Updated: Feb 21, 2019
In the fitness world you can find a lot of experts promising people that they can lose weight (sometimes very quickly), get a six pack or bigger muscles, or achieve whatever the desirable physical characteristic happens to be at any particular time, all through a magical formula or fashionable method.
Here in the occidental civilised world we have never had such a large fitness sector, as represented in the form of health & fitness media, gym franchises, a growing supplement industry and of course the personal training industry.
As a slightly strange parallel, however, we also have never had such a problem as we have today with obesity and unhealthy eating.
So, what can individuals do in such a paradoxical social context to make the right choices with regard to their own health and their physical development?
I would suggest that we first look to the the reports coming out of Australia (and particularly from the University of Canberra) as published recently by the BBC which look into this issue, and how people can successfully balance exercise and a rounded life to achieve a healthy lifestyle.
In the University of Canberra report, highlighted originally by the British Journal of Sport, researchers from the university analysed the data from 39 studies which examined the mental impact of structured physical exercise on the people who undertake it.
The theory examined in the report was that "through exercise the brain receives a greater supply of blood, oxygen and nutrients that boost its health as well as growth hormones that helps the formation of new neutrons and connections."
Or, to put it another way, the question the report asks is does structured physical exercise help the brain in its cognitive functioning?
You may already have heard of pre-workout ‘juice’ or pills, the purpose of which is to accelerate the heart beat rate of the person taking such supplements to get them prepared for physically demanding exercise.
I have observed a lot people taking such preparatory supplements and I personally question the ethics of the companies that sell such products (as well as their actual value, as their use is not particularly necessary to achieve a good and sustained workout).
As the title of this article indicates, exercise in itself can be an inexpensive medicine. A good run, bike ride, rowing session or active stretching can also prepare you to exercise effectively and will also deliver you this outcome for free. There is absolutely no need to spend money on something artificial to achieve a decent workout.
One of the responsibilities I have as a Personal Trainer is to advise people with regard to the healthy choices that they can make in order to achieve a healthier and fitter lifestyle. When it comes to training itself, there are essentially two options available; either lift weights or/and choose aerobic exercise (cardio’, holistic exercise, etc.).
As outlined in The University of Canberra report, aerobic exercise "helps to improve cognitive abilities such as reading, learning, reasoning" while exercising with weights has a "significant effect on memory and the brain’s ability to plan and organise."
My personal opinion is that you should mix both forms of training in a workout programme to get sustainable and long-term results. Such a combination of training methods also makes physical training more interesting and varied (in this vein, in my next blog post I will outline a training routine for people looking to mix aerobic and weight training to get such rewards).
I have met many people during my personal training career who complain that they hate exercising. I can understand that feeling! In my position I don’t want to let anyone down, so I constantly try to find ways to reach such people and motivate them to workout, as well as to help them find satisfaction in physical exercise.
How do I achieve that?
Well, first of all by admitting to a degree of mea culpa.
For example, asking people in their 50s to exercise more is obviously a good thing, but such exercise can be perceived as being difficult and too demanding for people at such a stage in their lives. This particular point is underlined in the BBC report, which advises that "physical activities are one element of improved brain functioning but not the whole story.
One piece of advice that I give to people when I train them is to remain active outside of the gym environment after their gym membership begins. When you are in the gym it can feel normal to lift weights, or to run on a treadmill, and then to do nothing after leaving to go home.
What also matters is that your life outside of the gym carries on with the same or renewed passion as before any particular exercise programme is started. And when you have the opportunity to be active in other ways (walking to get somewhere, or to be excited about a new art exhibition, to be engaged in politics or interested in a new play etc.) you should take it.
Or, as David Reynolds from Alzheimer’s Research UK puts it, "it is equally important to look after our brains by staying mentally active, eating a well balanced diet, drinking only in moderation and not smoking."
For me, exercise in itself is great in many ways. It is also, however, only one element in living a healthy and sustainable life. I see so many people being totally consumed by their workout regime that it just drains all their free energy and takes over their life. At the end of the day, they have nothing left for other interests (or sometimes even for other people) and the gym lifestyle becomes all that they are.
However, the important question we should ask ourselves is how best to achieve a rounded and enriched life (not simply how to live a physical one)? To be enthusiastic about our time on the planet, to develop a successful career, to build interesting social interactions, personal interests and loving relationships, these are the keys to a healthy lifestyle.
And indeed, to a happy life.