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Health: Life Hacks #5 – Exercise Hack

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Posted August 1, 2012 by Ann Cronin in Lifestyle
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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!


About the Author

Ann Cronin


  • Joe McManus

    Shouting in the street late at night keeps me fit.

  • Ann

    Why shout in the streets when you have Irish TV to shout at?

    • Joe McManus

      I should clarify. Most of the time I shout in the street it’s outside the TV shop.

  • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

    If I didn’t have my iPod, I’d never go anywhere. It seems the only way I can trick myself into getting off the sofa is by having an iPod full of new stuff to listen to, and even then it’s not always enough.

    I think in my case exercise is seen as ‘me’ time, and therefore time I could be spending working. So there’s almost a guilt factor in getting the runners on and heading out the door. 

    • Joe McManus

      My iPod has “Learn German with Michel Thomas” on it, but if anything it put me off going to Germany.

  • Tara

    Great article, I do interval running a couple times a week and a jog on days where I don’t have the energy for the intervals. I only started a couple months ago and I still dread it every time but nothing beats how good you feel after, and it really does help to do it with someone else. 

  • http://twitter.com/Imisaninja Imisaninja

    “And don’t get put off by the people out in front; they were once at the back too.”  I Love that line. I’m a lazy f*cker and dislike excercise, generally. But I have depression and I can say with 100% certainty that excercise works to get your head straight. It makes you fitter happier, more productive… really. I get a walk in a day and I’ve been trying out this 20 minute excercise video thing, I don’t get it all done but I keep trying.

  • http://twitter.com/oceanclub Paul Moloney

    I hate sport but I’m a real weights zealot; it’s far more efficient than aerobics, you can still get cardiovasular-fit, there’s less impact on joints and putting on muscle means you burn more calories at rest (with aerobics, you’re basically trying to outrun your mouth). Someone on boards.ie once recommended Neil McTeggart’s Diet/Weights plan, and I recommend it wholeheartedly; http://www.neilmct.com/ Since I started it a few years ago, I lost a few stone and never put it back on again.

  • http://twitter.com/johnmfinn John Finn

    If I don’t feel like going for a run I try to trick myself by only thinking about the next thing I need to do rather than how hard the run will be. So if i’m sitting on the couch thinking “Oh god, I don’t want to go run three miles” I put that out of my mind and instead think “right, I’m just going to change my clothes”, then “I’m just going to put on my runners”. Then I can tell myself all I have to do is go outside and then just run for five minutes, once I’m outside and moving I almost always end up doing the distance I had originally planned because it’s never as hard as I have built it up in my mind. This won’t work for everybody but if you’re gullible like me it’s nice to be able to use it to your advantage every now and again. 

  • Sinéad

    I always have to talk myself into exercise. I find the easiest way to do it is reasoning with myself that the time is going to pass anyway, so I might as well be walking back in the door from some exercise in half an hour than still sitting thinking about it because I’ll feel better about the former. That, and it helps to live beside a canal so when I genuinely ruin myself with a 50 second burst of jogging that my body neither suspected nor can cope with, I can sit on the bank and look like I’m admiring the view while I’m catching my breath and trying not to expire. That never used to go so well when I lived beside a view of a dual carriageway. 

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