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Exercising - how you can get so much from just a little...

I have never been an enthusiastic exerciser.

No I actually think I’m understating the case, I have spent the last nearly forty years doing the absolute bare minimum.

I walk, sometimes. Dog walking, walking to the pub or strolling around town, but that’s about it really. Exercising really isn't me...

So why am I writing an article about exercise and more importantly why should you bother reading it?

What to choose

Over the last few months I have had cause to re-evaluate a number of my life choices, in fact, all of my life choices. 

This was a difficult and uncomfortable process, so difficult and uncomfortable I almost didn’t bother. One of the areas that cause me the most anxiety and discomfort was how I looked. 

I realised that there was a huge disconnect between how I mentally viewed myself - a bit on the chunky side and less fit than I should be - with the reality that was closer to; borderline obese and unable to do much more than walk.

With the above in mind, I needed to find a form of exercise that was indoors and would help me deal with my uncomfortable reality.

So, I chose the gym for three reasons:

1. Indoors

2. Lots of new and exciting equipment to play with and

3. I had been to gym’s a couple of times in the past for brief periods and even at the size I had become, I knew I would be anonymous and invisible.

That I realised something needed doing was given.

I needed to lose weight and get fitter both for self-image and to give my knackered heart a fighting chance. 

But apart from losing some weight and breathing a little easier when I did anything more vigorous than walking, what really was the point?

I enjoy reading and researching things and was curious as to the impact exercise had on our health and not just our waistlines.

How much do we need?

My starting point was: how much exercise you actually need to do per week?

The answer; one hundred and fifty minutes of moderately intense exercise per week i.e. you can just about hold a conversation but couldn’t sing a song.

That equates to thirty minutes a day, five days a week. Not an unreasonable amount and as I was going to the gym for an hour five times a week, I’d blown that out of the park already.

Okay, so we need to do one hundred and fifty minutes of exercise per week and over time I’ll become slim and sylphlike. Excellent, but what else? 

I had a look at the NHS website (National Health Service in the UK) to see what their thoughts on what exercise could do for me. 

I really had no idea it could do so much.

The overwhelming benefits of exercise

It has been medically proven that people who do the recommended one hundred fifty minutes of exercise per week can:

  • shrink the risk of heart disease and stroke by 35%
  • lower the risk of type II diabetes by 50%
  • reduce the chance of colon cancer by 50% 
  • breast cancer by 20%
  • reduce the chance of early death by 30%
  • lower the risk of osteoarthritis by 83%
  • decrease the chance of hip fracture by 68%
  • lessen the risk of falls by 30%
  • reduce depression 30% and the chance of dementia by 30%

In addition to the purely medical benefits of reducing your chances of falling victim to any of the above unpleasant and potentially life threatening conditions, getting your quota of exercise each week has numerous other advantages.

Happiness and euphoria is triggered by the secretion of endorphins which are released when you exercise.

The endorphins also act as analgesics, reducing the perception of pain, and as sedatives. Regular exercise has been proven to reduce stress, ward off anxiety and feelings of depression, boost self esteem and improve the quality of sleep. 

Growing evidence suggests that physical exercise may protect against cognitive impairment and decline as we get older. Research is showing that regular exercise really does improve creativity.

What happens if you don't exercise

More worryingly for the dedicated couch potato is research published in The Lancet that suggests inactivity is causing as many deaths as smoking.

With 5.3 million deaths a year reported it has become so bad that inactivity should be treated as a pandemic.

Additionally, inactivity could be killing twice as many people as obesity in Europe a study by the University of Cambridge suggests. Prof. Ulf Ekelund has said that eliminating inactivity in Europe would cut mortality by nearly 7.5% or 676,000 deaths.

The research and reading I have done is stark and depressing.

On one hand showing inactivity — just not moving enough — is more effective at killing you than being morbidly obese and as effective as smoking.

However, on the upside, it is possible to improve your chances of not falling foul of a number of unpleasant diseases and conditions by just moving at a moderate pace for thirty minutes a day five days a week. Easy.

The beauty of exercise, as I am reluctantly discovering, is that it needs no prescription from the doctor. It will lift your mood, make you happy and improve your creativity and productivity.

Best of all, exercise keeps you alive and healthy for far longer than being slumped in front of a box set.

What’s not to love?

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