We all know that sitting down for prolonged periods is extremely bad for our health. But as research has shown, small bursts of regular movement peppered throughout the day are far more beneficial to our bodies — and brains — than a single intense workout tacked on the end of eight hours of inactivity.
As a trainer and sports scientist with more than 30 years of experience helping people improve their fitness, health and mental wellbeing, my philosophy is always that a little can go a very long way. And it is this philosophy which is at the heart of the 30-day exercise plan I have devised for the Mail’s Big Health Kick.
My programme combines a carefully calculated series of gentle, yet effective, posture-enhancing mobility, stretching and lengthening exercises to build your strength and fitness, while also helping to reduce stress. The idea is to combine these with regular walks — short or long — to build a regular pattern where movement becomes a natural part of your day.
As a trainer and sports scientist with more than 30 years of experience helping people improve their fitness, health and mental wellbeing, my philosophy is always that a little can go a very long way
The Covid pandemic has created such unprecedented levels of anxiety over the past 12 months that it doesn’t make sense to be hammering your central nervous system and raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol with high-intensity training plans.
And it is great to know that small periods of movement are enough to boost blood circulation to the brain and help ease anxiety. Each sequence is designed to nurture kindness and body positivity, so, as you work through the plan, you will be forming great habits, building your strength and flexibility, and you’ll notice you start to look, feel and perform better.
No matter your fitness level or age, whether you are sporty or not, when you move better, you feel better — and my plan will show you how.
Join me for free every day at mymail.co.uk for exercise sessions designed to mobilise your spine and tone your core muscles. With so many of us deskbound working from home, later in the week I’ll show you a clever sequence for relieving ‘desk stress’, and at the weekend my video will focus on tips for helping you boost your mental wellbeing as you exercise.
Alongside these training videos I will be encouraging you to walk regularly and explaining my science-backed methods for transforming your walking technique to make it super-effective.
Exercise is great for your brain health — it has been shown to improve memory, boost mood and even cut your risk of depression. And these benefits can be enhanced if you exercise outdoors — preferably somewhere green.
A change of scene, sunshine (if you’re lucky) and being able to breathe in fresh air all contribute to that brain-boosting effect.
As the creator and founder of WalkActive, I know I’m biased, but I love the research that shows ‘bi-pedal movement’ (using your feet) is the most effective way to boost circulation to the brain.
There’s no need to go rambling for hours either — just five minutes of walking outside is enough to lift your mood, raise your spirits and lower cortisol levels.
Exercise is great for your brain health — it has been shown to improve memory, boost mood and even cut your risk of depression
Instead of saying, ‘I’m too busy, I haven’t got time for exercise today’, step outside for five minutes and you’ll find you are more productive when you get back.
As you stand at the door, take five deep breaths, pause, then set off. You only need to walk for five minutes in one direction, turn around and head back — those deep breaths will be enough to shift your mindset, bring oxygen to the brain and allow the mental space for ideas to develop.
It is really important to have intervals of movement like this throughout the day. I urge you to split your day into three or four-hour ‘zones’ (for example, 7am to 10am, 10am to 1pm, 1pm to 4pm, 4pm to 7pm) and then challenge yourself to do some form of physical movement — no matter how small — in each zone. Perhaps one of my videos, or a quick five or ten-minute walk.
To make things easier, have set routes around your home all lined up: a five-minute, ten-minute, 15-minute and 20-minute walk, so you can glean the benefits even when you don’t think you have much time to spare.
You can intensify the mind-calming benefits of any walk by incorporating ‘breathwork’. Try this technique: when you set off on your walk, spend a few minutes getting into a comfortable stride and rhythm (this exercise is easier when walking on flat ground).
Inhale very gently over the course of four strides, then exhale slowly over four strides.
Once this becomes comfortable, try to stretch your out-breath to five strides or even six. Keep this pattern of breathing up for five minutes, or longer if you can, and feel your whole body relax.
EXERCISE OF THE DAY: THE ABDOMINAL J
Strong abdominal muscles form the foundation of great posture, protecting you from injury and joint problems.
However, crunches and sit-ups put a strain on the neck. Instead, I have devised a simple and effective ‘all-in-one’ exercise that targets all four of the abdominal muscles which make up our core area.
Aim to spend five minutes doing it every day, perhaps while the kettle is boiling.
- Start standing straight, with your weight evenly distributed on both feet.
- Interlink the fingers of both hands in front of you at the level of your belly button, slightly away from the body.
- Trace a letter J in front of you with your hands, first taking them down to your pubic bone in a bowl shape, pulling your lower abdominals back and in as your hands come towards you.
- As you bring your hands upwards towards your sternum to form the long part of the letter J, draw the abdominal muscles in and up as you go.
- Hold this contraction for the count of ten.
- Lower the hands and repeat.
- Don’t take deep breaths or hold your breath. Keep your shoulders down and don’t let the rib cage expand or your buttocks contract.
Try repeating this sequence several times, five on a ten-count hold; five on a two-count hold; and ten fast.