The first wealth is health
Ralph Waldo Emerson
We all strive for more. We dream of the trips we will take, the beautiful home, to give your family everything they could dream of. We are taught at a young age that wealth rarely comes overnight, but instead comes through care, planning and through putting aside a little money every month- this is how we can build our fortune. However many of the greatest successes reach the top and realise that there was another saving they should have been building- the abundance of HEALTH. By definition ‘health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ The goal of true health is creating a daily design that results not only in a strong, fit and resilient body; but a strong, fit and resilient MIND. Here I hope to share with you some of the gifts physical activity will provide, the common barriers to exercise and how to overcome them and finally a short investigation into the amazing studies that have been carried out around the world. These may not be of interest to you but I have included references to the papers included so that any of you who are as inquisitive as I am, may look further and follow me down the rabbit hole of health. I am writing as a yoga teacher, pharmacist and health trainer, but what I write is by no means a prescription. Please ensure that any changes in lifestyle are okayed by your doctor and ensure that your safety is kept of paramount importance throughout your fitness journey.
More and more evidence for fitness and exercise as a treatment for mental health conditions is coming to light, even showing great promise as an adjunctive treatment, alongside medication, in patients with schizophrenia and severe mental health conditions. Huge success has been found in managing symptoms of anxiety and depression with regular exercise, even as moderate as 30 minutes of moderate activity three times a week (though the recommendation is 30minutes of exercise five times a day or 150 minutes each week (NHS, 2018)). Lack of physical activity is a major modifiable risk factor (meaning we can control it) for cardiovascular disease and a huge variety of other chronic diseases on the rise; including diabetes, cancer (colon and breast in particular), obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure), bone and joint diseases (osteoporosis and osteoarthritis), and depression (Warburton, 2006).
Health is not valued till sickness comes
So with a risk for death due to any cause being sliced down by at least 50% (Myers J, 2004)why do so many of us struggle to get to the gym, grab our running shoes or even make it out for a weekend walk? According to a study carried out by Wienke and Jekauc (Benjamin Wienke, 29 August 2016)there are FOUR main reasons people will persevere with (and most importantly enjoy!) an exercise program. They hold different importance for each individual and the key is working with the one that resonates most with you. Here I will examine these four reasons and offer practical methods of interpreting this information so that it can be utilised in your daily life and help you create and sustain a lifelong relationship with your health.
I know many of my friends who have had a gym membership for years but are yet to step over the threshold into the ‘scary weightlifters area’. The machines and weights tower above you, looking daunting and very complex; wires and contraptions looking like something out of a Victorian dungeon. But once you’ve taken that step, a world of wonder awaits you! Weight lifting, even short sessions (less than an hour) a couple of times a week can yield great benefits. Lowering your risk of diabetes, lowering cholesterol and reducing risk of heart disease; weights not only help you feel strong now, but also allow you to burn more energy throughout the day, strengthen your bones, improve balance and coordination and lower your future risk of osteoporosis (Layne JE, 1999).
So how do you take those first steps when you’re not sure of where to start? Here are my top tips:
- Get a personal trainer.Yes it might cost a bit, but even just having a few sessions can widen your comfort zone and introduce you to utilising what’s available until you’re comfortable to work out alone.
- Get a gym-bunny-buddy.Cheaper than a PT, is a friend with good knowledge! Going in pairs is a great way to break the fear boundary, just make sure they know what they are doing and don’t spend the whole time chatting about dinner and gossiping about the latest TV! Speaking from experience, falling off a moving treadmill is far less embarrassing when you can laugh it off with a friend!
- Get an app. Nowadays there are numerous apps with great workouts on that include both body weight and machine based exercises. Just be careful if you’re trying something new and practice plenty with light weights to get your technique right to avoid injury.
- Learn to be a beginner.This is a skill for life, not just the gym. Being great starts with being average but keeping going regardless. Be ok with not being perfect, learn to love the process of learning and making mistakes. It’s about enjoying the moment, not living for some far off goal.
