Importance of Exercise
We are finally coming close to the end of the health series. As most people probably already know, eating healthy is more important than exercise, so I spent a lot of time on how to eat healthy. Assuming that you got your food habits in order, the next best thing you can do to your body is to exercise. In many cases, the inactivity is the cause of most health problems. If we do just some very basic exercise, it will help the body quite a bit. Depending on your grit and inclination towards fitness, you can do more exercise and be at the top of your fitness game, or you could do just the basics and be moderately fit. The returns tend to taper off as you increase the level of activity. So beginners and inactive people will see a lot of benefit quite quickly when they start exercising and the benefits will drop off as the intensity increases.
Disclaimer: I am neither a nutritionist or a fitness adviser. I don’t have any certification. Take all my advice with a pinch of salt. I have been into health and fitness since 2008 and that is probably my only credibility. I am not liable for any health issues that might arise following my advice. Risk is all yours.
As I mentioned in a previous post, the problem with the current generation is that we are doing less everyday movements which is putting us at more health risk. In the previous generations, we had more labor intensive work like farming, laying railway tracks, building houses, washing clothes, mopping floor or other kind of physical activity. In this day and age, that work is mostly replaced by service jobs, washing machines, maids and TVs which translates into sitting on our behinds for long periods. Grocery shopping, dining, haircuts, and even sending kids to school is now done in scooters, cars, or buses. Neither the parents nor the kids are doing any walking. These days, kids (including my daughter) complain about walking just half a kilometer, when my parents walked or cycled for 10 kms one way to go to school! My generation is somewhere in between those extremes at least :)
Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that you should try and do at least some physical activity everyday in whatever way you can. If you drive to work or school, park the car a fair distance away and walk. If you have an elevator at work or apartment, use the stairs instead. Going for a haircut? Walk. Groceries at a near by place? Walk. Mop your floor. Wash a couple of clothes by hand. Do something but increase physical activity everyday.
Walking is a simple moderate intensity exercise that anyone can do and can give you the very basic exercise that your body needs. It is suggested that about 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week is a good start for most adults. That is about 30 mins of brisk walking, 5 days a week. I think that is easily manageable by most. For kids the minimum is 60 mins per day of moderate intensity exercise. When I say walk, I mean brisk purposeful walk. Not the casual walk that you have chatting with friends. A brisk walk has a pace of 5 kmph to 8 kmph. So in 30 minutes you should be able to cover at least 2.5 kms. If you can do that 5 times a week, that will help quite a bit. For the people who complain about not having enough time, a 75 minutes of high intensity exercise per week is equivalent.
Now, if you are serious about fitness and not interested in just the baseline, you could add more exercises. There are different kinds of exercises all of which have their place. These include endurance, strength, balance and flexibility training. Endurance training mainly targets the cardiovascular system with some benefits to muscles. While strength training mainly targets muscle building with some benefits to cardiovascular system. Balance and flexibility help you increase you range of motion and protect you from injuries. So train all of them.
For endurance, you can go for jogging, running, swimming or even HIIT (high intensity interval training). These exercises are supposed to be aerobic which means, you will be breathing heavily but can continue doing them for a long time. Endurance training will increase heart rate but not increase blood pressure by much. On the other hand strength training helps you build muscle and is usually anaerobic, which means your lungs cannot supply oxygen fast enough for you to be able to perform the exercise for a long duration. But these exercises put stress on muscles and encourage them to grow bigger. Strength training will increase both heart rate and blood pressure, so you have to be careful if you already have high BP. If balance and flexibility is your thing then go for yoga or Tai chi.
Balance and flexibility exercises can be performed everyday if you keep the intensity low and don't overstretch. Endurance and strength training give good results if you workout 2 to 4 times a week. You need to let your body recover fully before doing your next session otherwise your performance will be lower than the previous day or worse yet, you might injure yourself. Finally, if you are doing exercise, sleep is extremely important. You should aim for at least 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted good REM sleep in the night which is when your body (both brain and muscle) repairs itself. Some people talk about needing very less sleep and pride themselves of the amount of work they get done. Unless they have freak genetics, they are most likely doing more harm to the body than good, and the repercussions will be only felt in the later stages of life.
Always choose exercises and/or sports that you enjoy. Otherwise there is no point. You will give up quite quickly. Moving your body 30 mins a day is more important than anything else. So badminton, tennis, table tennis, running, football, basket ball, cricket, skipping, whatever you enjoy, just do it everyday. You can play different sports everyday as well. So find a partner and get moving.
I am not mentioning any particular exercises in strength training, which happens to be my favorite topic, because I think it will make this post too long. If someone is interested, please leave a comment and I will make another post explaining which exercises are good for which muscle groups. But most of that kind of information is already available on the web anyway, all you need to do is do a Google search. What I found out is that martial arts or calisthenics covers endurance, strength, balance and flexibility in one go. So you could also try that too :)
- Prefer doing daily physical activity (sweeping, mopping, walking etc)
- At the very least, do 30 mins of moderate exercise everyday
- Add endurance, strength, flexibility and balances exercises as you see fit
- Exercise hard, but sleep even harder