Why exercise is more important now than ever

Kathy Carter


Recently, many of us who enjoy exercise at a gym or wellness facility have been exercising at home, or making the most of whatever outdoor exercise we can achieve. But a large number of individuals found the call of the sofa or biscuit tin too enticing. If that’s you, how can you motivate yourself to exercise even if your gym membership is still on hold. Here are some ideas:

Remember WHY we need to exercise

Quite apart from the fact that lockdown infers less body movement and potential weight gain for those individuals confined predominantly at home, we need exercise to promote our mental wellness. Physical activity releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve our mood. The increased blood circulation to the brain influences the pituitary and adrenal glands, which are linked to physiological reactivity to stress, as well as functions such as motivation and mood. In today’s uncertain times, exercise is a great tool to help abate signs of depression, anxiety and negative mood, and boost self-esteem. It also gives us a sense of regularity and structure, which experts like Yale Psychology professor Laurie Santos, tutor on the University’s ‘Science of Well-Being course’, say are useful in challenging times.

Why it’s key for seniors

As we have described, exercise improves blood flow to the brain, stimulating the growth of new blood vessels and brain cells. This triggers growth of new neurons, and helps repair and protect brain cells from degeneration. For anyone who is self-isolating and is of senior years, exercise is therefore key to boosting mental clarity. Doing regular exercise can reduce the risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes, as well as osteoporosis and even some types of cancer (source: healthcare provider BUPA). There’s also a future-proofing element, in that exercise can improve the strength and muscle tone of one’s muscles, reducing the risk factors for falls. Regular exercise also adds that vital structure to the day, which can be so important for anyone experiencing low mood, and helps with a sense of wellbeing and self-esteem; all of these things contribute to a sense of independence. (The Royal Voluntary Service and the National Institute On Aging both have excellent video content for home-based exercise – gentle walking outside, even around one’s garden, would be an alternative for those without You Tube).

Ideas for fitting exercise into your regime

The recent lifestyle challenges we have faced have certainly made many of us realise that we often try to over-schedule our lives, and become too busy. But now many of us have more available time, what are the most practical forms of exercise during periods of social limitation? Running is incredibly popular. In America, an estimated 60 million individuals run as their preferred exercise regime. This amount of runners no doubt increased when the leisure facilities closed during the coronavirus peak. It is a form of aerobic fitness, boosting cardiovascular health; it burns calories and build strength, and running is of course very accessible and cheap. Fitness DVDs and internet-based sessions are also very accessible. Caleb Marshall’s entertaining, user friendly ‘The Fitness Marshall’ dance videos are very popular, and perfect for a quick cardio session; pleasingly, they often feature dancers across all skills levels, and of all shapes and sizes. If Tik-Tok is your thing, search for the hashtags #fitness #workout and #motivation to find some fun-filled content – you surely can’t beat 82 year old Jane Fonda’s own Jane Fonda Workout, which she is hosting on the platform to help promote her #FireDrillFriday climate protest movement. If you prefer your exercises to be originated from your tablet or phone, perhaps if the kids have monopolised the TV, try an app like ‘SWEAT: Kayla Itsines Fitness’, which is reportedly the number one fitness app for women.

Health disciplines and self-care

Not all of us want or are able to carry out aerobic exercise, but it is still important to move our bodies, and generate endorphins and serotonin. Taking up pilates or yoga will be beneficial for most people who are now more sedentary – and one look at the bodies of individuals such as Jennifer Anniston, Kim Kardashian and David Beckham tells us that these practices are beneficial. There are many online providers – Cassey Ho’s ‘POP Pilates for Beginners - Total Body Workout’ is a good place to start. In addition to specific exercise sessions like these, it is also a good idea to incorporate simple, rejuvenating stretching sessions into our daily lives, as well as self-care rituals like reading and journaling, to help us feel validated and valued, so we can be the best versions of ourselves.

Exercising with children

There’s no doubt that exercising when you have children to look after can be a challenge, but there are ways of achieving it! If you have a young child (over six months old), running or simply walking while you’re pushing the stroller is an ideal form of exercise. Try to use a light handlebar grip, a wrist strap so the buggy is attached to you; and try to walk or run with your chest out and your shoulder blades back, maintaining an overall upright position, for optimal posture. Back at home, there are very many family-friendly video-based exercises available – Joe Wicks’ ‘PE with Joe’ is very popular, for example. Tik-Tok is full of fun family dances you could try, and you can even sneakily add in some home-education maths tricks, like helping Dad count the press ups, or count the total amount of weights added to a dumbbell hand weight.

Remember too that if we can do one thing for ourselves as we move forward positively into the rest of the year, it would surely be to regularly, mindfully exercise.

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