The question I am most often asked is, “What simple things can I do to improve my health quickly.” I have given the question a great deal of thought and there are actually two things that I feel have a positive impact on overall health both of which have been quantified by medical research. The first and essential for good health is exercise the second is keeping your body well hydrated, which I will cover next time.

The University of Maryland Medical Centre states, “The combination of inactivity and eating the wrong foods is the second most common preventable cause of death in the United States (smoking is the first).” Dr Mark Tarnopolsky of McMaster University in Ontario also comments that as time goes on research paper after research paper shows that the most effective, potent way that we can improve quality of life and duration of life is exercise.  Scientific research evidence substantiates the view that indeed exercise is and will be in the future seen as the best medicine for our health.

Unfortunately, it would seem that only 20% of Americans get the recommended 150 minutes of strength and cardiovascular physical activity per week.  I am hoping that this article will motivate and encourage you to exercise because I truly believe that we cannot have the energy, health, and vitality we want without exercising our bodies regularly.  We were born to move.

Yes, we do need to “move that body”! Aerobic activity of at least thirty minutes five days a week will greatly improve the efficiency of the heart as a pump, tone the entire arterial system, reduce bad cholesterol, reduce the chance of abnormal blood clotting and help balance the activity of the autonomic nervous system. People who do not exercise regularly more than double their risk of heart disease and also many other illnesses.

Exercise boosts energy levels and makes you feel good and there are many other health benefits.  Exercise:

  • Lowers blood sugar levels and promotes insulin efficiency – fatigue is a symptom of blood sugar imbalance.
  • Helps keep bowels working efficiently to eliminate waste products your body does not need, and which can make you feel sluggish because of the toxicity building up in your body.
  • Boosts immunity which means you are less likely to get ill – there are always colds and viruses about even in the summer.
  • Burns calories and builds muscles.  The more your muscles build up the speedier your metabolism becomes.  Lean muscle is more effective at burning fuel so if you build lean muscles you burn more calories and you will lose weight if needed.
  • Encourages a good night’s sleep – there is no doubt that if you get outside and exercise then you will improve your chances of getting the sleep you need.
  • Improves your sex life – not only will you feel healthier when you exercise regularly but as you become more toned and perhaps lose a few pounds you will gain more confidence, feel less exhausted in the evening and increase your libido.
  • Boosts mood through the release of brain chemicals called endorphins.  It is true that when we exercise it has a very positive effect on our mood and the more you exercise the more benefits you will feel.
  • Relaxes the body.  Exercise is a wonderful way to relax and forget the stresses of everyday life.

Recent research also shows that exercising regularly helps memory and thinking and may protect us from Alzheimer’s disease, a major fear for many of us. Dr Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School states, “Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.  Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over a period of six months or a year, is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions.”  It has been found that exercise improves blood flow to the brain, feeding the growth of new blood vessels and even new brain cells, thanks to the protein BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor).  BDNF triggers the growth of new neurons and helps repair and protect brains cells from degeneration.

There is much conjecture about which is the most effective form of exercise.  Here in the UK, there are many advocates of high-intensity interval training or HIIT but this intense pushing of the body to its limits in short bursts is not right for everyone, especially if you have not exercised for a while.

I would recommend starting slowly and gently and if you have not exercised for a long time do check out with your doctor before you begin your new regime. The gym may be the best place to get started.  I go myself at least twice each week.  However, your body is the best piece of gym equipment you own.  Walking will give you leaner legs, a trimmer waist and if you use your arms will also improve your pectoral muscles. Many effective exercises can be performed using your own body weight, so it is not always necessary to go to a gym. Simply walking or jogging or dancing or playing with your children, all these activities will benefit your overall health.  Personally, I go jogging, which I find is a really quick way of improving my cardiovascular fitness.

What often happens when you first join a gym is that you are so enthusiastic you go nearly every day and you soon get fed up, burn yourself out and stop going altogether. Every day is really too much I suggest it is much better to plan your exercise strategy.  Three times a week at the gym with some walking or jogging on other days will have a very positive effect on your level of health and fitness and will stop you from becoming bored.  Variety is key when it comes to exercise so don’t forget to include some form of flexibility training, I would recommend Yoga or Pilates.  Most gyms have all the equipment and facilities you need to motivate you to attend but what is most important is the quality of the Gym Instructors and the help and encouragement you get when you are there which brings me to Personal Training.  If it is within your budget a Personal Trainer will really help improve your fitness because he or she will ensure that when you are at the gym you work to the best of your ability.  You will work harder than you would if you were training alone. This is just one of the advantages of having a Personal Trainer, but you do need to be discerning when choosing a trainer, the key things are:

  • What qualifications they have and how long it took them to qualify, some courses are very short indeed.
  • What experience do they have – how many years have they been training people
  • Do you feel you can relate to this person, has he or she put you at ease, is there empathy and rapport – this is essential.
  • Trust – also important you want to feel that this person will take care of you, gyms can damage your health if you don’t use the equipment correctly.

My mother used to say, “Nothing worthwhile comes easy” and it’s true of fitness it does take determination and effort, but the results are wonderful for your health and wellbeing.

When we build more physical activity into our lives it not only helps us to reduce weight, if needed, it also makes us feel happier and healthier.  Regular exercise protects your bones and helps you avoid developing osteoporosis in later life by increasing mobility in your joints and preventing aches and pains and arthritis. Here are some tips to encourage you to get started or keep going:

  1. Always put your best effort into whatever activity you are doing.  For optimum calorie burning, you should be able to feel your heart beating (not racing) and be slightly out of breath.
  2. Use your arms as much as possible, for example, swing them by your sides when walking, wave them around when dancing and try to move your whole body.
  3. For the first few minutes of any activity remember to warm up gently, this helps prevent any muscular aches the next day and also reduces the risk of straining or causing injury.  Also, stretch those muscles after you have exercised.
  4. Wear comfortable clothes, and good quality food wear whatever form of exercise you decide to do. If you are walking or cycling, wear layers so you can strip of a layer when you get warm.
  5. If you find exercise boring, try to find new ways to keep yourself active.  Think of all the things you liked to do as a child and try one or two again – it could be anything from cycling or swimming to playing tennis, roller skating, tap dancing, or salsa – just have fun!

Finally, I hope this will inspire you as it did me:

Recently a 101-year-old just became the oldest woman ever to compete in the USA Track and Field Outdoors Masters Championships.  Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins ran the 100-meter dash at the Louisiana event in 40.12 seconds, beating the current certified world record for women aged 100 and older by six seconds.  Hawkins, who started running at the age of 100, reportedly practices her sprints several times a week, the Washington Post reported. “I’m always outside and the phone always rings, and I come running in that is how I knew I could run,” Hawkins told the paper. Hawkins, who was born in Wisconsin in 1916, said she also likes to impress her family with her running skills.  I am certainly greatly impressed and inspired by Julia and I hope this will encourage you to get started on a regular exercise program soon.

Live with joy and health.

 

Elizabeth Beetham

Empowering you for a healthy life