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Exercise to save your life!

What does it mean to be ‘fit’? Are you only considered ‘fit’ if you’re that super-human person that pounds the treadmill in the gym endlessly without sweating, stitching or hyperventilating? Being fit is not determined by how many kilograms you can lift or how many minutes it takes you to run a mile. Neither is it defined by what those around you are doing comparatively – it is defined by your own ability to breathe easy; for your joints and muscles to be flexible and strong - and ultimately for your heart to keep up with what your mind wants it to do! Being fit is an ideal we would all like – and can – achieve.

What happens when we exercise?

I have always wondered why I enter the gym feeling sluggish, grumpy and tired (more often than not) and then come out the other side feeling elated, accomplished and awake. This effect is caused by a buzzword associated with exercise - ‘endorphins’ – which is simply the body’s natural ‘feel good’ chemical that creates a feeling of euphoria and well being. And when this chemical is combined with a release of adrenalin, dopamine and serotonin... well, exercise makes you feel pretty darn good!

Confidence and ability  

A little thing I’ve recently learnt about exercise is that confidence plays a vital role in your development into this simple but potentially life-changing activity. Fitness levels and abilities will differ dramatically from person to person, but trying to remind yourself of this fact can be difficult. Starting a new fitness class or exercise that is out with your ability will leave you feeling quite disheartened and can leave you giving up before you’ve even started! Building up your fitness levels is key to this, and when you start seeing results in toning, weight loss and having more energy is a great way to create a sense of achievement and diminish any feelings of low self-esteem.

Health and psychological benefits

The health benefits of exercise are endless. Exercise helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, back pain, strokes, obesity and colon cancer. Psychologically it can significantly reduce feelings of stress and depression as well as improving your focus, leaving you feeling more content and generally more positive about your day. In short, exercising can potentially save your life!

How much exercise should you be doing?

Health professionals argue different recommendations on this point. To achieve realistic results 5 times a week for 30 minutes at a time is a good guide line, including 2-3 sessions where your heart rate significantly increases (i.e. a gym work out, fitness classes.)

Which exercise is for me?

Identifying your requirements in regards to exercise will give you your answer. Each exercise listed here will be available to partake in the islands – so no excuses! We are very lucky to have great facilities up in Stornoway, between our well-equipped Sports centre and the newly opened Fitness Studio; which is located at the Caberfeidh hotel and is run by former Muay Thai boxing champion Norrie Mackenzie and his wife Muriel Mackenzie. This is Stornoway’s home for Muay Thai boxing but also offers a new gym, punch bags and personal training facilities for those who need some extra motivation!

Weight loss: The best exercise for weight loss is exercise that maximises calorie burn in the least amount of time. Cardiovascular exercises such as running, cycling/spinning, cross training and kick boxing are great examples of this. Depending on your age, height, metabolism and weight these sports can all burn between 600-900 calories per hour. While doing these exercises try to imply interval training as this is the key to improving your fitness levels in the long run – try your exercise quite rapidly for 1-2 minutes then cool down for about a minute. Your stamina will last much longer when implying this technique, as well as it controlling your heart rate.

Improvement in muscle tone in the lower body: If you’re happy with your upper body and just need toning around the thigh and bum area then cycling, squats and lunges are your solution – and best of all this can be done for free! Cycling for 20-40 minutes a day followed by a simple squat and lunge routine after will help sculpt and tone these areas.

Improvement in muscle tone in the upper body: This is number one for brides and lad’s that want the ‘t-shirt’ look! There’s no doubting that the most obvious exercise for toning this area is push-ups as it works your chest, biceps, triceps, shoulders and abs - but don’t dive in at the deep end as this will more than likely do you more harm than good. Starting push ups standing up facing a wall is an easier but effective variation to this exercise – keep your hands parallel to your shoulders and make sure your back is straight for support. Using dumbbells and free weights are also great ways for toning these areas, but be sure to learn a decent routine where you’re not doing the same movements all the time as this can lead to muscular strain. A gentler exercise which can target this area is swimming.

Blast those abs! Abdominal work is an area that sometimes gets over-looked in people’s exercise routines. This is a great area to incorporate into your routine as it tones quite easily and can help strengthen the rest of the surrounding muscles (i.e. helps to support the back.) I’ve recently acquired two simple but VERY effective exercises from a recent stint I had in physiotherapy for a back injury (thank you Sandra and Kareen!) and both can be done at home.
First of all you have to get yourself a football (I was like an alien at that part of the Sportsworld when I bought my own...) and lie down facing a wall with your feet on the floor in front of you. Using your abs (not your back or neck) bring yourself up to roughly a 45 degree angle or until you feel your abs working, then throw the ball at the wall 1-2 times, then slowly bring yourself back down, repeating for 10-20 times. Once your abs are stronger you will be able to increase this exercise for more repetitions. The second exercise is in the same 45 degree angle, and involves you bouncing the ball from side to side on the floor for about 10-20 repetitions– this works the obliques which is a harder area to concentrate on. Pilates is also brilliant for toning your abs – Kirsty Anderson offers pilates classes for various abilities.

Energy levels: One of the most pleasant exercises for increasing energy levels is walking. Walking briskly for 30-60 minutes per day can substantially improve energy – particularly if this is done in the fresh air as opposed to the treadmill as it is far more invigorating!

Improvement in mobility: These exercises are experienced usually included when warming before exercise, but if you don’t have time to exercise then try them once a day just to loosen your joints! The main areas you should stretch out are the back, shoulders, chest, upper arms, upper and lower legs. There are many variations for these areas and can be found online or can be demonstrated in your local gym by an instructor.

Injuries and exercise:

When I put my back out at the start of this year I made the mistake of thinking ‘well, I’ll stop exercising and rest up.’ I was vaguely aware that this would be making the injury worse but I was so frustrated that I couldn’t physically do what I was able to do before that I just stopped doing it all together. Talk about an error of judgement - all of my joints became stiff, my energy levels dropped and my injury got worse instead of better. Luckily I went to the Physiotherapy department for help and now I’m well on my way to doing everything I was doing before, and then some! If you have an injury or a muscular problem, please don’t ignore it and get it checked out. Physio do a drop in clinic from 3-5pm at the hospital on a Thursday which is good if you need to be seen straight away, otherwise see your GP for a referral.

But I don’t have time to exercise!

Just 20 minutes out of your 1440 minute long day sounds so do-able doesn’t it? Unfortunately some of us have little or no time for things such as exercise... or do we? Have a look at your week and try to create a bit of lee-way for this important activity. The weekends are a great opportunity for going out walking; and mid week try and take advantage of some of the great facilities the islands have to offer, you won’t regret it!

Exercising can, and will change your life if you give it half a chance –

Happy exercising everyone! 


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