These next weeks are going to involve a topic that a lot of us find rather uncomfortable. I am of course talking about EXERCISE or Physical Activity. We are in the first week of February at a time we are revisiting our New Year’s resolutions. The most common one, perhaps not surprisingly, is to exercise more. And yet, research shows that very few people actually stick to that resolution, with a substantial number giving up by mid-January.
The typical idea most people have is that if they want to exercise, they have to sign up for a gym membership and put in the time hitting the weights, running marathons, and sweating buckets. As you can see, a lot of people look at that picture as something involving pain, sacrifice and, let's face it, some sort of torture or another.
But before we continue, you need to know something about me. I was the klutzy kid who hated physical education. My feet were malformed as child and I fell over my own feet when running. After being operated on successfully at the age of nine, I had a great reason and a letter from my GP to excuse me from PE. As a result I can’t catch a ball as I never used my chances to develop that particular skill.
As we move through life, some experiences change our thoughts and the way we live dramatically. But we can turn that awareness into an opportunity to make a small change that has a big impact on our lives. For me it was a tsunami. Do you still remember the tsunami of Christmas 2004? I was not there in person, but at that time I had to small daughters. When I read about all the brave parents that tried to save their kids, I took a critical look at myself and my lifestyle. If I had to save my daughters’ lives by carrying them or holding on to them, I would have not been able to. And the next morning I went for my first walk – and after 400m I felt like dying…but keeping the love for my kids at the front of my mind, I persisted.
And as happens in life, when we start on a path, it at times feel as if the universe will continue to lead us somewhere that we have to go – whether we want to or not…
My husband, also a doctor, had wanted to study Sports Medicine, and for years he could not get into the program. However, not long after my first steps to fitter me, I noticed one of our universities looking for applicants for their Sports and Exercise Medicine program. As one of my strengths is love of learning (and I knew that I would have to help him with his research) I applied as well. And after years of not being able to get into the program, he was accepted. And to my utter amazement, so was I.
So here I am. A Sports and Exercise physician and still the same klutzy kid who hated physical education (for that matter, the klutziness did not disappear as I got older). I am still slow, and when I run I look like a happy hippo from behind.
My children are grown – and need to stay fit as it is they that will have to save me now – but I will be able to help them as I am fitter than I were at the ages of 20 and 30. I know that the horrors of school gym are behind me, although I have to remind myself that I’m not being judged or graded. Being fit isn't about saving your kids or performing for someone else. The only person I have to save and impress is myself.
And movement and physical activity is saving ourselves and our lives, as we are sitting ourselves to death. There's a reason why sitting is often referred to as the new smoking: Sedentary lifestyles have been linked to increased rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and a shorter lifespan. For that matter, physical inactivity causes as many deaths as smoking. It is passive and deadly.
And there is a solution. It is free, simple and has wide reaching social and economic benefits. Just a little bit more movement every day.
But like me, you probably have a lot of excuses not to be physically active – keep in mind that I have used most of them myself. Let’s take a look at a few excuses for not exercising:
I’m not the sporty type: You might feel nervous about the pressure of a gym or exercise classes – and many of us have awful memories of school sports. But being physically active doesn’t have to be about high impact sport or exercise — there are lots of activities you can do without having to go near a gym.
I’m self-conscious about my body: You’re not alone – lots of us have share similar concerns about our bodies. And everybody has to start somewhere – like going for a walk. Or join women‐ or men‐only exercise sessions that assist people who feel awkward about attending mixed‐gender sessions.
I don’t know where to begin: You don’t have to dive in at the deep end – pick something that you feel comfortable with when you’re just starting out. There’s lots of choices for getting active that won’t cost the earth.
I’m not confident enough: Starting something new or being with people you don’t know can be scary at first. But over time, you may find that taking up an activity helps increase your self‐confidence as you become fitter and improve your skills.
And the best one was from one of my kids: “I do not like getting tired and sweaty,” she said, “and exercise are making me tired and sweaty!” I just rolled my eyes at that. It is after all the purpose of exercise!
As a Sport and Exercise physician I see exercise as an important drug in my treatment bag. But unlike many medications, when done appropriately and under a physician’s supervision, exercise has almost no negative side effects.
I, as well as the team at Zenzile Life believe passionately in empowering people to live active and healthy lives. Our hearts, our muscles, our immune systems, and our brains: all of them benefit from exercise as we age. So ditch the excuses. You're not too old. You're not too sedentary. Talk to your doctor and start out with a manageable and fun aerobic exercise routine so you can stay injury free as well as motivated. Stick with it and enjoy the body and brain rewards for a lifetime.
This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy. This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.