Centuries ago, the ancient Greek philosophers reported on the benefits of physical activity; Plato himself once said, ‘Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it’. To add to this, in his work – Theaetetus – Plato recounts the teachings of Socrates to the young man, Theaetetus.
“the healthy condition is undermined by inactivity… and to a great extent preserved by exercise and motion…
The soul acquires knowledge and is kept going and improved by learning and practice… By inactivity, dullness, and neglect of exercise, it learns nothing and forgets what it has learned…
So, of the two, motion is a good thing for both soul and body, and immobility is bad…
Need I speak further of such things as stagnation in air or water, where stillness causes corruption and decay, when motion would keep things fresh…”
Between them, Socrates and Plato were onto something, and these same facts observed then are still true to this day. The simple truth is this: inactivity and leading a sedentary lifestyle contribute – irrefutably – to many chronic health conditions, including Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, Obesity, Diabetes, Depression and Osteoporosis (among others).
The beautiful thing, however, that can be extrapolated from these [perhaps depressing] facts and quotes is that being active can have a potentially reversing effect on the negatives of which they speak. Fitness benefits from regular exercise can include:
Improved Cardiovascular Function – a stronger heart means more efficient circulation of blood, and therefore, better uptake of oxygen [from the lungs], as well as nutrients ingested.
Muscle Strength and Endurance – improved body composition will come as a result of regaining muscle, thus increasing metabolism, and being able to “burn fat” more effectively; also we’ll notice improved posture, stronger ligaments and tendons, and increased bone density.
Flexibility – improved mobility and range of motion, and reduced risk of injury.
Motor Skills – improved balance, coordination, speed and power.
This is a super brief summary of just some benefits, and the great thing is that there is a plethora of ways that we can go about creating a new, more active lifestyle for ourselves. We have so many options out there that we are, in fact, spoilt for choice! The two issues are: knowing what those options are, and opting to pursue them. If – like me – any of you enjoy reading up on Health & Fitness (certainly, if you’re reading this, then you likely do), then you’re already doing a fantastic job of nourishing the mind and soul through your pursuit of learning, so you have those bases well covered, and are already one crucial step ahead of some.
Being physically active is the tricky one – it’s where our measure of perceived exertion can be undermined by a low level of self-belief. We need to consider that fitness is not all about being a cover model or a professional athlete. Nor is it about “washboard abs” and “booty-licious peaches”.
Nay, to be active, you can start seriously small with things like: getting up and moving around for five minutes every half hour – if there’s a break in your favourite TV show, then get up and move (are those commercials really that interesting anyway!?), or if you’re at work and just sent off an email, then take a little walk around the office. If you drive to the supermarket, park a little farther than normal, and walk that little extra way to the entrance (and back). Take the dog out for a walk more frequently. And so on.
If you can be moderately active for thirty minutes or more per day (or if you’ve delved into the realm of wearable tech with a FitBit, for example, and are trying to notch up your 10,000 steps per day), you might then consider taking the leap of faith and joining a gym, health club, or local fitness class. You can ease into things with some [Beginner’s] Yoga or Pilates, or even look into trying Aqua Aerobics – these options are tremendously easy going on the joints, will promote flexibility, and be a great way of priming your body for something more challenging (i.e. gym-based exercise).
Once you feel ready to take the next step towards “keeping things fresh” (as Socrates said), then I would recommend seeking the advice of a Fitness Professional and taking a more laser-focused and “methodical” approach; they can start by writing you up a basic plan, and showing you how to safely and effectively perform a variety of exercises with [or without] the use of gym equipment, and every 6-8 weeks you can look to progress that plan.
It is crucial to note, however, that if you suffer from any of the conditions mentioned earlier, then you should find someone who is adequately/appropriately qualified to formulate exercise plans that cater to them. You should, first and foremost, consult your doctor, who can then refer you to a Level 3 Exercise Referral Professional (a Personal Trainer who is well-versed in creating programs for anyone with conditions such as: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoporosis, Low Back Pain, and other conditions); or they can refer you to a Level 4 Specialist (a Personal Trainer who has a focused field of expertise in a particular area, for example: Diabetes & Obesity, or Pre-& Post Natal Exercise). If you are simply new to exercise, but otherwise perfectly healthy, then any decent Personal Trainer should be able to whip up a program for you that will yield results. You may find that progress in the beginning is amazing, but then suddenly you hit a plateau – don’t be discouraged! This just means that your body has adapted and needs something new as a challenge, so get your Trainer to scale up your workload!
(N.B. The professional titles that I refer to are UK-specific, but whether you’re in Australia, Portugal, Hawaii or wherever, you’ll find there should be equivalents within the Fitness Industry of your country).
The take-home message at the end of the day is this: keep learning and the mind will stay sharp; keep moving and the body shall remain young. It’s never too late (or early) to make a change!
Yours in Training,
Chris Atkinson | Master Personal Trainer, SDO