Happy New Year!!!
I hope you all had a fantastic New Years Eve and are all looking forward to 2016 and all the challenges and opportunities it may hold. Now the start of a new year is traditionally a time for many to start something new to improve their lives for the better. This often involves making some new year resolutions, and this usually includes a commitment to a new exercise regime or activity to improve health and well being.
However, many new year resolutions don’t last long, with some studies showing 25% fail within the first week, and as little as 8% actually are achieved. There are many reasons why new year resolutions fail, such as being over ambitious, trying to change too much too quickly, not setting targets, a lack of motivation, or simply just being put off by others negativity.
But this could be said for resolutions made at any the time of year! In fact many dont know that setting resolutions at new year actually means you are 10 times more likely to stick at and achieve them than setting them at other times.
But there are still many naysayers and skeptics who mock the tradition of making new year resolutions, but I personally think it’s a great to do, and should be supported even if they do only last a short period of time. Doing ‘something’ is always better than doing nothing in my experience!
So I want to try and help those who have made a resolution to start a new physical activity like running or going to the gym or even just to walk a bit more, to keep it going for as long as they can and avoid some of the common set backs.
To do this I thought I would highlight the amazing and widespread benefits of increasing your physical activity for motivation purposes, as well as giving some simple guidance that should reduce your risk of encountering any injuries as you strive to achieve your fitness goals.
So strap on those new trainers, squeeze yourself into that new day glow spandex sports gear, make sure your new GPS activity tracker is turned on, turn up that kick arse sound track on the ipod, stick two fingers up to all those naysayers and tell em to fuck off, and lets get going.
I really don’t know how to stress this strongly enough, the benefits of increasing your physical activity even a little are simply… immense!
There are lots of figures and statistics banded about, but it is actually quite hard to measure exactly how beneficial increasing your physical activity truely is due to the individual response and variations (ref ref ref). However, regardless of how benefical it is everyone agrees that it is by far the simplest most effective method of preventing and reversing many non-communicable diseases and problems (ref).
For example, just increasing your physical activity levels to 30 minutes a day, by doing something as simple as taking a brisk walk, has been shown to reduce your risk of developing, and even reversing the effects of type 2 diabetes, cardio vascular disease, respiratory conditions, neurological disorders and even some cancers.
In fact some studies have shown you can get positive health benefits with even less effort! Just 10 minutes of low intensity exercise 3 times a week, with 2-3 short bursts of 10-20 secs high intensity effort, has been found to have significant health effects. However what needs to be considered is this is for the extremely sedentary, but it does go to show how even a little can help, a bit like that well known supermarket advertising slogan.
Increasing physical activity also improves bone density, muscle strength, and when combined with a healthy diet helps reduces both internal and external deposits of excess body fat, regardless of your age or previous activity levels, it really is never too late to start.
Increasing your physical activity also has a whole host of psychological benefits, such as improving your mood, increasing your memory and concentration, and lets not forget that exercise will also make you far more attractive both in an out of clothes, and so can help improve your sex life… I cant guarantee that it will help with your technique, but at least you should be a little more energetic!
If anything was truly an elixir for life and ‘anti-aging‘ then increasing your physical activity levels would be it. Exercise prevents against the age related effects of degeneration, deterioration and even early death (ref ref ref). If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the MRI images below of two 70 year old men’s legs when compared to a 40 year old’s, taken from this study. You can clearly see the difference exercise makes regardless of age!
I hope I have convinced you of the amazing benefits for increasing your physcial activity, and without sounding like a stuck record, please, please, please get moving even just a little more than usual, and start reaping the host of rewards it brings your way.
But, where there are benefits there will also be some risks, and this is true for physical activity. Without trying to bring any negativity to your new year resolutions, I want to ensure that you gain the most out of your new increased physical activity and stay happy, healthy and on track for the long term.
Let me start by stating that with any physcial activity injuries will occur, for example research has found that as much as 94% of all runners will experience an injury at some time or other, with novice runners the most at risk group.
We cannot expect to totally eradicate or prevent injury, shit just happens at times, usually due a combination of unfortunate circumstances and bad luck. However we can look to reduce the risk of sustaining an injury, and the biggest risk with most physcial activities is not from trauma or accidents, but rather training error, that is simply doing too much too quickly.
Training error covers a wide spectrum of variables such as duration, frequency, intensity, and volume of activity. However trying to work out which of these variables is best to monitor and control for has been confusing and conflicting, especially in the world of running.
