Monday, 29 June 2015

On the benefits of exercise

The likelihood of me dropping any weight this week is pretty low.  It's been a hectic week (we're moving house soon – if you've been through this pain, then you will understand) so food has very much been a secondary consideration.  In fact, we're having to work through the food left in the kitchen to avoid having to drag it to a different city.  Makes for some bizarre dinner combinations.

I've still tried to keep an eye on my exercise though, but there is no doubt that exercise alone is just not enough to lose weight.  A good workout can burn a few hundred calories but, as you learn quickly when you are on a diet, a few hundred calories is not that much food at all.  Some people take the approach that exercise isn't really worth the effort then.  This fails to take into account the other benefits of keeping fit.  It improves your overall health; it makes you feel better physically and mentally; it helps you sleep.  Increased muscle mass can increase metabolism too, which does help with the burning of calories.  Perhaps most significant is the growing bank of evidence showing just how much damage sitting down does to our health. Eating well will cause quicker weight loss than exercise, but you really need both for a healthy body and mind.

On that note, I've been thinking about the type of exercise I've been doing since starting this diet and what has worked best for me.  Here is my top 5:

5) Spinning.  This was very fashionable for a while, and I can see why.  The sessions are only about forty minutes long, burn a load of calories, and can be adapted for people at all levels of fitness. However, it was about the hardest exercise I've ever done.  I felt awful by the end and could barely keep up with the class.  Maybe I was arrogant at the start, trying to match the resistance levels of the more experienced people around me, but I was close to done after 25 minutes.  And I did not go back.  So there is definitely a value to these classes but it was not for me.  Julie Murray has collected some videos on Pinterest if you want to get a feel for it.

4) Kettlercise.  Kettlercise is an exercise class that uses kettlebells.  I had my first go at this only yesterday but I think I could really get hooked. My arms felt a bit limp afterwards and my abs are really sore today, but it was clearly a solid and effective workout in just half an hour.  As with the spinning, it is hard work for the beginner.  Some of the moves require more coordination than I have at 9 a.m. on a Sunday and I just cannot do burpees.  I did taekwondo for a couple of years when I was a teenager and burpees became my biggest nemesis.  You cannot ask me to combine burpees with weights training, at least not without the expectation of serious injury/embarrassment. However, I modified the exercise to make it work for me and came away pleased with my first effort.  Any resistance training is particularly good for those trying to lose weight, so I would definitely recommend giving this a go.

3) The gym.  A general session in the gym is still one of my preferred ways to exercise.  With the combination of resistance and cardio equipment, you can change up your routine as much as you want or need to.  You can focus on arms one day, legs the next, cardio after that, and so on, ensuring that your whole body is getting in on the action.  I kickstarted my weight loss by getting a personalised workout plan (a free part of my membership, thankfully, but probably worth paying for if you're serious about your fitness) and it gave me focus and made it easier to judge how much progress I was making.  My only issue with the gym is that it can be easy to coast.  At least with a class you have someone pushing you and the pressure of other people exercising around you.  In the gym, there is more anonymity and less accountability.  The best way to ensure you're exercising well is to plan your session before you go: that way, you know what you're working towards and you're less likely to try and fob yourself off.

2) Swimming.  I used to swim a lot but, like a lot of people, I felt awkward about going when I was at my heaviest.  That's stupid.  For a start, no one cares what you look like at the swimming pool. Everyone else is as acutely aware of their cellulite as you are of your own, so they're not looking to judge.  Secondly, swimming is amazing for those looking to lose weight, especially if you have issues with your joints.  The water carries much of the weight, making it low impact but highly effective as a cardio workout.  I try to knock out a kilometre when I go now, usually favouring breaststroke, but there are some octogenarians who do about twice as much as me in the same length of time.  It's a suitable exercise for most people and another great full-body workout.  The Speedo website is worth a look if you want to learn more about technique and the benefits of swimming.

1) Walking.  This is where I've done the most work over recent months.  I don't drive so I walk an awful lot anyway, but keeping an eye on your step count and trying to incorporate a weekly long walk outdoors into your routine is a fantastic, low stress way to exercise.  You can do it with friends, family and/or pets, and can make it part of a wider activity like going for a picnic or something. Out of all of the types of exercise out there, it is the easiest one to factor into your daily life and the one that feels the least like work.  Obviously, ambling around in your PJs doesn't really count, so try to walk quickly enough to be a little bit out of breath.  You want to be able to keep up a conversation but there needs to be some effort too. 10,000 steps a day is the recommended amount for maintaining health; if you can get closer to 14-15,000, you're well on the way to better health.

Of course, there are lots of other exercises you could try, but this is what seems to be working for me at the moment.  I'm pretty sure the physical effort of moving house is also going to help, but the calorie burn is a bit harder to quantify there.

So, with no expectation of anything at all, let's get on those scales.

As of 29 June 2015, I weigh 11 stone (69.9 kg).

Ooh, better than expected!  And I'm well on course to be under 11 stone for my first July weigh-in.  Must be those kettlebells!

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