From high intensity X-Fit workouts to restorative breathing exercises like Tai Chi, striking the right balance is the key to being at your optimum health and making your exercise habits sustainable (and super fun). Our favourite health expert Dr Libby shares her top tips for creating the best fitness plan for your body…
If physical exercise (or movement as I like to call it) were a pill, everyone would take it! When you look at the list of benefits attributed to regular movement it would be astonishing to find anything that even came close to what movement imparts. From a decreased risk of many cancers including bowel and breast (two of the most prolific cancers for women today), to improved heart health and increased longevity – the list literally goes on. And that’s not even getting started on the positive effects it has on mood, energy, clarity of thought, even libido.
When it comes to movement, one of the most important things that people fail to understand is that everybody is different; a type of exercise that works for one person may not work for you, both from an enjoyment perspective as well as the health benefits it shares.
In order to develop a sustainable and pleasurable habit, it can be quite an adventure to do a bit of exploring and find out what serves your body and lifestyle. Far too often I see people doing exercise that they don’t enjoy, for example working themselves into the ground with a daily slog because they think that’s the only way to get their outcome.
Of course they’re doing this thinking they’re supporting their health however often this type of over-exercising can result in injury, burn-out or both. Exercise doesn’t always have to be a concerted effort, it can be done by simply becoming more aware of opportunities to strengthen your body.
There are so many different types of exercise out there to choose from and it is important to find the type that nourishes and nurtures you and your body! Exercising for general health needs to invigorate not exhaust, and what you do on a daily basis must be considered. Learn to listen to your body and adapt your movement to serve you individually and don’t take it too seriously.
To keep it simple, exercise can be categorised into three focuses:
- Stretching to improve flexibility (yoga, tai chi)
- Endurance to improve cardio fitness (jogging, running)
- Strength training (weight training)
Try to incorporate exercise that you actually enjoy. If you don’t like running don’t force it. Take a long stroll around the block or by the sea instead. Utilise your surroundings and enjoy the feeling of moving your body. Consider the expectations you place on yourself and start small if that feels good for you. You’re not going to become a marathon runner overnight but you don’t need to become one either.
When most people think about weight-bearing exercise they think of lifting weights. Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Young women and men who move regularly generally achieve greater peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) than those who do not. For most people, bone mass peaks during the third decade of life. After that time, we can begin to lose bone. Women and men older than age 20 can help prevent bone loss with regular movement. Regular movement allows us to maintain muscle strength, coordination and balance, which in turn helps prevent falls and related fractures. Lay down great bone now!
Incorporating resistance or weight training into your program is vital because it increases your strength. Schedule some today! This can also be done in your daily life by doing things such as carrying the groceries back to the car. Make a conscious effort to engage your muscles on a daily basis.
Research into the health benefits of yoga is still in its infancy but it’s no surprise to see yoga studios popping up everywhere. By stretching and toning the muscles, flexing the spine and focusing the mind inwards, yoga helps reduce stress. Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system by focusing on breath and mindfulness. It’s a wonderful form of movement and a brilliant way to support yourself in this fast-paced world. If you tend to be attracted to high-adrenalin activities then yoga is very suitable for you – although you will likely resist it! Whichever style of yoga you choose, take it slowly at first. Don’t try to force yourself into difficult poses at the beginning. After a while, you will develop more flexibility, strength and stamina. Yoga is just as beneficial for the mind as it is for the body.
When I first started working in health retreats I was an avid runner. You can imagine my absolute surprise to go from running like a mad woman to practicing tai chi and taking gentle bush walks everyday to find my clothes getting looser and looser. That was my first experience of understanding that weight loss is about far more than the energy equation (calories in versus calories out.) Tai chi is often described as “meditation in motion,” but it could just as easily be called “medication in motion.” There is growing evidence that this mind-body practice, which originated in China as a martial art, has value in treating and preventing many health problems.