Perceived social interaction
This a great one for helping not only cultivate a love for fitness, but also to connect with like-minded people. The huge expansion in the group exercise market is not by chance. A study carried out in 2017 showed that ‘that individuals who workout in a group have a 26 percent lower stress rate and improved quality of life compared to people who work out solo.’ (Yorks DM, 2017)Not bad eh? Considering that social interaction and healthyrelationships (no pun intended) are the biggest contributors to lifetime fulfilment and happiness. Group classes offer the ultimate trifecta: meeting great people, getting fit and creating a routine.
My personal training plan includes two spin classes each week (group), weight training (solo) and then a run (solo or with a friend!) once a week to mix it up!
This is all about keeping your routine varied and not letting it get ‘boring’. By trying new things and expanding your training, you not only will train your mind to learn, but also prevent the dreaded ‘plateau’ in progress. As your fitness improves, your lifestyle changes and as the time you have available may fluctuate; your training program has to grow with you.
What works for you now may not be optimal in a few years and to keep improving, you need to keep developing your training plan.
So how do you keep it fresh?
- Again a PT (personal trainer), an app or just the old classic – self-study; can keep you ahead of the game.
- Try something different- a dance class, rock climbing, swimming, gorge walking or boxing. You’ll work up a sweat plus you’ll be having so much fun you won’t even feel like you’re exersising!
- Keep a record. Track your workout programs and review regularly. Have a set time frame (eg. 2 months) where you have a set weekly workout, then just work on increasing weight and reps (repetitions) week by week for the duration.
Perceived physical exertion
This is my favourite of them all. Now I’m not saying I’m a masochist, but nothing quite beats the all-so familiar ache after an amazing workout. For me, during HIIT training and weight sessions, I like to feel like I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone. The feeling you get after a great workout is addictive (literally- thanks to endorphins!) and if you’re anything like me, it will only take a few weeks to get hooked. If you’re not such a fan of ‘feel the burn’ have no fear. There are significant benefits to more gentle forms of exercise such as yoga and walking, and a plethora of mental and cognitive benefits on top of the improvement in flexibility and respiratory functions. I’m a huge fan of walking (my 12 year old self would have never believed it) mostly because of WHERE I walk. Getting out into the mountains, by the beach and into the forests of Wales and England helps me to clear my head and re-sets my perspective on life. For those who have knee issues, the right yoga can help joint function and walking can offer similar outcomes as running without the impact. Get some fresh air and a fresh view on life.
So who came out top? The results of the study aren’t’ actually all that important for you, what you need to do is figure out what yourroadblock is and work on that. But just FYI, perceived competence was the winner for those participants but perceived social interaction came up as a close second. What is it for you?
I hope what I have not-so-briefly shared with you today will offer some encouragement to start, continue or re-start your fitness and physical activity program. There are so many benefits and once you’ve got started, it can become the most incredible way-of-life that will leave you feeling happier, living longer and enjoying your life more fully. Your health-account is one that will be with you for life, so invest often, enjoy the interest gained and never stop saving! The greatest wealth truly is your health.
I welcome any questions, and as an eternal student of life, am always open to learning more! Get in touch with any questions, insights or comments or just to say hello! Wishing you a fit and fabulous life!
Benjamin Wienke, D. J. (29 August 2016). A Qualitative Analysis of Emotional Facilitators in Exercise. Front. Psychol.,.
Layne JE, N. M. (1999). The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 31(1):25-30.
Myers J, K. A. (2004). Fitness versus physical activity patterns in predicting mortality in men. 117:912-8.
NHS. (2018, May 30th). Physical activity guidelines for adults. Retrieved from nhs.uk: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/
Warburton, D. E. (2006). Health benefits of physical activity: the evidence. . CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l’Association medicale canadienne,, 174(6), 801-9.
Yorks DM, F. C. (2017). Effects of Group Fitness Classes on Stress and Quality of Life of Medical Students. J Am Osteopath Assoc, 117(11):e17–e25.