For example it has been suggested that for a beginner, running more than 3 times a week is high risk for developing an over use injury (ref). However other research has questioned this variable, showing that running at a higher intensity is much more of a risk for developing an injury than running frequency (ref).
Interestingly this study also showed that contrary to common belief, higher running volume was not associated with increased risk of injury. They found novice runners who ran more than 60 minutes at a low intensity a week were less likely to develop an injury. This reduced risk with higher volumes but lower intensity of running was also found in other research, showing recreational runners who ran more than 2 hours a week had less injury risk than those who ran less than 2 hours.
So when it comes to reducing the risk of injury with physcial activity its all a little confusing and uncertain as to what are the best variables to monitor and control. But I will try and give the simplest advice I can based on the evidence and some common sense!
1) Be S.M.A.R.T
Setting yourself and monitoring progress towards targets I believe is essential. Using SMART thats, Specific, Meaningful, Achievable, Realisitc, and Timed has long been used in many fields and is a useful way to set goals.
Setting a target to aim for and recording your progress towards it not only helps focus attention, but it also helps motivate when progress can be seen to be made.
Keeping a record of your activity also allows you to monitor the variables or frequency and duration, and can help prevent doing too much too soon, or leaving too long inbetween activity.
So make some SMART goals, write them down and put them somewhere you can refer to them regularly. Make goals that mean something to you, that are both realistic and achievable, that has a date to be completed by, and record your progress towards them, and watch your progress grow.
2) Be bold, be brave
The common belief that increased physical activity causes more wear and tear on our bodies is a myth, but it is one I hear a lot. Many people often blame a sport or hobby that they did a lot in their youth as a reason for their problems they have now, when in fact its usually the exact opposite. As I have shown increased physical activity is actually protective against degeneration and a host of other age related issues, not causative of them. Many people have pains and problems not because of physical activity but usually because they didn’t persevere and stopped!
It is important to remember that our bodies are not machines like cars. We are robust self regulating, highly adaptive eco systems, with an inherent amount of ‘wiggle room’ built in that allows for brief periods of sudden change. For example think back to that extra long walk or run you had to do one day, managed it didn’t you.
But the ecosystem and all its tissues are susceptible to becoming sensitive, irritated and painful with any sudden increase in activity. Again think back to that sudden long walk or run, I bet you can remember the ache and discomfort your felt for a few days afterwards. This exercise induced soreness called D.O.M.S or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness, is normal, its good, its to be expected, and it is most definitely not harmful. So be brave and bold, expect some temporary discomfort from time to time and crack on!
3) Take it steady
As I’ve said your body/ecosystem is remarkably adaptable, regardless of its shape, size, or age, it has the ability to withstand stresses, strains and forces it experiences day to day without any major issues, and it is able to accomodate more and more as its exposed to them, but…
If it is done steadily, consistently, and given suitable time to recover.
Its the sudden increases in activity that occur too often, for too long that tend to cause problems. As I have mentioned, there are no clear guidelines to follow when it comes to deciding the correct and safe amount of any physical activity to do due to the vast variation in us all, and the variation in duration, frequency, and intensity of the activities we do.
There are many different programs and plans available to follow that are believed to be best for beginners, and as I have suggested I think some structure and planning into a physical activity program is a good thing, but I often see and hear people getting injured by following these programs far to religiously.
The simplest advice I can give, that is backed by some evidence is to use your own scale of exertion during activity, and also your own scale of recovery afterwards.
Simply put exercise at a level that feels challenging but comfortable, and then exercise again when you feel you have adequately recovered.
Using a self reported measure of exertion and recovery accounts for individual variation and variables and means that each individual can determine when and how hard they train, rather than trying to follow and maintain someone elses plans and targets that maybe not suitable for them, in that it may be too hard, or occasionally too easy.
4) Mix it up
Regardless of what activity you have choosen to do, choose another one to do now and then. Variety is not only good for relieving boredom, but its also good for your body to experience different things from time to time. Of all the activities you could choose, you can’t go wrong getting strong.
Doing some strength based training is arguably the best way to protect against injury (ref). So get in the gym and start pumping some iron now and then, just ensure you follow step 3 and take it steady!
5) Have fun
Finally, and most importantly find an activity that you enjoy doing and have some fun doing it, and then keep doing it, remember, shit thats fun, gets done!
As always thanks for reading, and good luck with your new year resolutions, and have a happy and healthy New Year