Until I was 19 exercise was not something that came naturally to me. Coming last in the 200m sports day run and repeatedly falling face first into the long jump pit in my early years wasn’t a great start. This, followed by skilfully opting for the less-active sporting positions at school i.e. stationary goal keeper (other teams did well against ours…), resulted in a disinterest in exercise, verging on a loathing.
The current UK exercise guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64 years are as follows:
1. Adults should aim to be active daily. Over a week, activity should add up to at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more.
2. Alternatively, comparable benefits can be achieved through 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity spread across the week or combinations of moderate and vigorous intensity activity.
3. Adults should also undertake physical activity to improve muscle strength on at least two days a week.
4. All adults should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods.
Thanks to several life experiences over the past few years I now find it easier to achieve (and even exceed!) these guidelines and I have proven to myself that I can push myself physically harder than I ever thought possible. Now, to be clear I have not run any marathons, ultra-marathons or even half marathons for that matter. My successes have come from smaller, but just as personally significant achievements.
Achievements such as being brave enough to try out for the Ultimate Frisbee Team at university, eventually making my way up to captain of the women’s team and when I trekked for five days through the Andes despite thinking I couldn’t walk for any more than a couple of hours.
During these experiences I learnt several things which have helped me maintain my exercise quota:
1. Day to day exercise is easier for me if it serves a practical purpose. E.g. cycling or walking to an end destination whether it be work or the pub at the weekend. Whilst the gym works for some I prefer something a bit different, or at least with a big dose of fresh air thrown in.
2. You don’t have to be ‘into’ one type of exercise to successfully meet the exercise guidelines. I go from Zumba one month to climbing the next and this actually helps me maintain my level of fitness rather than doing the same thing every week.
3. I can physically do more than I ever thought possible. This realisation came when I completed three multi-day treks in South America in 2014. I managed to hike up and down mountains for five consecutive days at one point and this led to a new found confidence. I have since completed 50-mile weekend bike rides for fun which would previously have been something ‘someone else’ did.
4. You have a physical limit. I met mine at 5700m up on Chachani Mountain in Peru. It was 2am and freezing cold. We were trekking the last 300m to the summit where we were to watch the sunrise and my body couldn’t take it anymore. The altitude and the cold got the better of me and I had to be escorted back to base camp. Whilst disappointed I didn’t reach the top I knew that I had done my best and it made me appreciate what reaching your physical limit really feels like… it turns out it isn’t when your calves start aching or you’re a bit out of breath!
5. Finally - exercise makes me feel fantastic! While it might be a bit of a hard slog cycling up Ditchling Beacon or jumping around to the last few Zumba routines it’s worth it for the joyous sense of achievement. The feeling you get as you become fitter and realise you can do more and more is also brilliant.
If you are looking to increase your activity levels but are a bit lost on where to start, and fearful of how tough it might be, I would recommend starting with the small things and keep it varied. Why not occasionally walk to work or to meet friends? Perhaps take a 40-minute power walk around the nearest park at lunch time or pop on a 15 minute YouTube yoga session when you get home from work. It won’t be long until you start feeling the difference and you will want to do more and more!
1. British Heart Foundation Physical Activity Statistics 2015