During my stay at Hippocrates, I was surprised to be told the following:
“You can have the most purest diet imaginable, but if you don’t exercise regularly, you will STILL get sick.”
Blimey, I thought. Really?
I’m lucky. I naturally like exercise. I struggle with sitting still, as the embarrassingly-limited number of films I’ve managed to watch all the way through demonstrates. I’ve yet to watch the Great Escape. That’s how bad it is.
Apart from my first two years at uni, when I kicked back and let rip in equal measure, I have always done something active: working out at the gym, hatha yoga, Bikram yoga, squash, walking, swimming and, most recently, of course, my first love: tennis.
Right the way through school, I was in the teams for rounders, hockey, netball and tennis, and, for a short time, the swimming team (I bowed out in the end as I couldn’t swim in a straight line and was regularly disqualified for getting my arms tangled up in the lane lines.)
So, why do so many of us stop exercising once we leave school? Quite often – especially later on – “life” gets in the way. But therein lies the irony. Exercise improves and extends life. It also prevents disease.
FACT: ONLY 5% OF THE WESTERN POPULATION EXERCISES ENOUGH.
Apart from people who go mad for recreational exercise, the healthiest people on the planet tend to be tradesmen – builders, carpenters, etc. Why?
Because they are constantly weight bearing, moving their bodies and, in the course of their jobs, they are exercising aerobically. They don’t sit hunched over a desk in an air-conditioned office all day and then go home to sit in front of the TV.
Apparently, if we leave our bodies in absolute stillness for more than 5 hours, cells will start to decompose. (Don’t worry, you move about in your sleep!). But if that’s not proof that our bodies were built to move, I don’t know what is.
So look no further than the daily routine of a builder in order to identify the key types of exercise you need to be doing: aerobic, weight-bearing and resistance.
Below are 6 solid reasons to exercise. And no, this doesn’t include the obvious ones of weight loss and improved cardio-vascular health. (They’re a given).
- YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM NEEDS YOU!
Exercise sends oxygen flooding around the body, as well as raising body temperature and increasing circulation. As you know, although your lymphatic system contains around 8 times more fluid than the blood in your body, it has no pump to help it along. And that’s where exercise comes in. The efficiency of your lymphatic system is the key to your immune system. Even a brisk walk can get it moving about.
At Hippocrates, they’re really into their rebounding classes because of their amazingly positive effect on the immune system, where you jump up and down on a mini-trampoline. But NB: a normal mini-trampoline is not the same thing, not least because of the impact it can have on your skeletal system if used for long periods at a time. So get a bona fide one, and use for around 15 minutes a day, or longer.
- WANT TO FEEL LIKE A ROOM WITHOUT A ROOF?
As someone who has struggled with depression on and off, I can absolutely guarantee you that exercise is the ultimate short-cut from “hrumph” to happy. And boy, do I notice a drop in my mood if I miss out on my exercise (I was not great to be around when I broke my arm). The act of exercise releases endorphins, the happy hormone. Fact.
3. SHARPEN UP YOUR MIND
If you’re anything like me, you may have noticed how ideas or solutions to problems just seem to pop into your head mid-workout. The improved circulation of blood which comes with exercise isn’t just experienced around the body, but the brain too.
- BE SOCIAL OR GO SOLO
I love the social interaction which comes with tennis, but I also love to switch off, plug in my headphones and blow away the cobwebs on the cross trainer. You may prefer one over the other, but sport and exercise are excellent ways both to forge new friendships, enjoy the company of others, but also to drift off into your own little world and clear your mind. And mind-clearing is something which few of us do enough of. Personally, I still can’t get on with meditation (it’s that sitting still thing again), but I like the idea of killing two birds with one stone. And solo sport, for me, is MY chosen active meditation.
- CHEAT TIME
I doubt there has ever been someone I’ve met who looked younger than their years who didn’t do some form of regular exercise. It’s a simple case of “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. Ageing at the rate most people do can almost certainly be blamed on a combination of inadequate exercise and poor diet. Osteoporosis and porous bones are often exacerbated by a lack of weight bearing exercise. But it’s so easy to avoid. You don’t have to age like everyone else, believe me. I flatly refuse!
- MORE MUSCLE MEANS MORE CALORIES BURNED
Although we’re not focusing on weight here, it’s worth bearing in mind that the same amount of muscle versus the same amount of fat burns considerably more calories, even when you’re sat at your desk. And once you’ve built up muscle, even if you slack off a bit, it doesn’t take much to get it back, thanks to your body’s muscle memory. A little commitment – slow and steady – goes a long way. Equally, if you move your body daily, your metabolic rate,i.e. the rate at which you burn calories, will naturally increase.
In summary, it doesn’t matter what type of exercise you pick, so long as it brings you satisfaction, delivers results and fits into your life somehow. Do it socially, or on your tod. It doesn’t matter. Just make it your mission to find it, and you’re doing your body – and your mind – a priceless favour.