Here’s how breaking a sweat can help you get the life you’ve always wanted.
Falling out of bed for an early morning run or dragging yourself to the gym after work can feel torturous. Are abs really worth the hour extra you could have spent snuggling under your duvet or treating yourself to an extra glass of wine? No, abs aren’t imperative (although they do help that bikini bod goal), but exercise is.
I was talking to my friend over dinner when she complained that she felt overweight and flabby. “Are you kidding?” I asked her, incredulously. She’d lost so much weight since the last time I saw her, it was the first thing I noticed. Plus, I was usually terrible at gauging if people had added or lost a few – and frankly, I think there are more important things to focus on — so the fact that it had registered with me said something. “Yes,” she said. “I’m a size 2 and I know I’m not fat, but my body feels like it is. It’s the strangest thing.” I had to agree.
A few weeks later, after visiting the doctor, she gave me a call. “It’s exercise,” she said with a sigh. “I have to do more of it.” Although at the outset it’s easy to be incredulous at why she’d need to exercise – she was petite, had already lost a lot of weight and had arguably never looked better in her life – working out is more than just about weight loss. I like to look at shedding kilos as a happy consequence of exercise, rather than its real motivator. But what other reasons should one have for exercising, if not to lose weight? The answer is “Plenty.”
-Up Your Energy
We don’t all need to be like the Energizer Bunny, bouncing off walls and just so full of it! But there’s no harm in upping your energy quotient for the day. Sure, your twice-a-day java boost can kick start your morning and break you out of your afternoon lull, but increasing the amount of energy your body can produce will give you greater enthusiasm and focus in your daily activities. Including physical exercise into your schedule helps increase the amount mitochondria (energy producers) found in your cells, and so increases the levels of energy your body can produce. Exercising your muscles regularly can also improve blood circulation – and ergo, the flow of oxygen – to your muscles, giving them the healthy level of sustenance they require to work smoothly. Breaking a sweat in a routine manner helps your body recover and rejuvenate faster, giving you adequate focus for your daily tasks, from skimming through the morning paper to being attentive at the last meeting of the day.
-Increase Your Immunity
With blood pumping more quickly and efficiently, components of your immune system are carried all over your body in a faster and more thorough manner, which is more likely to protect you from a whole host of infections. How?
With white blood cells (those that fight off diseases) being circulated more rapidly, your body can detect infections faster and deal with them before they get comfortable. Think about it like extra policemen on duty. There are more eyes and ears on the street, and problems can get nipped in the bud before they become life-threatening.
Additionally, engaging in healthy physical activity may prevent you from falling prey to a variety of illnesses in the following two ways: By expelling bacteria out of your lungs and other air passages through deep, rigorous breathing; and by fighting potential illnesses through an increase in body temperature. Much like a fever is an indication of your body in conflict with a harmful internal presence, the natural increase in temperature facilitated through exercise is a prime way to ward off many illnesses.
-More Mental Discipline
Exercise doesn’t only affect your calf muscles and biceps; it also trains your mind. Planning out your workouts and ensuring you stick to them lends you focus and a sense of determination that can trickle into all other aspects of your life. Finding it difficult to finish that research paper? Or feeling totally overwhelmed at the amount of work the next month is going to entail? The natural reaction to feeling bogged down is to switch off. This is why all you want to do is sleep on the day you know you have a million things to get done. Or why you give up on your goal without even really trying, because you think the odds are stacked against you.
Exercising regularly allows you to break down big tasks into little steps, and focus on one thing at a time without getting too ahead of yourself. Going through half an hour of cardio, twenty minutes of weight training and ten minutes of stretching will lead you to a full hour of exercise without even realising it. On hard days, you’ll learn to push through the minutes even though they seem to last forever. Similarly, you’ll learn to break down that impending report into sections to be completed per day, prioritise your email list into do-able chunks and break down your goals for the months ahead into single weeks. The discipline you’ve instilled in yourself by making sure you finish your half an hour on the treadmill will help you see your other tasks through, even when you think you can’t.
-Control Your Mood Swings
Sitting in one position and staring at the same screen all day can make anyone feel grouchy, regardless of if you’re watching Netflix or catching up on work that’s fallen through the cracks. Shifting your position to your couch or lazing around at home after the office won’t make you feel as good as you might think. As in my friend’s case, you’ll feel low, blubbery and just not great about yourself, which could lead to you being irritable and snapping at anyone who dares come across your path!
Putting on your walking shoes and hot-footing it out the door for a brisk 20-minute exercise will not only clear your head (because hello, fresh air!), it’ll also better the way you feel. Breaking a sweat causes your body to release endorphins, which work to reduce your perception of pain and trigger feelings of positivity in the body. Not only will your walk give you quiet time to work through anything that’s been bothering you, it will also reduce your feelings of negativity, thereby allowing you to be more objective in your decisions and happier overall.
