Kickstart the new year by taking up an activity you’ll enjoy. It’s the best way to ensure you’ll stick at it, says Arlene Harris.
Another new year is about to dawn and with it the steadfast resolutions of many an exhausted Christmas reveller.
But while gyms, swimming pools and aerobic classes will be packed to the gills for the month of January, many of those enthusiastic fitness fanatics will have fallen by the wayside as soon as February rolls around.
Some may not have the stamina or willpower to carry on, while others are simply bored by the tedium of repetitive exercise.
But there are those who have found the answer by choosing an exercise that is fun and stress-busting.
Nicola Watkins certainly doesn’t fit into the category of participating in a ‘boring’ exercise.
The 46-year-old PR consultant keeps in shape by doing yoga in a hammock and says there are many benefits to engaging in something so different and stimulating.
“I started antigravity yoga in 2011— just before my 40th birthday,” she says. “I wanted to lose weight, get in shape and strengthen my back as I had back problem for years and decided to give this a try.
“It is a unique exercise program developed by Christopher Harrison in the US and is the world’s leading suspension fitness class.
It’s a fusion of several fitness techniques including aspects of traditional yoga, Pilates, calisthenics, dance and gymnastics — using a silk hammock.
“Many people cannot get over how simple it is to do a handstand or a front or back tumble using the hammock, and at the same time you get a super workout — your muscles definitely feel the benefits the following day.”
The Drogheda woman says she gets all the same benefits from a regular yoga class plus the added bonus of decompressing the spine and joints by hanging upside down.
“I love antigravity yoga as it’s a full body workout which also decompresses my spine — no other workout will provide this,” she says.
“I usually go twice a week but sometimes do an extra class on a Thursday – Arial Yoga and then Flips and Flexibility. It’s fantastic for my back, relieves stress and, most of all, it’s great fun and I’ve made some great friends.
“I believe you have to really love whatever exercise you do in order to make it a habit.”
Dr Julie Broderick, assistant professor in the department of physiotherapy at Trinity College, agrees. “If someone has a passion for an activity they are certainly more likely to stick with it,” she says.
“You may not enjoy the sport every single moment, for instance in the middle of a tough run it can be hard to ‘enjoy’ it but the dividends will be felt psychologically once the run is over and the natural ‘high’ from neurochemicals such as endorphins after excise kick in.”
But exercise doesn’t have to be a tortuous affair and there is likely to be something which suits everyone’s level of fitness and their personality.
“We should consider exercise on a spectrum from low-intensity gentle walking to vigorous, high-intensity triathlon training – so there is an exercise to suit all abilities and disabilities,” she says.
“Not everyone is sporty or has a natural inclination or skill, but there really is something for everyone and it is important to find something that you enjoy mainly because you are more likely to stick with it.”
She advises picking a form of exercise that suits your ability and interests and has a social element to it.
“Also, bear in mind it will take time to get used to a new sport or activity. Be patient, sometimes you may not find enjoyment until you become fitter or more proficient in the skill – but stick with it and you will start to reap the benefits both physically and mentally.”
Julie Dennehy has a demanding job as a nurse in CUH but despite (or perhaps because of) being on her feet all day, the Cork woman spends her spare time climbing hills and mountains.
This she says, is the perfect antidote to the stresses and strains of working life and is also a fantastic way to stay in shape.
“I work three 13-hour shifts a week and am usually exhausted by the end of it,” she says.
“But rather than relax at home in front of the TV, I always try to get out and do some exercise as this really does make me feel better. So even if it is the last thing I feel like doing when I have finished work, I push myself to get out.
“I ride horses in my spare time but last year I took up climbing and went with Earth’s Edge to Everest Base Camp. I also climbed two peaks in the Himalayas.
“In order to scale the heights, I have to have a good level of fitness and when I know I am going to be climbing a big one, I will do lots of cardio work at the gym beforehand — I need to do this to be able for challenging climbs but even just doing some of the hills in my locality or around Kerry keeps me fit in itself, ” says Dennehy who is taking up a new nursing post in Abu Dhabi next month.
She climbed Kilimanjaro in September and plans to return to the Himalayas next year. But regardless of the location, she says the beauty of climbing is
enhanced by exactly that — beauty.
“Climbing is great for keeping in shape and I am hoping to take on some big challenges this year, but aside from all of that, it is such a fantastic way to stay healthy, strong and in shape,” she says.
“Particularly as there is nothing more exhilarating than being out in the fresh air, scaling the heights and taking in the beautiful scenery around us — and I am happy to go in a group, which is always a great laugh, or for the less challenging climbs, I’ll head off on my own — just plug in the iPod and off I go. There’s nothing like it.”
Dr Broderick says that hill walking would be classified as ‘cardio’ and while some types of yoga can be quite vigorous (such as Nicola’s anti-gravity type), others are more focused on flexibility and would also have to be supplemented by aerobic exercise to meet guidelines.
However, she advises that anyone taking up a new form of energetic exercise should ensure they are in full health beforehand.
“If anyone is commencing an exercise programme, particularly in middle age, it would be recommended to get checked out by your GP first,” she says. “If there are no medical problems, start with something like walking, building up to brisk walking.
“With ‘moderate exercise’ you will feel you are breathing faster and deeper than normal but you can still talk. If you can’t talk during exercise you are likely to be doing vigorous exercise and building up to it is vitally important.
“Ensure good footwear, enough hydration and build up exercise time, frequency and intensity slowly and steadily to minimise injury risk.
“Studies show that in ‘habitual runners’ rates of osteoarthritic are lower, mainly due to a lower body mass index of runners, but if running causes musculoskeletal or joint pain, people should revise their programme downwards and seek advice from a health professional such as a charted physiotherapist.”
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