Dr Andrea Fitzgerald
Happy new year! I hope that, after the inevitable excesses of Christmas, your new year’s resolutions include some plans to optimise your health and fitness this year. Research has consistently shown that physical fitness is vitally important to health. Indeed, it may be healthier to be overweight and fit than a normal weight and unfit (though, of course, being a normal weight and fit should be our aim).
Sport and fitness comes into the spotlight even more this year as the 2012 Olympics approach this summer. Seeing top athletes compete can inspire us to train harder in their chosen sport, or to take up a new sport. We are not all made to be elite sportsmen and women, but the vast majority of us have the means to be more active and thus improve our health.
For many, the most daunting part of starting a fitness programme is knowing where and how to begin. Here are some pointers:
1. Talk to your GP
If you have any health worries, are on any medication, are pregnant, are significantly over or underweight, have not exercised in a long time, have limited mobility, or have not had a health-check in over a year you should contact your GP before embarking on a fitness programme.
2. Set attainable goals
There is no point planning to run a marathon in two months if the last time you ran was to catch a bus in 1985. At best you will become disillusioned well before reaching your goal. At worst you could injure yourself.
3. Fit exercise into your day
Studies suggest that great health benefits can be achieved by doing 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, in blocks of at least 10 minutes. You are exercising ‘moderately’ if you can talk but not sing during an activity. Exercise doesn’t have to be taken as part of a formal routine. Think of ways that you can increase your activity levels throughout your normal day. For example, take the stairs rather than the lift at work, walk your children to school, give the dog an extra walk each day, park in the furthest part of the supermarket car-park, go fly a kite or do the vacuuming!
4. Choose an activity you enjoy
Have a think about what activities you might enjoy, perhaps a sport you were good at when you were younger, or something you’ve always wanted to try. Are you an outdoors person or does the thought of being caught in a downpour fill you with dread? Do you relish the thought of some alone time while you exercise, or would you enjoy the social aspect of an exercise class? How much time do you have to exercise? What facilities are available nearby?
5. Don’t give up!
We all know someone who has all the best sports gear which has rarely, if ever, seen the light of day. Most of us embark on a fitness regime with the best of intentions, but for one reason or another give up. There will be many times when our motivation wanes, but being able to keep up our efforts through these times is very important. Keeping a fitness diary or exercising with a friend can help — as can setting goals, and seeing how much you have improved. If you think boredom may be a factor, try a new activity or a change of scenery. It’s always easier to get off the couch to do something you really enjoy!