So, What Kind Of Exercise Is Best?
Exercise is not a one-size-fits-all option—different combinations suit different people. In general, though, sports professionals recommend a combination of the following:
-Avoid sitting for long periods of time
This may not sound like a typical form of exercise, but stretching your limbs after sitting in the same position for more than an hour keeps your body loose and flexible, avoiding pesky cramps or the sensation of certain parts of your body falling asleep. Go for a quick stroll around the office – a perfect time to catch up with your friend in Sales – take your next phone call standing up or brainstorm around a whiteboard. Anything that gets you up from your desk is bound to put your body into action and, most often, give you a new perspective and frame of mind.
Tennis, boxing, swimming, running—anything that gets your heart rate up and your blood pumping is labelled as cardiovascular exercise. It’s one of the fastest ways to regularise your breathing, expel toxins from your body and push you into that tired-but-refreshed zone. While it may be tempting to only stick to cardio in your busy week, you need to expose your body to different kinds of exercise in order to keep it at its optimal form and to keep you feeling your best.
Strength and core training
To function at its best, key muscles in your body need to be firm. It’s not enough that your arms are looking skinnier; your biceps should also take on definition to help you in your day-to-day tasks. To gain a sculpted tummy, killer calves and the like, engage in a form of resistance training that focuses on select muscle areas. Crunches and other ab exercises are crucial for building up your body’s core; cable bars are great for your arms; and leg presses can totally tone your gams. Giving muscle sets the attention they deserve will make you feel stronger, more lean and flexible (thereby defending your body from accidents), and generally make you feel sound—both mentally and physically.
Just heading to the gym and back won’t make any difference if your body starts cramping while you sleep—and cramps are painful! Stretching is a vital part of working out because it helps your body recover for the day ahead. Make sure you spend adequate time loosening your muscles before and after your cardio or strength training workouts, but also try to fit in a yoga or barre class at some point during the week to ensure that you’re really pulling yourself out (while inducing a sweat!) and giving your muscles a well-needed massage.
No matter your work hours or optimal times of day to work out, getting in a combination of the above is vital to keep you in the best possible shape, and get you ready to have the best day, every day!
Common Misconceptions About Exercise
“I’m so thin, I don’t need it.” Wrong, wrong and wrong! You should know this by now. If not, re-read! Weight is just one reason exercise is vital. Even if you’re hitting your ideal size, working out is still important for you to be healthy, happy and wise.
“I have to work out with my friends, even though I’d rather not.” Some people find it motivating to work out with the girls because it’s the perfect time to catch up and feel connected. That doesn’t mean it’s right for everybody, and feeling unwanted pressure to workout with others shouldn’t be a reason for not working out.
You don’t need to advertise your exercise schedule to everyone. Pick a time and head out by yourself; getting on the elliptical alone can be just as satisfying as having a partner next to you. If your friends inquire as to what’s going on and why you don’t come for group Zumba, explain to them that you just don’t find group workouts fulfilling and would rather crunch it out on your own time. Instead, suggest a post-workout happy hour together, and everybody wins!
“If I don’t have enough time to exercise fully, I shouldn’t do it at all.” So you were planning for an hour and a half of solid sweat, but work ran over and you’re only able to get in 45 minutes. You might as well just cancel and reschedule your workout, right? Nope! Getting in half your workout is better than getting no workout. Even if you have a full routine planned for the next day, working up some healthy circulation is the best thing ever. It’s not about the quantity of time you work out, but about the quality of exercise you get in within that time.
“I need a break and really want to catch up on my reading.” First, we need to stop looking at exercise as taking away from our relaxing time. Finding the right type and combination of exercise can be your break time once you start enjoying it. Done right, exercise can make you feel refreshed and motivated, and totally relaxed right after. Plus, you can always take your reading with you. Use your book on the cycling machine; buy an audio version or listen to a podcast as you pound the streets; and take along your tablet to catch up on a TV series as you get through your cardio. Not only are you multitasking and exercising both your mind and body at the same time (woohoo, time management!), it’ll also make your workout fly by before you know it.
“Exercise is not for me.” Actually, exercise is for everyone. If you don’t feel good post-workout, chances are you just haven’t found a kind of exercise that works well for you. Experiment with different classes, trainers and groups of friends; try out different times of day and different days of the week. You’ll learn so much more about yourself and the kinds of regimes that work well for your body, and you’ll feel totally in control of your own life.
This article was originally published as ‘Let’s Talk About Sweat, Baby’ in the February 2017 issue of Cosmopolitan Sri Lanka. For more health and life advice, grab a copy of our latest magazine.
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