How to Exercise: Your Ultimate Guide

Exercising is not rocket science. All exercises are either resistance training, cardio or stretching. Let's understand the difference between each

woman running outdoors, exercising

Movement equals energy. So the more we move, the more energised we feel. Equally, the less active our lifestyle, the more sluggish and tired we feel. As you can see from the statistics below, the average office worker’s week is highly inactive. Having completed this calculation with thousands of people, it’s amazing to see that the results are almost identical for all office workers.
Example of an average office worker’s week

  • 56 hours: in bed
  • 40 hours: at work, e.g. in front of a computer or sitting in meetings
  • 7.5 hours: travelling into work by car, or sitting or standing on the train, bus or Tube
  • 10 hours: sitting down when eating
  • 7 hours: watching TV or reading
  • 8.5 hours: socialising with friends [often sitting]
  • 14 hours: cooking, washing, brushing teeth, showering and personal admin.

That’s a grand total of 143 hours of little or no movement per week. We only have 168 hours in a week, so that’s 85% of our week without movement.  It is challenging to make changes to these 143 hours, so it’s what we do with the rest of our time that is particularly important.

Three golden rules of exercising

  1. Movement = energy. Aim to fill as much of your life with movement as possible.
  2. Be consistent. As the saying goes, if you don’t use it, you lose it. If you exercise 3 – 4 times per week for three months and then miss a month, most of your health and fitness gains will be lost because you’ve stopped.
  3. Find exercise that you enjoy and that fits your lifestyle, this will increase your chance of being a consistent exerciser.

The three key types of exercise

  1. Resistance
  2. Cardiovascular
  3. Stretching.

Each gives your body unique benefits. A good exercise programme should ideally incorporate all three elements in the same workout; they can also be separated into different workouts; however, it is good to include stretching at the end of all workouts.

The benefits of resistance exercise

  1. This can be with free weights, machine weights or your own body weight.
  2. Increases your metabolism, i.e. you burn more calories each day [even when you’re sitting still!]
  3. Helps you to achieve the weight you want
  4. Builds and/or tones your muscles, improving confidence
  5. Improves your posture
  6. Strengthens your bones, reducing the risk of osteoporosis
  7. Makes everyday activities easier and makes you less prone to back problems and other injuries.

The benefits of cardiovascular exercise

  1. Releases endorphins, the feel-good chemicals—so you feel happy
  2. Improves your energy levels and gives you more stamina each day
  3. Improves your overall health, especially that of your heart and lungs
  4. Increases your metabolism [i.e. you burn more calories each day]
  5. Strengthens your immune system, so you’re less likely to get ill
  6. Reduces the risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease
  7. Helps you to maintain a healthy weight
  8. Improves quality of sleep
  9. Increases blood flow, which improves the appearance of the skin.

The benefits of stretching exercise

  1. Improves your balance, co-ordination and mobility
  2. Reduces muscle tension and helps to prevent injuries
  3. Improves flexibility, mobility and posture
  4. Stimulates blood circulation and improves energy levels
  5. Improves physical performance in sports and general exercise
  6. Helps to relax, re-energise and balance mind and body

Examples of resistance, cardiovascular and stretching exercise

Resistance exercises

An all-body resistance-based workout could last for as little as 20 minutes and it could be done just twice a week in order to see improvements. That’s just 40 minutes per week to get all the great benefits of resistance training—anything more is a bonus. You could try to:

  • take a resistance-based exercise class, e.g. body pump
  • get a personal trainer to write you a home-based resistance programme or look one up online
  • take part in a military fitness class or an outdoor boot camp circuit class
  • use resistance bands [when you buy them they come with examples of exercises]
  • join a gym and get a resistance programme from a gym instructor or personal trainer.

Cardiovascular exercises

Ideally, a cardiovascular-based workout should be done three times a week. It doesn’t need to be for long: 20 – 30 minutes at a time is a great place to start. That’s just 1 hour a week to start seeing the benefits! You could try:

  • cardio-based exercise classes, such as Zumba, body attack, cardio kick-boxing and aerobics
  • a cardio-based exercise DVD
  • sports that involve cardio, e.g. cycling, swimming, skipping, running, football, netball and power-walking
  • looking up a cardio-based fitness programme online, which you can do outside of a gym
  • joining a military fitness class or outdoor boot camp circuit class
  • joining a gym and get a cardio-based programme from a gym instructor or personal trainer.

Stretching exercises

An all-body stretching workout could last for as little as 10 – 20 minutes and you could start by doing this twice a week: that’s just 20 – 40 minutes per week to start seeing great benefits. Stretches can be done throughout a cardiovascular or resistance workout, in-between exercises or at the end of your workout. You could try:

  • going to yoga or Pilates classes, or getting personal yoga or Pilates sessions at home
  • a stretching exercise DVD or Wi Fit, or follow a yoga book or DVD
  • searching online [there are hundreds of stretching videos to choose from]
  • asking a personal trainer or yoga instructor to write you a home-based stretching programme.

One final point to mention is that there are big benefits for your overall health in combining all three elements of exercising in the same workout [e.g. some cardiovascular exercise, some resistance exercise and some stretching]. This is also a great use of time and will leave you feeling completely energised.

Excerpted with permission from Energise You by Oliver Gray published by Jaico Publishing House.

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