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General Health - How Active is your Lifestyle?

By Jenny Bodenham BA (Hons) Dip ION MBANT

A 2011 survey published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre reported that just over a quarter of adults in England in 2010 were classified as obese with over 20 per cent of UK respondents reporting that they took walks of at least 20 minutes “less than once a year or never”. Hopefully you do not fall into either of these categories and with the Olympics about to begin, Wimbledon well under-way and the London Marathon a not-so distant memory, you may be feeling the impetus to take up a sport or at least make changes to improve your fitness level.

Unlike our hunter-gatherer ancestors who led a physically active outdoor life, the 21st century lifestyle in the western world is predominantly sedentary, with hours spent sitting in front of a computer or TV, often accompanied by snack foods such as crisps and chocolate. This lack of activity is thought to be a contributory factor in many chronic diseases from heart problems to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and even depression. As we age, lack of regular exercise may also contribute to reduced flexibility and balance, leading to increased risk of falls and injuries. 

Benefits of exercise

Not only does exercise promote the release of chemicals called endorphins which act as analgesics to reduce our perception of pain, but it also produces a positive and energising feeling. Other benefits include increased muscle tone and strength, reduced body fat, stronger bones, improved sleep and increased self-esteem.

If you are unused to exercising, getting started can be daunting, but it is possible to include exercise in your lifestyle without signing up for punishing sessions in the gym five times a week. Indeed studies have even shown that if you do go to extremes, intense training can have a direct effect on reducing immunity. It is estimated that there may be up to a 70% reduction in immune function for up to 20 hours after intense exercise, during which time period there is a greater risk of illness.

So taking up regular moderate exercise is the way forward. A certain amount of commitment and effort is necessary, but choosing an activity you enjoy and look forward to should make all the difference!

Activities to choose from include*:

• Walking/hiking

• Dancing

• Swimming

• Low-impact aerobics

• Yoga

• Tennis

• Dance/exercise class

• Rebounding

• Cycling

• Golf

Training regularly with an objective in mind, such as participating in the “Walk For Life”, “Race for Life” or the “Moon Walk” can be highly motivating, as well as a great way to meet new friends!

Prepare for Action

When undertaking any exercise you will need to check that your nutritional requirements are fully taken care of. It can be very de-motivating if a cold or flu interrupts your brand new exercise regime! The body requires a broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants on a daily basis and particularly when you are subjecting it to the increased demands of exercise. Sufficient protein is required to support muscle function, essential fats are needed to maintain healthy metabolism and a balanced gut flora is required to support digestive function and immunity. Eating protein from a variety of sources such as fish, free range chicken, beans and pulses maintains the nitrogen balance in the body which must be positive for the growth of new tissue. A negative nitrogen balance may lead to breakdown of muscle tissue during strenuous exercise. Hemp protein is a great vegetarian/vegan source of complete protein providing a well-balanced array of essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, fibre and antioxidants, with studies suggesting it has greater digestibility than soy protein.

Fuel-up!

The majority of carbohydrates in the diet should be those that release their sugar slowly into the bloodstream to maintain steady blood sugar and energy levels. These include foods such as whole-grains, peas, beans, nuts, seeds and low glycemic fruits such as apples and strawberries. Around exercise however, it makes sense to use simple carbohydrates to support maximum energy levels and enhance your sports performance. We’ve all seen tennis players munching on a banana between games, and similarly, a handy snack bar naturally high in fibre and containing naturally occurring sugars is ideal to eat before or after exercise to maintain your blood sugar balance.

Hydrate

Staying hydrated is particularly important during exercise. Dehydration may lead to dizziness, fatigue and cramping and can be caused by inadequate fluid intake, excessive sweating or failure to replace fluid during and after exercise. It is natural to perspire, and depending on the activity, there could be a loss of up to two to three litres of water per hour, but even in mild conditions of dehydration, studies on athletes have shown a loss in performance. A post-exercise session in the sauna can exacerbate the situation. So keep up your water intake! Adding an electrolyte powder to the water that you drink whilst training or after exercise replaces essential electrolytes lost through perspiration. Electrolytes are critical for nerve and muscle function as well as water regulation in the body.

Recovery

Often overlooked, recovery after strenuous exercise is important not merely in order to relax and unwind but also to repair muscle and support the joints. Muscles unaccustomed to regular exercise may undergo some degree of damage resulting in inflammation. Cetylated fatty acids are a group of naturally occurring fats that have been shown to reduce inflammation and may help support flexibility. To “wind down” and relax after exercise, the amino acid theanine, has been found to aid alpha-wave production in the brain promoting a state of alert relaxation. Additionally, the minerals calcium and magnesium aid muscle relaxation making them ideal to take, particularly if training later in the day or at night.

So don’t throw in the towel, start exercising sensibly and safely!

*If you are unused to exercise or have a medical condition, check with your doctor before starting an exercise programme


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