A recent survey by the British Heart Foundation has revealed that approximately half of all adults, 47%, do no exercise at all. This sedentary lifestyle is described as a silent killer, massively impacting on the efficiency of businesses and the resources of the NHS (to the tune of £1.2 billion), as well as our individual health and quality of life.
Lack of exercise contributes to heart disease, diabetes, obesity as well as mood and mental health conditions like lethargy, lack of motivation, laziness and depression. It's calculated that some people spend 78 days per annum sedentary.
And yet exercise doesn't have to mean running a marathon or climbing a mountain. No one wants to experience the humiliation of turning up at a gym feeling like an inelegant blob amongst a room full of lycra-clad fitties. Exercise can be fun and really add value, friends and a breathing space to your life.
Let's look at how exercise can become an enjoyable part of life;
- At home, simple things like going upstairs to put something away, rather than waiting until a pile's accumulated at the bottom of the stairs can start the commitment to exercise and becoming more mobile. It's too easy to settle, unmoving for hours in front of the TV. Go outside as soon as you need to put something in the recycling bin, walk to speak to a family member rather than shout across several rooms; all simple ways to become a little more active.
- Another option could be to put dinner on slow-cook and go for a walk with your partner. It allows you both to talk and freely discuss your days, share your thoughts and enjoy the opportunity for a conversation, rather than hastily exchanging updates about the children or that you need more toothpaste. A regular walk could give you time to reconnect in a loving way.
- Encourage the children outside for a game of football or rounders. Maybe even invite neighbours or friends to join in. Children need breaks from studying and from their computer games. It's important for them to exercise and interact with others, be reminded that they're part of the family and have to spend time some together. Social skills, learning to de-stress and unwind as well as staying fit are all important parts of their education and life skills.
- At work, try to take regular water-cooler breaks. Get up and go for a drink. Try to get fresh air at lunchtime and include a walk around the local park. Some offices are introducing standing desks, regarding sitting as 'the new smoking'.
- Set off for work a little earlier so that you can cycle in, or disembark from the bus a stop sooner, both great ways to start the day feeling energised and alive. Many people like to beat the rush hour traffic, exercise before work and grab a quick shower. It can start the day with a buzz.
- At the gym, it can be motivational and indeed some people feel committed as soon as they've handed over their membership fee. They like the routine of regular classes or meeting up with the same people and working out together, but a gym can feeling daunting to some people.
- If a gym doesn't work for you, how about fitness classes? They're often held in community centres or village halls and frequently operate a pay-as-you-go system. They may offer yoga and pilates, dance classes like zumba or more high energy aerobics sessions. A bonus to attending regularly is that you'll see the same faces, gradually get to know people and potentially enhance your social circle. Classes can be fun, sociable and supportive, chosen to suit your needs. Definitely an added bonus.
- Joining a team sport can be a great way to exercise regularly. Knowing that others are relying on you to turn up so that they can have a game can provide motivation, responsibility, as well as close relationships to enjoy. Watch how the runners in the Marathon supported each other. They had individual dreams and positive mindsets, whilst encouraging others to achieve their goals.
If you're tentative about exercise remember that there's no need for expensive memberships or kit. Use what you have; the local park, beach or countryside, maybe arrange with family or friends to walk or play games. Even if you're on your own you can go for a walk or join a local club and exercise with other like-minded people.
Two and a half hours of exercise each week, at a level where you breathe faster, feel warm and raise your heart level is enough to make the difference to your health and wellbeing, both mentally and physically. And those times when we don't feel like exercising? Most times if we persevere we feel better afterwards. The endorphins, or feel good hormones, kick in to lift our spirits.