I usually talk about how food is medicine – but it’s not the only factor in being healthy – or getting healthy for that matter. Exercise improves immune function, mental health, sleep quality, blood pressure, helps prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, depression and osteoporosis, and increases your lifespan. It’s at #5 on the list of factors causing mortality (death), behind diet at #1 and smoking at #2, but #5 is still worth giving some focus to.
As it turns out, the more the better. Even though some authorities suggest 150 minutes/week (that’s 20 mins/day), that much only reduces overall mortality rate by about 7%; if you walk for 40 mins/day (at a speed where you can talk but not sing – moderate effort), you get double the benefit – 14% reduction in mortality rate. An hour of moderate exercise will net you 24% reduction in mortality rate – that means you lower your risk of death from all causes by 1/4. And 90 mins/day is even better.
Exercise didn’t come naturally for me
I didn’t start off life as someone who liked to exercise. My father is very fit; he’s a farmer who builds fences, raises animals, fells trees. He never had much time for formal exercise programmes – he never needed them! My mother just wasn’t into exercise. An underactive thyroid and arthritis didn’t help her either. She cleaned the house, did a little light gardening and rode a horse occasionally as an adult, but formal exercise wasn’t part of her lifestyle either, and as she aged she got weaker and weaker, understandably. She never became overweight, because of a strict, disciplined diet, but she wasn’t fit either. The example of parents is very powerful for children.
I had the challenge of scoliosis which required surgery early in life so I could walk properly. The surgery didn’t work perfectly, so even though I could now get about, no amount of effort could allow me to keep up with my peers in sports. So I focused on academics instead. That is, until I found out how vital exercise was to health. At 40 I decided to start work on my fitness. I figured I couldn’t put it off forever or I’d soon suffer the consequences. I began exercising first 3, then 5 – 6 days a week with swimming, walking, cycling, stand up paddle and weight training, about 45 mins – 1hr/day.
My skiing story
I learned to ski at 45 and for the last 7 years, have spent 3 – 8 days at the snow each year. Each year at the snow showed that I was making real fitness advances during the year as I finally got off the easy front slopes after about 4 years of dogged determination to improve. My patient husband, Paul, seeing I was serious, got me specially made ski boots for my 50th, so I could actually stand straight and learn to carve. This year I managed four double blue runs easily- for the first time (that’s the level under black diamond runs, the hardest). I was so proud of myself. All my efforts with exercise and healthy eating, day in and day out, year after year have given me the opportunity to do some things I really wanted to do.
No time to exercise?
If you want to be healthy, you have to move every day. There are no shortcuts. You need to sweat every day, for at least 30 minutes. Six days a week is best.
For many years, I have been in a position with my work (I’m self employed) that I have been able to adjust my work schedule to fit my exercise programme most of the time. Now I am studying again as well as working, and must travel to the City one day a week for nine hours of face-to-face classes with 2 half hours out of classes. I leave home in the dark and return home at dark – just like many of you. I found myself wondering how I would manage my exercise programme.
Since I only have half hours off, it’s not really enough time to change into exercise gear and work out. However, if I had an hour, or was employed there and could request a one hour break in lieu of two half hours, I would join the gym in the building and do a 20 – 30 minute high intensity programme in that time. I could alternately walk or run outside, or do 15 minutes of stair climbing in the stairwell. As I have absolutely no flexibility with my classes this semester, I decided to make it my one day off exercise in the week, and walk fast for the 10 – 15 minutes it takes to get to my train and to class, both ways, which is almost 30 minutes of fast walking all up, in which I am walking too fast to talk, as well as carrying a heavy backpack.
“Exercise is only for non-busy people”
People who don’t exercise enough often make the mistake of thinking that those who do exercise regularly are lucky people who have oodles of time on their hands in which to fit exercise in. Not so. I’ve asked people who exercise regularly how they fit it in.
- Some get up very early in the morning and have joined a gym near their work.
- Some go to work very early, then leave early and head to the gym.
- Others who have two or three jobs fit it around between jobs, another said
- she cut back her working hours because she couldn’t fit exercise in.
- Of course, the ideal situation is to have a job which requires physical effort, like my dad on the farm.
But most of us don’t have that option and so, have to prioritise exercise in order to find time to fit it in.
Opportunities to exercise abound if you are willing to look for them.
Making a Plan
Plan every week what you’ll do that week – and do it! Every week by Sunday I have decided what exercise I will do each day that week. What days are for a weights programme I do at the gym, what days for cardio (for me that is normally cycling, stand up paddle or swimming) – and I’ll switch all the days around it it is really windy or very hot or raining. But I still work my way through the plan each week. I’ve heard many fit people tell me they do the exact same thing – they prioritize and plan for exercise at the start of the week, or it just won’t happen.
You can do it too. Don’t keep making excuses. There is life out there to enjoy, and you’ll enjoy it a lot more if you aren’t hampered by lack of fitness.