Listening to your body – exercise

by Ali on August 29, 2008

I’ve discussed how you can listen to your body to ensure that you’re eating in a healthy way for you. Today, I want to look at some popular exercise advice, and encourage you to think about what works for you. I’m going to cover these three key questions:

  • When do you prefer to exercise?
  • How frequently should you work out?
  • What types of exercise make you feel good?

When do you prefer to exercise?

Many experts have made recommendations on the best time to exercise. Two of the most common are that:

  • People who hit the gym first thing in the morning get a bigger happiness boost from their workout.
  • Exercising between 5pm and 7pm is the best time for your body, due to a range of physiological factors.

For most of us working in office jobs, early morning and the 5-7pm slot after work are good times to exercise. It’s worth trying both out, and deciding how they make you feel.

I personally find that exercising any time before 11am makes me really sleepy for the rest of the day. If I go to the gym before breakfast, I’m ready for a nap around 10am … so if your body reacts like mine, early morning work outs are probably not such a good idea unless you have a very understanding boss.

Lots of people, though, find that exercising first thing helps them to wake up and start their day in a positive frame of mind.

Some office workers find that going straight to the gym from work helps them to unwind and relax tense muscles after a long day hunched over a desk. But for others, the last thing they can face at the end of a day’s work is a gruelling gym session. They might perk up after an early dinner, though, and go out for a run or to an exercise class.

What works for you?

How frequently should you work out?

Another vexed question in the fitness world is how often you should work out. The most common figure given is three gym sessions a week – but what if you walk, or cycle, or exercise in some other way?

The UK government exercise guidelinesare minimum targets, so you’ll want to do at least that much light-moderate exercise. For more intense sessions, though, think about:

  • Does my body feel tired if I try to exercise two days in a row?
  • Do I find it harder to complete my workout if I’ve not been to the gym for a week or two?

For most people, a workout every other day or every three days is about right, but you might find you like to do a slightly less intense session daily. Don’t let enthusiastic colleagues drag you to the gym every day, if you’re ending up exhausted and aching. Conversely, just because your friend always has an excuse to skip your joint workouts doesn’t mean you too should get away with only going once a week.

What types of exercise make you feel good?

I had an over-keen gym instructor for my induction, who set me up with a plan that included running for 15 minutes at quite a steep incline (well, it felt quite steep!) on the treadmill. I managed to force myself to do 10 minutes for the first few weeks, but hated it; I’d almost be in tears because it was so hard and because I blamed myself for not being fit enough. It took me several minutes to recover each time, glugging water and breathing hard, and each time I though “well, at least that’s over for another two days…”

Thankfully, I quickly realised that it would be better to work out at a slightly lower intensity rather than give up altogether!

Don’t stick with a workout, exercise or sport that consistently leaves you feeling awful. That might mean cutting back the intensity a bit, dropping the class that has you aching for days afterwards, or not forcing yourself through so many repetitions on the weights.

Also, if you don’t feel any different after a session, you might need to ramp up the intensity a bit – or try an alternative type of exercise. If you’re working out at a good rate, you’ll hopefully feel relaxed and de-stressed afterwards – a gentle stroll probably won’t have that effect.

(Image above by space.game)

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