Our guide to exercise
Alistair Stafford

Our guide to exercise

First published date February 14 2014 Amended date March 06 2014

Are you one of the estimated 80% of British adults that doesn’t do the recommended amount of weekly exercise? Perhaps you’re already a regular runner or keen cyclist that enjoys maintaining a healthy lifestyle?  It doesn’t matter if you’re unfit and looking to workout and improve your fitness on a more regular basis or a sporty type looking to enrol on an extra session to stay in shape, an exercise course could be exactly what you’re looking for.


Why bother?

It may seem pretty obvious that regular exercise benefits your health, but medical research shows that doing the right amount may be more beneficial than you realised. Not only does regular physical exercise cut the chances of having a stroke or coronary heart disease by more than a third, but it also reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by nearly a half. With the likelihood of getting depression or dementia also reduced by up to 30%, there are plenty of reasons to stay active and exercise regularly.


What does the doc say?

NHS guidelines recommend that all adults should ’aim to be active daily‘ and each week complete a minimum of two and a half hours ’moderately-intense activity‘, with at least two of those days containing some kind of muscle strengthening activity to work on all major muscle groups. The alternative to that is to spend at least 75 minutes a week doing what the NHS refer to as ’vigorously-intense aerobic activity’, which is considerably more physically demanding.

The excuses, ‘I haven’t got the time’ and ‘I’m always at work’ don’t really cut it if you’re serious about exercising more. It doesn’t matter how busy you are at work or how full your diary is, it wouldn’t take much rescheduling to incorporate the recommended amount of exercise into your lifestyle. Plus, the vast majority of exercise courses are part time in the evening, so can be taken at a time to suit you.


What counts as exercising?

Within reason, any kind of activity that sees you moving enough to cause you to start sweating or leads to your heart rate increasing counts as exercise. Whether it’s a physically demanding sport like rugby or something more controlled like yoga, it all counts towards your weekly exercise recommendations. Not sure if your hobby or pastime can be classified as exercise? Here is just a sample of those that you may not realise pass the exercise test:  

. Golf – You may think that hitting a few balls in a field can’t be that beneficial for you, but research shows that it is. A round of golf on an 18-hole course can take in excess of three hours to complete and see you clock up several miles of walking, during which you’ll either be carrying or pulling a heavy bag of clubs. The regular swinging of the arm, which will occur several hundred times during the course of your game if you count all of the practice swings, all helps to increase the upper body strength.

. Table TennisIf you’re playing the sport properly and not having a gentle knock-up, then the agility and reactions that are needed can make table tennis far more energetic than you’d imagine. Research shows that playing the game for an hour can burn as many as 400 calories, the equivalent of walking at a fast pace for the same period of time.


..what sometimes counts as exercise?

. Household chores – Yes, pushing the vacuum around the house or bending down to dust the skirting boards is getting you active, but unless it’s causing you to be out of breath or breaking into a sweat (which it shouldn’t be) then it doesn’t count as physical exercise. For the vast majority of people, household chores like cooking and cleaning can be carried out without any kind of noticeable difference to your heart rate.

. DanceDepending on the type of dancing you’re taking part in, within an hour you can be burning in excess of 500 calories. As you step or boogie your away around the dance floor, you’re increasing the strength and flexibility of your muscles, keeping the body nice and healthy. Not only that, but medical research shows that dancing can significantly reduce stress levels, which improves your mental wellbeing. So, in the words of broadcasting legend Sir Bruce Forsyth, keep dancing!


...and what doesn’t classify as exercise?

. Watching television – As much as you try and kid yourself that stretching for the remote or the bottle of beer on the table is exercising your arm, spending long periods of time in front of the television has negative implications for your health. Spending huge chunks of the day sat down, which research suggest British adults do for around seven hours a day, increases the risk of obesity and fatigue as the muscles aren’t doing anything to burn off the food you’ve consumed.

. Shopping – A day traipsing around the shops may leave you and your bank account feeling somewhat drained, but unfortunately it doesn’t really count as exercise. While it may be getting you off the sofa, the speed you will be moving around town isn’t anywhere near the level of exertion required to get that heart beat racing.


Cut the costs

It doesn’t take an underused gym membership or overpriced home equipment to get you exercising, as you can get in a sweat and workout using what you already have in your house.  The floor mat that you would typically use for sit ups and floor stretching can easily be replaced with a towel, while large cans and heavy bottles are good alternatives to dumbbells. Chairs and walls make perfect leaning posts for leg exercises, while running up and down the stairs for just half hour can see you burn well over 200 calories – plus get your heart racing with all of the extra cardio.


Get stretched out

Stretching and warming up is crucial before taking part in any kind of physical exercise, to reduce the risk of suffering any kind of injury while working up a sweat. Not only will you limit your chances of pulling or tearing any of your body’s hundreds of muscles, but warming your muscles up will also increase your agility while exercising. Unsure what you need to do to warm up? Here are a few of the key areas to focus on when limbering up for exercise:

. Before your start – a gentle jog, gradually building in speed, will increase your heart rate and start warming up a wide variety of muscles. From there, you’re in a position to start stretching out.

. Calf muscle – Officially known as the gastrocnemius muscle (don’t worry, you won’t need to remember that), the muscle on your lower leg can be warmed up by leaning forward against a wall with the front leg bent and the back leg stretched straight. After around ten seconds of holding that position, swap around and then focus on the opposite leg.

. Quads – Unsure what your quad is? Well, it’s essentially a group of muscles at the top of the thigh which help you reach maximum power when running or any exercise heavily focused on your legs. To stop that area cramping up when working out and reduce the impact of fatigue the next day, one way to stretch the area is by lifting one leg up so that you ankle is touching your buttock and keep it positioned there for up to 15 seconds before swapping. Don’t worry if you find balancing a struggle, as you can always put your hand against a wall for support!

. Hamstring – It may seem like we’re focusing on the lower part of the body, but we have good reason to as a large percentage of exercise related injuries are related to the leg muscles. Hamstring injuries are particularly common in sports like football, as overstretching your leg or turning direction sharply can see the tendons damaged, but one exercise that can reduce the risk of a tear is by lying down with one leg bent and the other raised straight up in the air.

. Shoulders – One simple way to get your shoulder circulating is by slowly swinging your arm in a windmill like motion, gradually increasing the speed you’re doing that. An alternative stretch is to have one arm raised so that your hand is touching your back, while you use your other hand to grip and pull the bent arm towards your ear. It may sound challenging, but as long as you keep your head straight and don’t over strain yourself as your hold the position for ten seconds before switching, you’ll notice the benefits while exercising. 


Has our guide encouraged you to start exercising more regularly? As you’ve read, there are plenty of ways to improve your fitness, whether that be through taking part in regular sport or coming up with your own exercise plan. As long as you’re being careful with what you eat, regular exercise should see you shed the pounds and feel fitter in no time!