Saturday, 10 September 2011

Getting hooked on exercise

By Virginia Winder
It’s spring in New Zealand and like the lambs, we’re leaping to life.
Many of you may have started hitting the walkways and roads to slough off the winter kilos to get fit and feel good.
But how on earth do you continue that exercise kick so it becomes part of your life?
Try hitting the books and browsing sports magazines to get inspiration.
Among the dozens of promising titles in New Plymouth’s Puke Ariki library one stands out: Fighting Globesity – a practical guide to personal health and global sustainability by Phillip (son of Les and Colleen) and Jackie Mills.
“Sustainability starts with your own body,” they write. “If we can start to win the battle against obesity and inactive ageing, then many of the trillions of dollars spent on chronic illness can be diverted into more important endeavours such as saving rainforests and subsidising sustainable energy programmes.”
Over a picture of large man, are the words: “Like an overweight person, as a race we are simply consuming more than we can healthily maintain. This over-consumption is not only bad for our bodies but also bad for the world.”
Before we move on to tips on getting going, staying motivated and sustaining exercise for life, let’s have a look at some of the scary facts recorded in A Portrait of Health: Key Results from the 2006/2007 New Zealand Health Survey:
• One in four adults were obese (26.5%).
• One in five children (aged 2 to 14 years) were overweight (20.9%) and one in 12 (8.3%) were obese.
• One in seven adults (13.6%) were taking medication for high blood pressure. This equates to 425,500 adults.
• One in 12 adults (8.4%) were taking medication for high blood cholesterol.
• One in 20 adults (5.2%) had been diagnosed with ischaemic heart disease.
• One in 20 adults (5.0%) had doctor-diagnosed diabetes (excluding diabetes during pregnancy). This equates to 157,100 adults.
• Half of all adults (50.5%) met the definition of being regularly physically active. Overall, one in seven (15.0%) adults were sedentary, reporting less than 30 minutes of physical activity in the previous week.
Those statistics are people and they are putting huge pressure on the New Zealand health system. But much of the above can be remedied through healthy eating and exercise. It sounds so easy, but in our time-poor, fast-food, cheap-fizz, take-the-car society; it’s become the hardest thing many people face.
Yes, what we eat is an issue, but today we are dealing with how to get going and keep moving.
This is the tough part.
Experts say that 25% of people who start a new exercise programme quit within the first week and another 25% quit within the first six months.
And the most frequent reason for giving up is lack of time.
So, make exercise as important as your job, whether you’re a mother or a corporate boss.
But first, you need to choose a sport – and that’s anything that takes your fancy. You can run, bike, dance, swim and zumba your way to fitness, or you can decide to take up yoga, tai chi, tennis, basketball or touch rugby – the list is long.
Then you need to set a goal and here, there are two schools of thoughts.
One is to set realistic goals and the other is to dream big.
The Mills opt for the Big Hairy Audacious Goals, a term coined by Good to Great author Jim Collins.
“We believe that everyone should set major fitness goals; powerful aims that create a much more holistic impetus to exercise,” they say. “There’s a power in allowing yourself to dream, in visualising yourself at your very best. It can be incredibly inspiring and motivating. Great coaches use this technique very effectively.”
They also say you may never reach your goal, but you will get fit and have fun on the journey.
Next, work out a training schedule and set small, manageable goals that you can attain. It could be walking further, adding a hill or steps in to your routine, running faster than before, doing more press ups or increasing the daily steps on your pedometer.
Start a training diary and write down your plans and goals, then record your daily results. This will help you see how far you have come.
The magazines and books (there’s a dozen of each at my elbow) have pages and pages of advice.
Here are 20 top tips:
1. Exercise with friends, so that this becomes not just fitness time but friendship time. My sister has been in a walking/running group for more than 20 years and these women support each other in all areas of their lives.
2. Wear a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day. This will not only tell you how active you are, but also give you a goal to do more.
3. We are what we think. Counter your negative inner talk with positive mantras, like: “Go for it,” and “I can do it”. Or have a key word that stokes your fire, like: “Warrior,” or “power”.
4. Find a mentor to inspire you, give you advice and ongoing encouragement. Or you could employ a personal fitness trainer to get you started and keep you on track.
5. Watch a sports event live and imagine you are out there too – and you can be, will be.
6. Upwards and onwards. When you’re out walking, cycling or running, don’t just go for the flat. Hills will improve your cardio fitness, muscle power and speed, so embrace those upward hauls as your friends. Wherever possible, take stairs.
7. Imagine the rewards of getting fit. It could be weight loss, better health, taking part in or winning a race, or you could organise a reward. This could be something like a trip to Paris if you reach a weight goal or complete a marathon. Remember to celebrate the small steps on the way too.
8. Find your inner motivation. If you’re competitive, make your goal a race. If your life is out of control, think of sport as your way of regaining balance in your life. For others it might be the need to beat depression – regular workouts help your brain release those natural “feel-good” chemicals.
9. Small steps and strokes. Start your exercise programme gently so that you don’t injure yourself, or overdo it so much you hurt and can’t face the thought of doing it again. Also, if you start off swimming 40 lengths of your community pool, what are you going to do the next day – what are can you aim for? So start with 10 lengths and build up.
10. Have your gear all ready to go. If you’re going to train in the morning, have all your clothes, shoes, or togs, towel and goggles out so you just need to change and head out. You could also do this if you are exercising later in the day.
11. Make a pact. Find a friend or family member to go on this fitness journey with you. Talk about your goals, your rules for getting out there, including exercising in the rain and organise a regular time to meet up. You’re less likely to let down a friend than yourself.
13. Variety is the spice of sport. If you’re running, cycling or walking, take different routes and stride out with different people. Or mix it up. Go swimming one day, biking the next, head to the gym for a weight workout and then take a Zumba class.
14. Be inspired. Read stories about people who have gone from fat to thin, from slug to slogger, from loser to winner.
15. Work at making it a habit. Develop a routine to exercise at the same time every day and do it. For those workaholics out there, consider exercise as work and put it in your diary or timetable. Sport will increase your brain power and giving you thinking time.
16. Plan holidays that have a physical element to them. This could be a skiing, canoeing, surfing, tramping or biking holiday. Explore New Zealand and the world the natural way.
17. Move whenever you can. Walk or bike to work or into town. In fact, ditch the car for a month unless you have to travel more than 10km. Don’t scoot around your office sitting on your wheeled chair, get up and walk. Wander round the house during TV ad breaks (but don’t head to the fridge or pantry).
18. Get a dog. Not only do you have a constant companion, but you have a barking, whining, nagging reason to go for a walk or run out every single day. Who can resist those pleading “take me out” eyes?
19. Have fun. Exercise needs to be something that you enjoy and look forward to. So listen to music or an audio book when you’re out. Choose upbeat music that will get you going or a thrilling novel that will inspire you to do an extra block to find out what happens next.
20. Go public. In 2009, my son, husband and I pledged to swim in the sea every day of the year and I wrote about it in the newspaper. When strangers started asking how the swimming was going, there was no backing out. Come hell or high water we were going to do it – and we did. Now I’ve started a blog and gone extremely public about my own fitness and life-balance goals.
In the end, it’s all about keeping on keeping on, say Phillip and Jackie Mills.
Never give up. “Coax and cajole yourself through those difficult early stages,” they write. “If you fail, don’t worry; failing is part of learning to succeed. Keep trying; you’ll get there in the end. It will be worth it.”

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