Regular physical activity is related to improved mental and physical well-being. Recent research indicates that:
- active, physically fit individuals do not react to difficult situations with as much stress as inactive people
- regular exercise programs have been found to prevent, and reduce, symptoms of disease - these include reduced risk of heart disease, low back pain, depression, and osteoporosis, to mention only a few
- an active lifestyle improves sleep, mood, sexual activity, and self-esteem by increasing energy, facilitating weight loss, and providing for greater social contact
- aerobic exercise improves endurance and cardiovascular health while non-aerobic activities enhance flexibility and strength
Physical activity need not be strenuous to be of benefit. Indeed, all of us have many opportunities to become more active in our daily routine. Climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator. Walk to the store instead of driving. Use a push lawn mower instead of a power lawn mower (or hiring your neighbor's child). It's never too late to become active. If you are already active, keep at it. If you are not, start!
Tips for developing an exercise program:
- Get a physical
Before starting, ask your physician about any limitations on your activity.
- Pick the right activities
The biggest challenge is keeping at it. Pick activities that you really enjoy. Ideally, alternate between aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise (in which your heart rate accelerates into a target range for 20 minutes or more) and anaerobic exercise (such as weight training or yoga).
- Variety helps
Pick more than one activity and alternate them. Include at least one thing you can do when the weather is poor, and have ideas for both summer and winter. Experiment. If you haven't tried something before, give it a shot (but use caution to avoid beginner injuries). Remind yourself that if you don't like it you can switch to something else.
- Stretch first
Learn how to do stretching exercises properly, then make sure to do them before each exercise session. This can help reduce the likelihood of exercise-related pain or injury.
- Exercise with a friend
Or make new friends when you exercise. This will increase your motivation and enjoyment of your activities.
- Frequency is more important than duration
Regular short periods of exercise (3 or 4 times a week) are better than irregular long periods.
- Focus on enjoyment
Some research shows that people who exercise for enjoyment and challenge seem to show stronger mood improvements than people who exercise mainly to look better. Try to put an emphasis on how you will feel rather than how you want to look.
- Nothing changes overnight
Use goal setting when developing a fitness program, and be sure to pick something achievable. For example, aim to swim once for 5 minutes rather than starting off by committing yourself to 70 laps a day.
(a program developed at the Department of Psychology, Vancouver Hospital and Health Sciences Centre)
in association with the MediResource Clinical Team