Rebekah Valero-Lee covid-19
Welcome to episode 3 of our Wellbeing Series. Last episode we were talking about eating well during the pandemic, so I'm going to follow that up with an episode about exercise and staying active while we’re in lockdown.
During this time most of us are perhaps more conscious than ever of staying healthy and being active is one of the best ways to support our health. However, our new routines have seen many people working from home, observing social distancing and going outside less often, meaning that many of us are less physically active than we normally would be.
Being physically active keeps our bodies healthy, and we touched on this in the nutrition video too – exercise and physical activity often gets reduced to how many calories are being burned, when it’s actually about so much more than that. Physical activity provides many benefits like helping us to maintain muscle and bone strength, increasing our blood flow, and providing an energy boost but also helping us sleep better. In the long term, regular exercise reduces the risk of developing many chronic diseases such as type II diabetes and heart disease. As well as being beneficial for our physical health, there’s great pay-off for our mental health too. Exercise has been reliably shown to improve mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. Some studies have even shown the beneficial effect of exercise on symptoms in people experiencing clinical depressive and anxiety disorders too.
How much exercise should we be doing?
To maintain or improve health, NHS guidelines state that adults need to do two types of physical activity – aerobic and strength – and we’ll come on to what those mean in a moment. Ideally, we should be active every day and each week our activity should total at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, plus strength exercises on two or more days that work the major muscle groups, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity. The rule of thumb here is that one minute of vigorous activity provides the same benefits of two minutes of moderate activity.
- Aerobic activity: raises your heart rate, makes you breathe faster, and feel warmer. Generally speaking, if you’re doing moderate aerobic activity you will be able to talk, but not able to sing along to a song. Vigorous aerobic activity is where that’s stepped up a notch, and if you’re working at this level you won’t be able to say more than a few words without having to stop for breath. Some examples of moderate aerobic activities for most people include walking at a fast pace, hiking, riding a bike on the flat, dancing, or slow swimming; vigorous aerobic activity for most people will be things like jogging or running, cycling uphill, playing sports like football or rugby, HIIT training, or aerobics.
- Strength exercises: make your muscles work harder than usual, with the outcome that it increases your muscles’ strength, endurance, and power – so our muscle-strengthening exercises might be lifting weights, doing bodyweight exercises, working with resistance bands, yoga or Pilates, or doing manual work like heavy gardening for example. And you might see some crossover between the two types of exercise – like in circuit training that incorporates aerobic activities with body weight exercises.
What is the best exercise?
I get asked a lot what the best exercise is. The answer is that there is no one best exercise – some will contribute more to specific outcomes – cardio for overall fitness, weights for building muscle, yoga for balance and strength. No right answer for that question – the best exercise is one that you enjoy doing, are able to do consistently, is safe and that feels good for you. If you are wanting to increase or change your physical activity, some questions to ask yourself are:
- Do I enjoy this form of movement?
- Does it make me feel good?
- What reasons am I exercising for?
- How do I feel after this movement?
- How best can I incorporate some regular movement (whatever that is) into my routine?
Lot of us are having to adapt during lockdown as access to normal leisure or fitness facilities and spaces is limited. We’re fortunate at the moment to be able to take a form of daily exercise outdoors – a run, walk, or cycle that can contribute towards our aerobic activity. However, most of us don’t have access to weights and gym equipment, so it might be necessary to get creative. Adapt your routine to replace dumbbells and free weights with your bodyweight, or improvising your own weights using water bottles, food tins, or backpacks. Some people are shielding and so aren’t able to go outside at all, but it is possible to get your aerobic activity in in other ways – like at home circuits or HIIT workouts, and even through household chores and gardening – it doesn’t have to be what we would traditionally count as “exercise” – if it’s getting your heart beating faster and raising your body temperature and breathing rate, it counts.
Many fitness activities look too advanced for me, what do I do?
It’s important that you ensure that you’re working within your body’s limitations. A lot of people are sharing their workout routines on social media, and there are a lot of different exercise challenges going on, which is great, but we shouldn’t ever feel pressured to compare our own exercise performance with other people – the majority of us aren’t professional athletes! What other people can do may not be reflective of what you are able to do right now and that is okay. Our bodies are not all the same, our abilities and strengths differ, and this should be celebrated Just because something works for one person it may not work or at all benefit another.
A lot of people are turning to PTs and fitness coaches on social media, on YouTube or apps who are sharing workouts – often for free. This means there’s a lot of great content out there. However, be mindful that what they may be working with different ability and experience, and without a trainer actually in the room with us to identify when we’re maybe not performing exercises with correct form, we have a risk of injury, particularly with more complex or intense exercises that we’re not used to doing.
Any personal trainer or fitness instructor worth their salt will provide options and alternatives for exercises. Always check out their qualifications – just because somebody looks a certain way does not automatically mean that they are qualified to credibly and safely prescribe exercises to others. There’s no one-size-fits-all fitness regimen, so make sure you do what works for you as an individual.
What could happen if I don't exercise?
As well as exercising regularly to avoid ill health, if we can, we are also advised to reduce the amount of time we spend sedentary – sitting or lying down. As it is, a big proportion of the UK populations spends over seven of their waking hours each day sitting or lying, and it’s likely that for many this will increase further under lockdown conditions.
Unfortunately, a lot of evidence has started to emerge that suggests excessive sedentary behaviour is linked with many health issues, including type II diabetes, some types of cancer, obesity, and even early death. This is because long periods of sitting are thought to slow the metabolism, which affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and break down body fat to be used as energy. So it’s not necessarily just about trying to get in one specific workout or period of exercise each day, and instead about trying to maintain reasonable levels of physical activity throughout the day. There’s not enough evidence available yet to tell us exactly how much time we should or shouldn’t spend sat down each day, but it’s recommended that we take a break from sitting every 30 minutes – whether that’s to have a bit of a walk around, stand for a while, or even just to stretch for 30 seconds before sitting back down.
And finally, just as important as exercise and activity itself is ensuring that you get enough rest. There’s a difference between just feeling a bit lazy and not wanting to be bothered to exercise and needing to take a break because you’re fatigued – don’t ignore the latter. Be kind to yourself and both during and between workouts – if your body tells you that something doesn’t feel right, listen to it – don’t just push through.
What are businesses doing to help their employees stay active?
At Morson we’ve got some top events to help our employees stay active. Our in-house trainers, Barrie and Maria, are bringing us weekly circuit training and yoga sessions. 40 memebers of staff are taking part in our Morson Big Burpee Challenge, 3000 burpees in 30 days, to raise money for the NHS COVID-19 appeal. I also want to shout out The Lads Isolation Circuits workout team – this is a group of guys from across the Morson Group who have been doing daily HIIT workouts on Zoom and are taking them public every Saturday to fundraise for the NHS – in amongst the bunch we’ve got a PT and a couple of ex-pro footballers, so these guys know what they’re doing. So Saturdays at 11am – if you’re interested drop a line to Chris Lester – email@example.com – and he’ll share the Zoom link with you.