Health: Life Hacks #5 – Exercise Hack
Watching Olympians being interviewed after successive losses and seeing smiles can be somewhat shocking. Why aren’t they crying?
Little did I think when embarking on a career in psychology that exercise would be the key to better living. While many psychological factors can be cited as bolstering the Olympians’ mental health, it’s the benefits of exercise I want to suggest today.
As I mentioned in the Life Hacks #4 – Fat Hack, we don’t live the way we were designed to. We slouch over screens, we try to find the parking spot closest to the door, we justify that duvet day because the sun isn’t shining (does it ever shine?). Somewhere along the way, we found it easier to sit back than stand up.
Last week I asked a class of 20 adults if they were active in their lifestyles. Every one of them said yes. When I asked them to outline and detail the hours of exercise they engage in, they struggled to come up with anything. The devil is in the detail I guess. We tell ourselves we are active by virtue of the fact that we move, but mere movement falls short of the raised heart rate and coating of sweat that good exercise requires.
It’s a pity, because the benefits of regular exercise are so pronounced that you should really have to get doctors’ permission for not engaging in regular exercise. For instance, for mild to moderate depression, exercise is as effective as antidepressants. Exercise has been shown to increase concentrations of seratonin and norepinephrine, both of which play a part in depression. Add to that the mental clarity and increased memory and concentration noted in the brains of those who take exercise; schools should have PE classes every day. It really shines a light on the pharmaceutical obsession with finding solutions in magic pills. Would it be as easy swallow the 30 minutes of cardio rather than a fish oil capsule?
It’s almost too easy to accept that a computer game can ‘train’ your brain into making it smarter, negating the need to go for a walk, but increased cognitive function has been shown in people who add regular exercise to their lives. Exercise has been shown to stave off the effects of Alzheimers and Parkinson’s. Why, if we know all of this, is it so hard to keep up exercise?
It’s possible our body tends towards homeostasis. It likes to keep things as they were so the steps involved in starting an exercise programme and the delayed gratification (I’m STILL waiting for an exercise high) may be enough to keep most of us on the couch. Perhaps part of it may be accepting that it’s not easy; if it were easy, everyone would be out running marathons every weekend.
So set a short-term goal – it could be to run non-stop for 1 mile in 1 month’s time. Join a club or find a running mate; you will run faster, further and longer with somebody beside or behind you than you will on your own (the lovely @RunwithTina on Twitter is an excellent source of help). Ask ALL of your friends. Somebody is probably feeling the urge to change too. And don’t get put off by the people out in front; they were once at the back too.
I’d love to hear the rest of your hacks for getting more exercise!