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The Wardley Wellbeing Hub is the central area for the ACTNow campaign.

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Exercise - make it work for you

The why and how of your fitness journey

Why exercise?

There are many benefits to an active lifestyle, including some lesser-known perks. Being physically active on a regular basis can make a huge difference to your happiness and wellbeing. It may also help you feel better about your appearance, boost your confidence, improve your self-esteem, energy and sleep as well as reduce your risk of stress and depression.

According to the NHS people can reduce their risk of major illness, such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke by up to 50% if they follow a recommended minimum of 150 minutes of exercise per week (that’s 30 minutes, 5 days a week).

People who exercise regularly have a lower risk of many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and some cancers. Regular physical activity can help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep.

Exercise and physical activity deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. When your heart and lungs work more efficiently, you have more energy to go about your daily chores.

It’s good for your mind

Exercise and physical activity can be a fun way to spend some time. It gives you a chance to unwind, enjoy the outdoors or simply engage in activities that make you happy and lead to a sense of accomplishment. Physical activity can also encourage you to connect with family or friends in a fun social setting.  And even better, exercise can help manage physical and mental stress. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that can leave you feeling happier and more relaxed.

Exercise also releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among people with clinical depression and those who suffer from anxiety. For this reason, doctors recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time.

The Mental Health Foundation’s top tips for looking after your mental health include:-

  • talk about your feelings
  • keep active
  • eat well
  • drink sensibly
  • keep in touch with friends and family
  • ask for help.

Small daily gains

You don’t need to fork out for expensive gym membership or attend classes to incorporate physical activity into your everyday life. Making small but sustained adaptions can be beneficial too:

  • Add movement to household chores: listen to music while doing housework- dancing will add some activity to your day and add some fun whilst doing housework
  • Keep any exercise equipment you have close by and ready to use so it’s not ‘out of sight, out of mind!’
  • Walk wherever possible: get off the bus or train a stop early, park your car further away from where you work
  • Got an informal meeting at work? Take it outside and go for a walk
  • You’ll have heard this one before but taking the stairs is a great way to add movement to your day and increase your heart rate: by continually taking the stairs you’ll be able to see the results of your body being active when you can reach the top without being out of breath
  • Exercise videos, apps and games can help you to do an exercise you enjoy without having to go to an organised session. You can get all the family joining in.

Make exercise work for you

  • If you’re at the start of your journey, why not download our 7 Days of Movement Plan
  • Find the exercise you love: chose something active you enjoy that fits in with your lifestyle and try to do it 2-3 times a week
  • Exercise at a time that suits you: different people will favour different times of day; for some, morning is best before the other demands of the day take hold, for others, an exercise session at lunchtime ensures a break and gives energy for the afternoon, others like to get the stresses of the day out of their system after work
  • Balance your programme: try to combine resistance, cardiovascular and stretching exercise
  • Having sufficient energy makes exercise easier: eat well and sleep well, this will ensure you have enough energy to exercise
  • Challenge yourself: get out of your comfort zone, for example, swim, walk or run a little faster or a little longer
  • Vary your exercise: every six weeks change your routine to get the greatest benefits from exercise
  • Consider joining a class or a group, this will help to motivate you along with building relationships with people who enjoy the same activities as you.

Choosing your exercise plan

The NHS recommends that in order to stay healthy, adults need to do two types of exercise each week, aerobic and strength exercises. Here are some suggestions for weekly exercise combinations that meet the NHS minimum guidelines:

  • 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, for example, cycling or fast walking
  • and strength exercises on at least two days a week.

or

  • 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, for example, running or a game of tennis
  • and strength exercises on at least two days a week.

or

  • a mix of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity, for example two 30 minute runs and one 30 minute fast walk
  • and strength exercises on a least two days a week.

Exercising sensibly

When planning your exercise routine, do ensure that you allow time for rest as well, even elite athletes have rest days. Although moderate physical activity is safe for most people, you should always consult your doctor before starting a new fitness programme if you have a chronic or unstable health condition, you have dizzy spells (or take medication which can cause dizziness or drowsiness), or you are extremely unsteady on your feet. If you experience any symptoms of weakness, unsteadiness, light-headedness or dizziness, chest pain or pressure, nausea, or shortness of breath you should stop and seek medical help.

Exercise is certainly a good thing, however too much of a good thing can be harmful. Exercise releases endorphins, but people can become addicted to this ‘high’. If you feel like you’re becoming addicted to exercise (symptoms include feeling anxious if you can’t work out, using exercise as punishment for eating high-calorie/high-fat food, or continuing to exercise even if you feel fatigued or injured) then please speak to someone you trust or seek guidance from Believe UK, a sports psychology website.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself, especially if you haven’t exercised for a while. For many, physical activity can trigger self-critical thoughts that lead to giving up the exercise routine entirely. Treat each day as a fresh start and an opportunity to prioritise your wellbeing.

Need more inspiration?

The BBC has compiled an excellent A-Z guide of more than seventy different activities complete with helpful tips and links. For further inspiration, see the BBC Sport Get Inspired website.