“I'm too tired”
“I'm too busy”
“I haven't got time”
“The weather looks dodgy”
“I just don’t feel like it today”
“I'll do it tomorrow”
It's easy to make excuses not to prioritise our health and when it comes to exercise, we just seem to find it too difficult to get started or keep our good intentions going and far too easy to find a reason why.
Who wants to go for a run when it's cold and raining outside? Who wants to workout at the gym when we're tired after a long day? Who wants to wake early, jump out of bed and exercise on a cold, wet winter's morning when the duvet is so cosy?
Not many of us.
Our increasingly sedate lifestyles aren’t a surprise. Technology has made our lives easier in many wonderful ways, but an unintended consequence is that our health is at risk because it is now so much easier and perhaps appealing to stay sat on our backsides.
Why get up from your desk, walk up a flight of stairs and through an open plan office to speak with a colleague when you can pick up the phone, send an email or instant message them?
Why walk around a supermarket when you can have your groceries delivered by a helpful driver who will even carry the heavy bags to your kitchen?
Why? Because it’s lazy and it’s not doing you any good.
The health risks of a sedentary lifestyle are well documented.
A recent study from the University of Liverpool shows that just 2 weeks of inactivity can lead to muscular and metabolic changes that could potentially increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Worryingly the study shows this is true regardless of gender, age and previous exercise history.
The World Health Organisation says that 60 - 80% of the world's population live a sedentary life, making physical inactivity the fourth biggest contributor to global premature deaths.
Many studies show that physical inactivity can increase the risk of certain cancers, contribute to anxiety and depression, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, increase the likelihood of coronary disease, increase blood pressure, negatively affect sleep and raise cholesterol levels.
Deep down we know the risks but do we act on that knowledge?
Many of us recognise the health risks of smoking, so we don't smoke but when it comes to exercising, many of us choose to ignore the health hazards.
A few years ago this was me too.
I couldn't be bothered, I was too tired and I was certainly too busy with travel and working across several time zones.
Furthermore, I believed “it wouldn’t happen to me”. I was different and besides, I was very active in my youth so I had all that in the bank, right?
I started to experience the downsides of my inactivity.
My cholesterol was high, my body fat was steadily increasing, my Body Mass Index was rapidly rising and approaching obesity and my blood pressure was worrying.
The less activity I did the more tired I felt. The more tired I felt the less mental energy I had. And the less mental energy I had the less effective I was in my position.
Many embark on an exercise programmes after a major health scare, an event that shocks them into action.
Thankfully I didn't wait to get to such an extreme stage.
One fortuitous morning I took a long, hard look in the mirror and didn't like what I saw and I didn't like how I felt.
I resolved to change.
And change I have.
Today I am 10KG lighter in weight, my BMI is healthy, my body fat has halved to 11%, my blood pressure is optimal, my resting heart rate is under 50BPM, my cholesterol has recovered to normal levels and my VO2 Max, a measure of cardiovascular fitness is above 50, which for someone my age is classed as elite.
I don’t say this to boast and I don’t claim that this will make my life longer, the proverbial bus may hit me any day, but I do know I feel a whole lot better and have a much chance of an active, healthy and long life as a result.
And if I can do it, you can too. But you have to choose to. You don’t need to go to extremes, you just need to do something.
Start simple. The last thing any of us would want is to suffer an injury by being overly zealous.
The goal of reaching 10,000 steps per day is widely promoted for its health benefits and it’s a great place to start.
If you don’t have any idea how many steps you take each day buy a device that counts them. It doesn’t need to be expensive, just something that will allow you to measure your progress because we all know that ‘what gets measured gets done’.
Adjust your routine to increase your step count if you’re missing out. Park your car further from the entrance door, take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator, get off the bus, train or tube a stop early and walk to your destination, go for a walk at lunchtime or when you have a spare 15 minutes, get up and walk around the office if you’ve been sitting for too long and just be conscious of any opportunity to take additional steps.
Resist Muscle Deterioration
If you’re in or approaching middle age try some resistance training. As we get older our muscles deteriorate faster and this means we’re less capable of burning fat because our base metabolism falls.
Simple bodyweight exercises can address this. Press-ups, chin-ups, sit-ups, squats and lunges can be practiced easily at home or in a hotel room if you’re travelling.
Again, start simple and work your way up.
As your strength increases consider using weights to increase the resistance further, but only do this when you have mastered the proper technique to avoid injury.
If you really want to increase your fitness, consider employing an expert. A professional personal trainer can provide a customised exercise routine that considers your starting point, the constraints of your broader life and your fitness goals to design a programme that gets the results you want, so long as you do it!
And that, right there, is the key.
Improving your fitness and therefore your health is not down to anyone else. You are the magic ingredient. You are the answer. You will only do the things you need to do if you truly want the benefits it provides. This isn’t to say that exercise is painful. It can be relaxing, energy boosting and meditative. It can make you feel good about yourself in ways that you never thought possible.
We all have a sense that exercise is good for us and deep down we know that a sedentary life is not good for our long term health.
It's time to take your fitness seriously, to stop the excuses and to do something about it.