For the vast majority of us, the word exercise brings to mind an image of people sweating away in the gym.
The reality is that the gym is no longer the only option available to anyone that wants to keep fit and healthy, or anyone that is aiming to use exercise as a boost to a slimming diet.
In fact, because going to the gym is still one of those things that many of us tend to dread, a lot has gone into finding suitable and attainable alternatives.
But, no matter what you do, one thing is beyond doubt: physical activity in general, from walking briskly to a full gym session (when done regularly), will help us stay healthy, feel happier, release tension, get rid of toxins and burn some of the extra calories we eat every day.
And, to make it even easier for the exercise-shy among us, there is no need for a full blown workout: with a bit of ingenuity, a few minutes every day will be enough to make us feel energised and content.
Work out a little, live a lot
Oh yes, a little goes a long way. Remember those days when going to the gym was the only way to keep fit?
It involved paying a lot of money every month, spending around an hour competing with a handful of people for the one treadmill available, and eventually coming away from the experience totally drained (all for the wrong reasons) and dreading the next session.
If this is your perception of a workout, you are in for some good news! Not only gyms have come a long way since then (more on that later), but doing your bit to stay healthy is not looking so complicated anymore, which is great because we really seem to be a nation reluctant to move and shape up.
So, starting from the basics, the good news is that, to stay healthy, all we need is 30 minutes exercise a day.
This could be made up of things like walking, running, cycling; but if the idea is still too much how about a spot of cleaning? Include the full works, from dusting to mopping and your half hour and more is soon gone by.
Go in the back garden or at your local park, bring the dog, the children or your best friend, bring a ball and give it a few good kicks around, get out of breath a bit and enjoy the fresh air.
Or try any or all of the following:
- ditch the lift and take the stairs;
- get off the bus a stop earlier and walk;
- when you go grocery shopping, park as further away from the entrance as you can, then fill that trolley to the brim and push it briskly back to the car.
It really only takes a little to start out your fitness journey, so give it a try.
The gentle way
If all of the above is not your idea of workout fun and you really cannot see yourself sweating away just yet, you can look at other options that will still get you moving but in a more gentle way: yoga, pilates and stretching to name a few.
They are a great stepping stone to giving you the confidence to get back into a more regular and ‘physical’ fitness routine, which should ideally get your pulse racing a bit and make you slightly out of breath.
Yoga is a discipline that embraces both body and mind and aims at improving the balance and health of both similarly.
A trained yoga teacher will direct you through a series of positions that should leave you feeling relaxed and content.
The movements can be rather slow, so it might not be for everyone: ideally it might be a good idea to have a taster session first.
Pilates, on the other hand, will ideally improve your muscle tone and you posture by series of low impact repetitions and again will support your body and mind working together.
Both yoga and pilates classes are easily available at all levels from private instructors or through local gyms.
Finally, stretching is another option, and this one you can do at home.
The best thing to do would be to go to a well stocked bookstore and browse through stretching exercises books.
You can either pick the one that you feel most comfortable with (for ease of use, illustrations, range of movements) or ask someone in store to help you out.
To get an idea of what stretching is all about, visit www.womensheart.org/content/Exercise/stretching_exercise.asp (do not be put off by the fact this site is essentially dedicated to the ladies, the exercises mentioned here are great for both men and women).
Is the gym for you?
Gyms are a weird thing: you either love them or hate them. But, sure enough, the good old gym has progressed and grown with its customers.
The bigger fitness chains are doing all they can to get the customers through the doors: they have great offers, trial periods, personal trainers, as well as great combinations of weights, machines, fitness classes and swimming pools.
If you feel the gym might be for you but you are not too sure, do have a go with a trial period.
Make sure you take full advantage of facilities, ask as many questions as possible and if you decide to go for it with a full membership, ask about offers and do your maths before signing on the dotted line.
No matter what you choose, make sure you do a little bit every day, enjoy it and keep it going for best results.