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Fitness. Okay, we mentioned the F-word. We 21st century humans spend a lot of time sitting. A lot! Which means we have to make an extra effort to stay functionally fit. As well as sitting (at desks, in cars, at home…), we also do more driving than our parents’ generations, including parking as close as possible to wherever we’re going, because goodness knows, we do not want to add any exercise to our day!
Getting physical is not just about squats to create a banging booty (although if that’s your long game, props to you!); it’s hugely important to life longevity and mental wellbeing.
It’s well documented that being physically fit has multiple benefits in your life. One thing not to be overlooked is how it makes you mentally robust and resilient to disease like winter lurgies, coughs and colds. Research studies show exercise also helps to reduce stress by increasing serotonin production and release (the neurotransmitter associated with happiness) into your body. Any exercise that gets your heart rate up, like walking, biking and running will boost serotonin, and even a chilled yoga session stimulates serotonin production for those happy vibes
Other health benefits of exercise include a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack and blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, able to maintain a balanced weight, stronger bones, muscles and joints, decreased incidence of type 2 diabetes, lowered risk of developing osteoporosis, better recovery after injury or illness, and more able to relax and sleep better.
Functional fitness is the most important type of fitness to support sustained body functions throughout your whole lifetime. This is fitness that is critical to keep up well into old age as it means you can live life independently.
Functional fitness is training your body for real-life activity. The Mayo Clinic describes it as:
“It trains your muscles to work together and prepares them for daily tasks by simulating common movements you might do at home, at work, or in sports.” –Mayo Clinic.
That is, pushing and pulling, walking up and down stairs, bending down to pick up stuff and reaching for things, and standing up and sitting down with ease. It’s history comes from rehabilitation therapy and the training exercises is designed for muscles to operate together, rather than in isolation.
While you might be able to bench press a kajillion kgs at the gym, what really matters in life is being able to carry your groceries from the car to the house, load your 23kg suitcase into the car after lugging it downstairs, pick up and carry babies and small children (and pets!), and opening heavy doors. Gaining functional strength is your pathway to doing it!
The goal is to avoid pulling muscles or straining and injuring your body by doing simple life activities and chores. It’s fundamentally about balance, motion and mobility. Plus, when you ace your functional muscle strength and keep it at your own optimal healthy level, every other exercise or sport with be much, much easier and safer for your bod.
To kick off your functional strength, the best start is to work with a personal trainer to create an exercise programme tailored for you. Design something that you can do each day at a gym, at work or at home. Functional strength exercise is all about muscle development and muscle memory, and is ideal to do as a break away from your desk, first thing in the morning or when you get home at night.
Start by creating a bank of exercises you need to do to achieve your goals. Weights are super cheap to buy, or just use items at home, like heavy books, your laptop, or whatever if the exercise requires it.
Or sign up to a high intensity interval training (HIIT) programme at your gym. These clusters of short bursts of exercise peppered with recovery minutes in between are designed to keep your heart rate up, increase metabolism, use your body weight as the “weights” plus, once you master the skills of HIIT, you can do it anywhere.
While joining the gym may make your hair stand on end, there are a stack of ways to get other exercise on the daily without freaking out. Here are a few of ours to inspire your imagination:
● Park further away than usual and walk to your destination
● Walk or bike to work (if possible!)
● Get off the bus a couple of stops early and walk the rest of the way
● Walk to the supermarket for small items
● Make a conscious effort to use the stairs
● Walk up and down escalators
● Book a room at work to do a ten minute ab workout and invite colleagues (load of apps to help with this like Daily Ab Workout and Abs Workout)
● Take an evening walk around the block
● Offer to walk a neighbour’s dog
● Clean the house and garden regularly (yep, for real, this helps!)
● Buy some weights and do simple arm exercises while watching TV
And of course, to really smash those 2019 goals, do pilates or yoga, join a gym, start crossfit or boot camp, join a running group or sports team, start at a dance or Zumba club, or whatever. Just do it! When you’re 80, your body and mind will thank you for it!
Here’s to your health and wellness!