With all the choices out there today and mixed messages on what is the absolute best type of exercise, it can be daunting deciding which exercise will win your heart and give you the best bang for your buck – financially and with regard to fitness outcomes.
My advice to all my patients is to find something you enjoy. Don’t commit to just one type of exercise and then decide that there’s no point if it fails. Most exercise facilities offer a trial special. Use this as an opportunity to experiment and work out what you do and don’t like. Exercise comes in many forms. If you find something you enjoy, you will keep doing it – and that is the secret.
If I could get something printed to save me having to write it on every management plan, it would be: WALK! Just walk. It’s that simple. This is the best place to start if you are out of shape. Walking helps to gradually increase your fitness, is easily accessible and costs you nothing. Even in the warmer summer months or colder winter months, you can head to a shopping centre and walk around there. It’s free, as long as you don’t let your eye wander to the shop fronts! If walking is difficult, try a lower weight-bearing activity such as swimming or recumbent cycling.
The World Health Organization recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise per week.1 Keep in mind that this is the minimum. For moderate intensity, this is only 30 minutes, five days a week – and this can also be broken down into smaller chunks, such as two 15-minute brisk walks per day. Moderate and high intensity exercise varies per person. An easy way to assess this on the go is by using the ‘talk test’. If you can talk but not sing, you are doing moderate exercise. If you are not able sing or talk easily, you are doing vigorous activity.
Another trick is to mark out a particular time for exercise, sign up for a class, or even rope in a friend or family member so there is more motivation to stick to your exercise plan. In research done with sedentary young woman, going to just one pilates session a week had beneficial effects over 10 weeks, compared to a control group that did no exercise.2 This was just one session a week – so don’t put pressure on yourself to be the ultimate athlete. Start small and work your way up, such as walking a few times a week and then adding in one pilates session when you’re ready. Mix it up and keep it interesting.
Exercise options and who might benefit
This is for everyone. It’s particularly useful if you want to get the family involved, are time poor or don’t want to sign up for an expensive gym contract.
This exercise is great for those who carry some extra weight, have joint-related pain or are elderly and slightly more frail. It provides good resistance and, if done at a constant pace, will provide good cardiovascular exercise. There is also a variety of strokes to choose from to suit your body’s capabilities. There are many community and heated pools around that are free or reasonably priced.
This is another one that the whole family can do, or you can even join a cycling club. Having a social element linked to your exercise can make it easier to commit and more enjoyable.
An excellent exercise for older adults, tai chi is great for joint mobility, core activation and balance, all of which are important for health and safety as one gets older. It is also a very meditative form of exercise for anyone wanting to experience their body and escape from their head. However, if you’re looking for a significant cardiovascular workout, this may not be the choice for you.
For anyone considering pilates, be it floor or reformer, I would recommend a one-on-one assessment with your instructor before you start group sessions and to stick to smaller groups if possible. This is a fantastic form of exercise for core and overall body strength and conditioning, but you can easily injure yourself if you jump straight in without the fundamentals.
Yoga is great for strength, flexibility and body awareness. However, be aware that there are many different forms, from the gentler slower kind such as Hatha yoga, which is better for beginners as it gives them time to learn poses slowly, to Ashtanga yoga, which is faster and more vigorous in its flow. There are also forms such as chair yoga for older adults, which makes it more accessible to those who cannot achieve some of the poses due to physical limitations. Community and aged care centres can often provide information on these classes.
This usually involves weight training and cardiovascular exercise equipment, and can be modified for all ages and physical capabilities. If you haven’t been to a gym in a while or are just starting out, invest in a personal trainer for a few sessions to make sure you start at the appropriate level and know how to use the equipment correctly. If you have a particular medical issue, such as recovering from cardiac surgery, it would be best to find a trainer who has experience with rehabilitation in this field.
Find something you enjoy, do it for yourself and lay down a game plan in advance to make access and adherence to your exercise plan easy.
1. World Health Organization. Physical Activity and Adults. www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/ accessed 14 November 2018
2. Tolnaia N, Szabo Z, Koteles F, Szabo A. Physical and psychological benefits of once-a-week Pilates exercises in young sedentary women: A 10-week longitudinal study. Physiology and Behaviour September 2016, Volume 163, pp211-218