The Fundamentals Series - Regular Exercise

By Tim Mugabi

Simply put, we were born to move. Evolution has required every species of animal to move and be active or face their peril through being eaten by a predator or starving through not finding any food. Every morning, the antelope must be faster than the fastest lion and the lion faster than the slowest antelope; but theyíve got to move!

Now in our modern society, being a wild animalís prey is less of a concern and few of us in the western world have to hunt and forage for our next meal. If you combine this with the shift to more skilled and less manual labour, advances in transport and the growth of our towns and cities, you have a recipe for a much less active lifestyle; a lifestyle thatís wreaking havoc on our bodies. This lack of activity is causing weaker muscles, weaker bones more prone to breaks and fractures and a weaker heart more susceptible to cardiac disease.

Itís widely believed that our bodies havenít changed very much for over 250,000 years. On the flip side, society and how we live have changed at a rapid rate for the last 200 years due to the industrial revolution and the information age. But our bodies donít know about PCs, Tesco Express and public transport; they just know how things used to be and expect sustained movement. The perfect way to factor such movement into our lives is with regular exercise.

Exercise can be simply be defined as an activity that requires physical exertion Ė a great definition because itís so broad! The broadness of the term is justified because of the many ways you can incorporate regular exercise into your life. As well as the typical things that come to mind such as running, cycling and the many forms you can engage in within a gym; activities such as walking, gardening and housework can also be included.

Forms of exercise can be categorised as light, moderate or vigorous intensity , dependent on how much energy you expend performing the exercise, and how much your heart rate increases. The intensity of each exercise is all relative, as it depends on the individual and their level of fitness. An activity that is considered light by someone who exercises regularly may be considered vigorous by another person who isnít very active.

Light exercise includes going for a short walk, gardening and doing housework. This type of exercise doesnít increase your heart rate very much and expends very little energy.

Moderate exercise expends more energy than light exercise and also has more of an effect your heart rate. This includes longer or brisk walks, carrying shopping and climbing stairs.

Both light and moderate exercise can be used to maintain good health when performed for at least 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. The great news about this type of exercise is twofold: Firstly, this kind of exercise is simple to slot into our lives; itís not hard to find opportunities to walk to the shops or do the housework. Secondly, this type of exercise doesnít all have to be done at once. Itís equally as effective and beneficial to do the housework for 30 minutes as it is to walk for 15 minutes twice a day. This is known as the cumulative effect of exercise.

Now while regular light to moderate exercise is effective for maintaining health benefits, if you seek to increase your health and fitness, itís necessary to engage in vigorous exercise. This type of exercise includes, running, swimming, circuit training, spinning, kettlebell training and boxing. This kind of exercise significantly increases your heart rate and expends the most energy. When performed at least three times a week for a minimum duration of 30 minutes, vigorous exercise has numerous benefits for your health and fitness.

One such benefit of regular vigorous exercise is its effect on weight loss. In order to lose weight, the calories we burn must be greater than the calories we take in through food . When the calories out are greater than calories in, you get whatís called an energy deficit. This deficit means that your body doesnít get all the energy it requires through food, so it resolves to get that energy from somewhere else. As your excess body fat is a great source of energy, your body burns that to create the energy you need. If your goal is to lose weight, this is great news!

However, the effects of vigorous exercise donít end there. Regular exercise of this kind causes all the muscles involved to become more toned. For a muscle to stay toned requires energy, further contributing to an energy deficit and calories being burnt. In fact every pound of muscle in your body burns approximately 50 calories a day, just by being there!

But far from just helping us look good, exercise also helps us to feel good. After exercise our body release several hormones including Serotonin, Dopamine and Endorphins. These naturally produced chemicals lift our mood and leave us better equipped to deal with stress and anxiety. By increasing the amount of oxygen and glucose available to our brain, exercise also increases our mental clarity and our ability to concentrate. This contributes to our ability to think and make decisions which means exercise increases our mental and physical productivity.

So starting today, increase your opportunities to move and be active: use the stairs instead of taking the lift, walk up the escalators instead of standing on them, perhaps make walking your dog a little more briskly Ė Iím sure your dog wonít mind. These seemingly little things soon add up and greatly contribute to maintaining the health of our muscles, bones, heart and mental health. In addition, find a way to structure vigorous exercise into your life. By doing so you will greatly improve your health, overall fitness and state of mind Ė and your body will thank you for it!