisol. Long exposure to high levels of these stress hormones is not good for your general health. This is training remember, if you are competing you can push yourself as hard as you like. So if you are going for an hour long runs and coming home absolutely shattered you could be doing more harm than good over time.
4. I think preparation is more important than warm up. Warm up is helpful but specific sessions prior to play will be better. A good example is a runner. A weekend race will generally go better if they have done training previously rather than turning up underprepared and have a good long warm up. An injury prevention programme called ‘FIFA 11+’ has been shown to reduce football injures by up to 50%, after 8-10 weeks of 2 times per week (a modified version is used in warm up for play). The interesting thing about this programme is there is no stretching and the movements are all very functional. What I mean by this most of the movements are similar to the movements I would do if I played football. The underlying message is if you want to be resilient playing netball, do netball type activities, specific for your position. I would recommend if you are a netballer to have a look at FIF 11+ because current advice from our Sports Medicine doctors is this programme is the best out there and should be adopted until better programmes are developed for other sports.
5. Rest. That’s right take time out. Effective exercising also requires rest. Sometimes the only difference between professional athletes and competitive athletes is the professionals get more down time – longer recovery. Our lives are really busy and we are now connected all the time. Our minds are congested. One the benefit of exercise for me (I run and play football mostly) is I have an opportunity to think. But I also work hard to have times when I switch off, disconnect, relax and breathe. It doesn’t have to be long but the daily mental reset I think is all part of a long term healthy lifestyle.
So there we have it. Who’s up for a jog.