Fit to be Happy
This month in our 12 Months of Wellness series, we're focusing on fitness. It's easy to move more. Make fitness a priority, set measurable goals, and try strength training.
We’re well into the best year of our lives following the first two of our 12 Months of Wellness. January started us off on the road to good nutrition, and February reconnected us with our families and friends. This month we focus on fitness.
Health benefits of being physical
Although you’ve probably heard it all before, we’ll run it by you again: there are huge health benefits associated with staying fit and active. What kinds of benefits, you ask?
While losing weight requires a focus on good nutrition too, exercise can certainly help prevent excess weight gain or help maintain weight loss. This is because physical activity burns calories—the more vigorous the activity, the more calories are burned.
Not only does physical activity control weight, but it also increases HDL (good) cholesterol while decreasing unhealthy triglycerides to help our blood flow smoothly—key to good heart health. Regular exercise can also help prevent other serious health issues, including stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, arthritis, and depression.
What makes a perfectly sane person don cold-weather gear to walk or run on a frosty cold winter day? Ask them how they feel when they’re finished and they’ll likely tell you they feel much better than when they started. Physical activity is known to stimulate chemicals in the brain that control mood and reduce anxiety. Researchers are also finding positive results from studies involving people with depression who follow a regular exercise regimen.
Though most of us feel drained at the end of a long day at work, and though it may seem counterintuitive, getting active is one of the best ways to increase our energy levels. Researchers have confirmed this. In a University of Georgia study, inactive participants who complained of fatigue increased their energy by 20 percent and decreased fatigue by as much as 65 percent when participating in regular, low-intensity exercise.
Having trouble sleeping? You could count sheep. But it would be much more effective to run after them. Since poor sleep quality has implications for serious health problems, getting a good night’s sleep is important. Regular aerobic exercise helps to improve the quality of our sleep, according to many studies.
Not only does regular exercise help improve our energy levels and our physical appearance, but it can also have an effect on our ability to enjoy sex. According to recent studies, regular exercise can help enhance arousal for women, while men who have experienced erectile dysfunction have fewer problems when they exercise regularly.
Did you know?
We’ve known about the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle for centuries—an occupational physician named Bernardino Ramazzini, the father of ergonomics, pointed this out way back in the 17th century.
Although Ramazzini could not have envisioned 21st-century lifestyles with long commutes in cars, followed by hours in front of screens, he did recognize that sitting on our duffs all day could be bad for our health.
Talk to us online!
While you’re at it, tell us how your 12 Months of Wellness journey is going by dropping us a line via Facebook comments, posting comments on our alive.com blogs, or by using the Twitter hashtag #2013alive! And download March’s goal sheet to track your progress.
Week 1: March 3 to 9 - On the move
No matter who we are, what we do, or where we live, our first move toward achieving fitness health should be to get moving. We all know the consequences of a sedentary lifestyle: poor metabolism leading to extra weight, loss of bone health, and negative effects on vascular as well as mental health.
The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. In addition, we should add muscle- and bone-strengthening activities that use major muscle groups at least two days per week.
On the go
Week 2: March 10 to 16 - Track your moves
Exercise plans only work if they keep us interested and motivated. For someone who despises the cold and wind of winter, making a plan to walk outdoors each day would be a plan to fail.
So the first step toward fitness success is to choose activities that will keep us interested and to make goals that are realistic. Someone who loves to walk and who doesn’t mind walking in the bracing wind would be making a wise choice if they included a daily walk in their plan.
A brisk walk is considered moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, so walking for at least 30 minutes, five times per week, would meet the standard for healthy fitness in the Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines. And tracking success would be easy.
Set a time
It’s difficult to set aside extra time during a busy schedule to meet our fitness goals. But setting a time that will be consistently appropriate—whether it’s before work, after dinner, or during lunch breaks—and committing to it is an important step in achieving success.
It’s like making an appointment with good health. Mark it on a calendar, then check it off when completed; this is a great affirmation and a way to track your success. In addition to scheduled activities, mark down the length of time for other activities completed that day (shovelling the latest snowfall, washing the floors, chasing the kids).
Use a pedometer
Another way to keep track is to use a pedometer. Since the pace at which we walk determines the degree of benefit we derive from it, we can help measure this with a pedometer. To achieve a brisk walking pace, count 100 steps per minute and continue that pace for the remainder of the walk.
To achieve at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise by walking, count at least 3,000 steps on a pedometer at the rate of 100 steps per minute. Increasing the intensity or adding more steps further adds to the fitness benefits.
Quick sport nutrition tips
Eat: Choose healthy carbs such as nuts, fruits, and vegetables as well as whole grains and oats; avoid processed food.
Drink: Hydrate consistently, but consume an extra cup or two of water before a workout.
Eat: During long periods of activity, fruits such as oranges and bananas provide instant energy.
Drink: Also important during long workouts, stick to water or coconut water.
Eat: Proteins and carbs are important after a workout; some good options include fish, eggs, nuts, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, and grains.
Drink: Water’s best for rehydration, but researchers also recommend low-fat chocolate milk for post-workout recovery and to restore muscle damage.
Week 3: March 17 to 23 - Maintain your muscle
Along with aerobic activity, keeping our muscles and bones engaged is an important part of staying fit. Along with our 150 minutes of aerobic activity each week, we should also engage in muscle- and bone-strengthening activities at least twice a week.
Be sure to talk to a qualified trainer about the best workout plan for your body size and level of strength before beginning a regular strength training program.
Often, when people think of strength training, they think of muscle-bound weight lifters at the gym. The reality is that anyone can maintain their muscle—and it doesn’t require a gym membership or expensive equipment.
Investing in a set of free weights (dumbbells) that are suited to your size (starting from 2 or 3 pounds for women and 5 or 10 pounds for men) is a good start. You can also add a resistance band—a portable and effective training tool that can be taken anywhere.
At the gym
Of course, if you go to the gym, you’ll have more equipment to choose from. But you can also sign up for specific classes. Some people find committing to a workout class especially helpful because of the camaraderie—and friendly competition—among other class members.
Have you washed your walls and windows lately? You might be surprised at the workout you’ll get—not to mention the satisfaction of looking at those spotless surfaces. And don’t discount the vacuuming and floor washing. They all count toward your total for the week, so remember to keep track.
Week 4: March 24 to 30 - Try something new
This is an excellent time to get started on something you’ve always wanted to try. Whether it’s an individual pursuit such as antigravity yoga (if you really like hanging upside down) or a team sport such as Granny Basketball (yes, there really is such a thing!), the possibilities are endless.
Never too old
It doesn’t matter what stage of life we’re in, it’s never too late to try something new. The important thing is to ease into it, to allow our bodies to adapt to the new challenges we’re placing on our joints and muscles. It also allows us time to develop enough skill and proficiency at the new activity to enjoy ourselves. And, of course, if we enjoy something, it’s bound to draw us back for more.
Here are some ideas to spark your imagination: