Why is exercise so good as a self-care practice, especially in challenging times?
Exercise is one of the best ways to bring down the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, reduce inflammation and boost our immune system. The right amount of exercise can be beneficial for a variety of psychological conditions, including depression and anxiety. Regular physical activity teaches our stress response system to operate more efficiently when we are exposed to daily stress and helps us to keep calm.
Do a little experiment:
When you feel overwhelmed or anxious, try doing a quick burst of exercises such as push-ups or lunges, dancing to an upbeat song or a 5 min high-intensity workout. Observe afterwards how stressed you are feeling compared to before. In most cases, your stress levels will have decreased.
What is the right amount of exercise?
With the right intensity and the correct dose, workout routines can be a fantastic antidote to stress. But it can also harm us if we overdo it.
Your optimal dose of exercise depends on the state of the rest of your life. You need to ask yourself whether you need a restorative work out or an intense one. Ask yourself the question: Am I quite stressed or anxious at the moment? (Need for a restorative exercise). Or am I a little bit low on energy, not motivated or even stuck and frustrated? (Need for an intense work out).
In our experience, more people than not over-exercise.
Signs of over-exercising might be:
- Inability to sleep following a vigorous workout
- Feeling exhausted after a workout
- Feeling irritable and moody after an increase in exercise
- Getting ill more often
What exercises can we do every day at home?
It’s great to move our bodies regularly in a way that is enjoyable, safe and sustainable.
Getting outside for exercises is undoubtedly the best way to move. Any type of incidental exercises is helpful, e.g. walking to the shops instead of driving, parking further away from the destination, taking the stairs instead of the escalators etc.
If you have a garden try circuits of yoga or Tai Chi. Our former practitioner Jim Bermingham, who is in lockdown in France, has put a few video clips together to try out, some might be in French.
Tips for your exercise routine
It’s important to make sure you include a mix of cardiovascular, strength/resistance and flexibility/balance exercises.
I personally follow the ‘Feel Better In 5’ exercises that Dr Rangan Chatterjee suggests in his latest book. They are short and easy to incorporate into my routine of the day. I love that these exercises are short because it feels achievable. Personally, I alternate each day between strength exercises, cardiovascular exercises, and flexibility exercises.
This is a sequence of bodyweight exercises that will give all the major muscles in your body a workout.
These are the major muscle groups that you want to work with:
- Glutes (the muscles in your bottom)
- Hamstrings (the muscles on the back of your thighs)
- Quads (the muscles at the front of your legs)
- Core (the chain of deep abdominal muscles that help to support your spine)
Do each of the exercises below for thirty seconds, one after the other. Repeat the sequence 2x (whole sequence completed in 5 min)
- Lunges to strengthen your glutes, quads, and hamstrings and build up your hip flexibility (15 sec each side)
- The Reverse Fly for upper back muscles and shoulders. This helps posture; important if you are sedentary (30 sec). If you don’t have dumbells at home, just use two cans of food or milk bottles as weight.
- Squats (hold) is a whole-body movement for glutes and quads, balance and coordination. To make the exercise harder, try squatting with hands behind your head (30 sec)
- Push-ups are good for chest, arms, tummy and glutes (Breath in – lower yourself down, breath out – push back up (30 sec)
- Glute bridges for glutes, hamstrings, hips, lower back and core. The glute bridge is a functional exercise, which is good at helping you in many of your day-to-day movements, such as carrying the shopping bags, going up the stairs or bending down (30 sec)
B. CARDIO (HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING (HIIT)
These are exercises in short sharp bursts. Research shows that HIIT is beneficial for muscles, brain, and bones. It also helps your mitochondria (the energy power packs in your cells), increases insulin sensitivity, and decreases visceral fat (belly fat).
These exercises can be done any time during the day but are particularly helpful just before lunch as they will help you process your meal in a better way.
Dr Chatterjee’s Power 5
- Jogging on the spot (go as hard as you can)
- Jumping Jacks
- Mountain climbers
- Sumo Squats
Beginner: start with 20 sec on, 40 sec off, repeat 5x
Intermediate: 30 sec on, 30 sec off, repeat 5x
Advanced: 40 sec on, 20 sec off, repeat 5x
C. RESTORE AND RELEASE
Before and after a work out it is important to stretch the body. It increases blood flow to your muscles and increases flexibility and range of motion. There are plenty of stretches available. Check out the links below to see some of these. I will only focus on one, which is my favourite for the hip flexors.
- 90/90 hip stretch
From the floor, place front leg in a 90º angle directly out in front of you with the knee flat on the ground. Do the same with the other leg behind you. Place hands on the floor on each side of the front leg. Slowly bring your chest towards your knee, keeping your shoulders squared to the mat. Don’t drop to the elbow unless both can be on the floor equally. Hold the stretch for 30 sec.
Start somewhere, whether it’s just the Power 5 or the incidental movements. The crucial point lies in the regularity of implementing exercises in your daily structure. Even five minutes a day will add to your wellbeing.
If you need support or guidance please speak to us. Almost everything we suggest in blogs we try out beforehand to see how practical or beneficial our ideas might be for you. And of course, let us know if you have any feedback.
Other helpful links:
Fitness Blender – over 600 free workouts available online
Sweaty Betty offers a wide selection of free, at-home workouts
Free live ballet sessions with The Ballet Couch (including for little ones) with Sarah Du-Feu, an English National Ballet School trained dancer.
Cosmic Kids Yoga (Free, YouTube)
Yoga with Adrienne (Free, YouTube)
‘The Body Coach’, Joe Wick (Free, YouTube)