If you are suffering from any condition that may affect your ability to safely exercise, do seek the advice of your GP before attempting any of the advice discussed. As always, what is written here is no substitute for individual medical, fitness or lifestyle advice.
Please do take a look at Part 1, The benefits of movement & Part 2, The potential pitfalls of over-exercise of this series before reading the following. It will help to give some more perspective and context.
Moving our body throughout the day, regularly getting out of breath and incorporating some strength and resistance training into our week are all fantastic ways to maintain health and prevent future disease. However, increasing this to multiple hours of strenuous exercise on a regular basis does not necessarily magnify these benefits. More is not always better.
Here are some ideas and tips that may help you to find your ‘happy medium’ of exercise intensity and frequency. Whilst I don’t purport to have all the answers (who does?! I am not a fitness professional and am still on my own fitness journey), these are some of the things that help Richard’s and my own clients:
- Have at least one complete rest day every week, but also give yourself the permission to take a longer break if you feel you need too.
- Try not to be too rigid with your training programme, and work on both emotional and mental flexibility with your plan. Remember the importance of the whole tripod of exercise, diet and rest. You need all three to be equally balanced.
- Become aware of the messages your body uses to let you know if you are pushing yourself a little too much. Listen to them and adapt what you are doing accordingly. What works best for you will be constantly changing and evolving over time.
- If you are suffering with stress or anxiety and feel overwhelmed by exercise instead of relieved, some periods of hyper-relaxation can be really helpful. Try guided meditations, breathing exercises, yoga, or other mindfulness-based activities. Even having a long, hot bath or just sitting in nature for 10 minutes can be so beneficial.
- Make time for energy-boosting situations; spend time with friends and family, watch a comedy, go to the cinema. Remember that being healthy certainly isn’t all about training and nutrition plans.
- Think outside of the box. Movement doesn’t have to mean formal exercise – walking the dogs, doing chores around the house, even going shopping (!), gardening, walking a few stops instead of sitting on the bus or tube can all contribute.
- If you sit at a desk all day, consider switching from a normal desk chair to more active sitting (there are all sorts of options available online), or a standing desk. Things like moving your bin away from arms reach, always making your coffee on another floor and moving your printer to the opposite side of the room will prompt you to stand up more frequently throughout the day – small movements which really add up over the course of a year.
- Give yourself enough time to adequately recuperate after illness or injury – your body needs rest to heal and build muscle.
- Sleep is essential – the amount required varies from person to person, but in general, you need to get enough sleep to feel generally alert and wakeful for the duration of the day
- Mix up your training to avoid over-stressing particular muscles and joints, but also to stop it getting boring or too repetitive
- Be aware that other life stressors can add to the stress of physical training. Don’t be afraid to ease off training a bit during those periods. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is just to have a week or two off.
- Eat to fuel your body properly – and that doesn’t just mean getting enough calories, carbohydrates or protein, but also making sure that you are getting all the essential micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids) too.
- Consider working with a fitness professional to help you plan an appropriately staged and periodised training programme, if you are a high performance athlete or enjoy training for a significant number of hours per week. Try using the FITT principles to guide your training plan; Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type.
- Likewise, consider working alongside a functional physiotherapist to help prevent injury as well as treat it – particularly if you are more of a ‘weekend warrior’.
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For more information:
The UK register of Exercise Professionals is a good place to start your search for a new fitness instructor to help and support you:
For more information on recommendations for exercise, do take a look at the NHS choices website:
For some simple, 10-minute workouts you can do at home:
Advice on exercising in pregnancy: