Plan exercise that not only nourishes your physical heart but fills your heart at the same time.
Before you start exercising next, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have the energy for this today?
- Do I enjoy this exercise?
- Have I considered my level of health right now?
- Am I doing this exercise out of love for my body, through listening to what it needs?
- Are there any extraneous circumstances that mean I should not be exercising today? (eg. Woman menstruating, a niggling injury, signs that my body is struggling already without this exercise?)
Exercise can be one of the most important contributors to your health. We know this, it is in the media everywhere. But just like the food you put in your mouth, there is no “one fit” model to follow. Something that may boost the cardiovascular health of one person, may cause the next to drop dead of the very thing that the exercise was meant to prevent! Morbid but true!
How often do you hear comments of bewilderment like “he died of a heart attack in his 40s but he was the fittest guy I knew”?
Cardiovascular exercise, or “cardio”, I believe is incorrectly publicized. I grew up believing that the more I pounded the pavement, the healthier I’d be. I have been pounding the pavement since I was 13 years old, and now that I’m older and wiser(!) I can reflect on all the health problems I’ve been faced with since, and how my “pound my body” attitude has contributed to them. I feel we are still promoting this form of exercise far too much. No matter what your exercise consists of, the only way it will work is if you listen to your body and tailor your exercise choices to suit you.
I believe we all need three types of exercise in a week. One that strengthens the body using resistance weight, one that makes you puff and sweat, and one that brings about active rest and nourishment to the physical body.
Strengthening may involve body weight such as simple squats and pushups, or it may involve using weights. As long as this is directed initially by a qualified trainer, a strength routine is relatively easy to add to your day. This area of exercise is often hugely under-practised, especially by women, and when added into your routine can improve energy, vitality and life expectancy… worth every squat!
The puffing and sweating portion of your weekly exercise does NOT have to involved pounding the pavement. If your Sun Salutes in your yoga routine, or your trampoline exertions with your kids cause you to puff and sweat, then just make sure you do a solid 20 minutes and enjoy yourself. Other ideas are jump-rope, sprints up your driveway or staircase (interval training), walks up the Mount, joining in while your kids run around a playground…
Puffing exercise will force your heart muscle to work harder and so make it stronger. This will result in better blood circulation which means better oxygen to every cell – which basically means every body-function will improve in some shape or form. Concentration, memory, energy, bowel frequency, agility, decreasing muscle cramps and tension – the list is very long!
And although we are often encouraged to push ourselves beyond our limitations with cardio, choose the right day to do this. If you didn’t sleep well last night, didn’t get time for lunch, drank 2+ coffees to keep upright and then decide to walk up the Mount… well I'm sorry but your heart reaps no benefit from your efforts. Starting to get it? Puffing exercise is only a third of your exercise needs though remember, don’t focus on this area alone...
Which brings us to rest and nourishment of the physical body. If you didn’t sleep, you wouldn’t have any level of health right? Well similarly you can’t just work your joints and muscles continuously without nourishing them. And sleep alone doesn't count. Rest may involve spending time in your week stretching, or lying down and visualizing relaxing every muscle in your body; or it may be more formal like yoga or tai chi. You don’t have to pay through the teeth for these classes, YouTube is an amazing resource. There’s even yoga for kids! (Cosmic Yoga for Kids is my favourite!)
Finally, the best tell-tale that you’re doing the right exercise for you:
If in the hour following your exercise AND the day following your exercise you feel better in yourself, then this exercise is right for you. This means improved mental clarity, physical energy and mood. Mild muscle fatigue and general tiredness are to be expected, but pain and exhaustion mean you have gone way too far or chosen the wrong exercise for your type.
So open up your diary now and book 3 days of exercise into your schedule right now, and make sure what you write puts a smile on your face ;-)
NB: Other equally important lifestyle considerations for the heart are: what goes in your mouth and what goes into your head. There is no point in focusing on exercise without also changing your fuel input and your perceptions, as these all create huge bearings on your health outcomes.