Health Q&A

Tips For Starting An Exercise Plan That Works For You

March 23, 2018

Starting an exercise plan

What is exercise and why do you need it? Contrary to some misconceptions, exercise is not simply a hobby practised by athletically gifted people looking to post impressive Instagram photos. Exercise is any physical activity that enhances or maintains your fitness level, overall health and wellness.

Exercise has been recognised as having both physical and mental benefits and more people are adopting regular exercise programmes as a lifestyle choice rather than as a grudge duty when they feel obligated to shed a few kilos. And the best part is that they’re having fun and feeling better about themselves in the process.

1. The benefits of regular exercise

Firstly, let’s explain why this is an absolute necessity in your life and how you can expect to reap the rewards for getting your heart rate pumping:

Physical benefits

Regular exercise strengthens your cardiovascular system, improves blood circulation, tones muscles and enhances overall flexibility.

In addition to raising your energy levels and initiating weight loss by increasing your metabolic rate, exercise also improves skin quality by producing natural antioxidants. This can delay the appearance of ageing and give you a glowing complexion!

Exercise reduces the risk of developing a number of chronic diseases like Type II Diabetes or heart disease by improving your body’s insulin sensitivity and lowering your blood pressure. As we age we tend to lose bone and muscle mass, which can lead to the development of osteoporosis or poor balance and subsequent injuries. Maintain independence in your old age by exercising regularly as this will keep you well toned and build healthy bone density.

Mental benefits

Exercise has great benefits for the mind in that it improves your mood by increasing the production of hormones like serotonin, which relieves the symptoms of depression and anxiety; and releases endorphins after a workout so it’s an instant mood enhancer. There is also evidence that exercise improves brain function, memory and thinking when oxygenated blood is pumped to the brain when your heart rate increases through physical activity.

With all the increased energy levels, it goes without saying that exercise can improve your sleep patterns and quality of sleep by ensuring that you are all petered out by the end of the day. Exercise is often prescribed for those suffering from sleep disorders like insomnia.

2. Getting started – what you need to do

Obviously, if you haven’t exercised in years it stands to reason that you can’t simply put on a pair of takkies and run a marathon. You would do yourself serious harm! Exercise is a gradual process where you master a predetermined task before graduating on to the next level.

Physical & medical check-ups

Get yourself checked out by your doctor, personal trainer or biokineticist to ascertain your fitness level or physical limitations. This is especially relevant if you’re over the age of 45 years, have sustained injuries in the past or suffer from a chronic medical condition. Based on their evaluation, they will help you tailor a fitness programme that suits your needs and abilities.

Set achievable goals

Decide upfront what it is that you want to achieve? Is it a weight loss objective, a personal goal like entering a dance competition or a need to improve a specific area of your health? Make sure that your decision has purpose as this will aid in motivating you through mindful focus and intent. You should also concentrate on achieving the short-term goals first.  This will help lead you to your long-term objective.

Commit to a schedule & stick to it!

Make sure that this is realistic. Sometimes people overcommit in a moment of misguided inspiration. If your exercise schedule is too demanding or doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle then you will just end up disappointing yourself and becoming despondent.

Choose the right activities

To ensure your enthusiasm for the task ahead make sure that you choose exercises that you enjoy. There are so many different types of activities, not all of which are traditional gym based, so you really are spoilt for choice. If you enjoy being outdoors then hiking, surfing or cycling may be the exercises for you and if you prefer something fun and social then try out a class like Zumba.

Stay safe

Remember to stay well hydrated with plenty of water, do warm-up stretches before you start exercising as well as a cool-down once you’re done. Most importantly, listen to your body. Sometimes it’s not best to simply push through the pain. If you feel that you’re in unreasonable discomfort then seek medical attention.

3. Types of exercises

It’s always advisable to try out a combination of different exercises so that you can draw from the all the unique benefits they offer. Some of the most common exercise types are:

Aerobic

Aerobic exercise, also known as cardio, is often at the core of any fitness programme. The World Health Organisation recommends that adults (age 18 – 64 years) engage in about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. And to give you an idea of what that might entail some moderate-intensity exercises include gardening, doing housework or walking the dog while vigorous exercises include running, swimming laps, cycling or dancing.

Strength

Strength or resistance training helps to improve fitness by exercising specific muscles.  This may include using weights or your own body weight with exercise routines that involve activities like squats, leg lunges or push-ups. Strength training tones your muscles and results in improved coordination, posture and balance.

Flexibility

As you get older you lose the range of motion in your hips, spine and shoulders. Stretching exercises, like pilates or yoga, will aid in strengthening your muscles and improve your flexibility.

There are many other types of exercise varieties and specialities like callisthenics, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and combination classes like boot camps. Take the time to research what is on offer and, where possible, consult with a health and fitness professional to get the best advice.

4. Starting a fitness programme

It’s important to build up a gradual endurance when starting an exercise programme. As you become more accustomed to the activities and develop a new level of fitness you can increase the intensity of your programme with additional time and complexity.

So if you decide that you want to start off with brisk walking then begin with a modest 30 minutes every second day. When you feel that you have mastered this activity you can add to the frequency and effort of your routine. The best method is to start off at a reasonable pace and escalate your programme as you progress.

Exercise is an investment into your wellbeing and has many benefits that you can enjoy thanks to your efforts and commitment. It’s also a great way to set yourself innovative challenges and enjoy a social life through shared activities. At Topmed we encourage you to lead a healthy lifestyle so get in touch with us today to find the best medical aid cover for you and your family.

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