In this low-impact, slow-motion exercise you go without pausing through a series of motions. As you move you breathe diaphragmatically, focusing your attention on your breath. Tai chi differs from other types of exercise in several respects. The movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent and connective tissues are not stretched. Tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the fittest to people using a wheelchair or recovering from surgery.
The core muscles of the body are the deep muscles of the back, abdomen, and pelvic floor. These are the muscles we rely on to support a strong, supple back, good posture, and efficient movement patterns. When the core is strong, the frame of the body is supported. This means the neck and shoulders can relax and the rest of the muscles and joints are free to do their jobs.
It might seem like a paradox, but the more you exercise, the more energy you have and the more you feel like doing (to a point, of course). Pilates gets the breath and circulation moving, stimulates the spine and muscles, and floods the body with good feelings. Rehabilitating from injury and injury prevention often starts with core exercises.
Regular movement, such as brisk walking, is one of the best ways to improve your health. One study showed that taking a 15-minute moderate-paced walk about 30 minutes after a meal helped control blood sugar in people who are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Walking is suitable for people of all fitness levels and physical abilities. In fact walking is a wonderful way to unwind after a big day. Arranging a weekly walking session with friends is a great way to catch up while doing something good for your body.
Nothing beats a swim – especially in the ocean. For many, not only is it a form of physical exercise it’s a form of meditation, a place to immerse yourself in something so much bigger than yourself. Swimming is also wonderful on arthritic or painful joints. Often people who experience joint pain when doing high impact movements like running and jumping take to the water, as it makes you buoyant and supports your weight, spine, joints and muscles. Water also provides resistance that’s good for your muscular endurance and for strength training, whether you suffer from problems with your joints or not. Swimming is wonderful for people of all fitness levels and physical abilities.
There are some stunning cycle tracks in most neighbourhoods – perfect for cruising and soaking up the beautiful scenes. Cycling is a wonderful form of movement especially for those with knee issues. Cycling improves general muscle function gradually, with little risk of over exercise or strain. Regular cycling strengthens leg muscles and is great for the mobility of hip and knee joints. Gradually you can begin to see an improvement in the muscle tone of your legs and thighs.
Dance is such an exhilarating and fun way to move your body. While I was studying at University I took up salsa and it changed the shape of my body. It’s wonderful for building lean muscle mass. You can dance in a group, with a partner, or on your own. There are many different places where you can enjoy dancing, for example at dance schools, community halls and in your own home. Dancing has become such a popular way to move and most gyms now offer dance classes in their group exercise programs – think Zumba. It doesn’t matter whether it is cold or raining, you can still dance! Simply choose a style you enjoy or would like to try, and join a class or hire a DVD. With the added benefit of uplifting music you can dance your way to better fitness, health and happiness in no time.
While I’ve highlighted some examples of different forms of movement, the key is to move your body regularly. Increase movement rather than looking for ways to avoid it. Aim to schedule (and do!) a minimum of three sessions of exercise a week, between 40-60 minutes per session and remember to choose the type of movement that will benefit your nervous system, allowing you to burn your fat stores effectively, particularly if you live most of your days racing around.
Combining resistance training to build and maintain muscle with restorative practices for the calming breathwork and flexibility can be a game-changer for many people, particularly if they haven’t been getting results from others forms of exercise, despite long term effort. The benefits of regular movement are truly exceptional – your mind, body and soul with thank you for it!
Dr Libby Weaver is an internationally acclaimed nutritional biochemist, author and speaker based in Sydney Australia. Her natural ability to break down even the most complex of concepts into layman’s terms has seen audiences across the world embrace her holistic approach and unique form of education. With abundant knowledge, scientific research and a true desire to help others see their own light and beauty, Dr Libby empowers and inspires people to take charge of their health and happiness.
For more insights and know-how from this wonderful holistic biochemist, visit her website where you will be treated to a heartwarming hub of information on all things women’s health, plus some truly delicious wholesome recipes. Make friends with Dr Libby Weaver on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Instagram!