On your marks: eight tips to becoming more active
With the weather, hopefully, improving, this is a good time to get started
It’s surprising what you can do when you build activity into your everyday routine. Photograph: iStock
Looking back over my New Year’s resolutions for the past number of years, there are invariably three key ones – get more active, eat healthier and be more connected with friends and family.
Despite Operation Transformation, TV and radio ads for gym gear and even the new Gov.ie radio ad urging us to take the small steps to be healthier in 2018, I have to say I’ve found it quite hard to get motivated and stay moving this year.
Twelve months ago, I hurt my ankle, which threw me totally out of the nice active routine I’d gotten into – now it feels like I’m starting all over again. So here I am, trying to put the top tips from getirelandactive.ie into practice, thinking about what worked before, and trying to build the habit again.
It can take anything from 28 days to three months of doing something regularly to build a habit, so, if you started early this year, perhaps you are already well on track.
But the most important bit, of course, is to get started – and now that, hopefully, the weather is beginning to improve, this is as good a time as any.
Choose a reason for becoming more active
Being more active every day is one of the best things we can do for our health and wellbeing – reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Being active regularly from early adulthood onward will also reduce the risk of osteoporosis, falls and fractures as you age. For many people, it plays a really important role, with medication, in helping them manage chronic conditions such high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety and depression.
At a personal level, I know when I am regularly active I sleep better, am a nicer person to be around and have a lot more energy. It’s also great for my wallet – I don’t have so many bad wardrobe days when I feel I have nothing to wear or nothing looks good on me.
Try to do some activity most days of the week
Most of us lead very busy lives and it can be difficult to figure out how to find 150 minutes a week or 30 minutes a day to focus on physical activity. It’s surprising what you can do when you build activity into your everyday routine. It can be as simple as:
– parking a little further away from the school gate, work or the shops;
– using the stairs instead of the lift;
– getting off the bus or Luas a couple of stops early and walking the rest of the way; or
– going for a walk at lunchtime.
At the weekends, I try to combine my resolution to be more active with being more connected to family and friends. A game of squash with my 12-year-old daughter or a run (he calls it a light jog) with my husband.
Choose an activity you enjoy
For me, variety is key, as I get bored very easily. There are so many activities and classes it can be hard to choose. I prefer pay-as-you-go options in local gyms or sports centres where I can try my hand at anything from trampolining to circuit classes to yoga. And I like no-cost options such as walking or jogging. But we’re all different – I have a friend who swears that paying the gym membership is what keeps her going.
Set achievable targets
One year, I set myself a target of doing a Couch-to-5k programme. I downloaded the app to my phone and headed off. I started off jogging for one minute, walking for one minute and gradually building up until I was jogging for the whole 30 minutes, or 5k. It sounds small, but for me it was such a sense of achievement as I had never run before. I had always been a walker, in fact, at one point I could have fast-walked the distance as quickly as I was running it, but it felt so much more rewarding to say “I went for a run today”.
Have your gear to hand
Being organised definitely makes it easier. Bringing runners to work (or keeping a spare pair under your desk) makes it easier to kick off the work shoes and get a walk in at lunchtime. So does having a regular time or routine for being active. For a while, about eight months in a row at one point, every Sunday morning when the kids were still in bed I headed off for a run.
Finding a friend who likes to walk, jog or go to a dancercise class with you can help. Many people find it makes the activity more enjoyable and keeps them motivated and on a regular schedule. Joining a local club is also a great way to make new friends or keep in touch with old ones. This year, I’m all set to re-join the local Gaelic for Mothers & Others – they need someone to be in goal!
I follow GetIrelandActive on Facebook – the regular posts make me smile and prompt me to make an effort. I haven’t gotten into the habit of posting or joined the conversations – I may well be giving my age away somewhat by admitting to not being big into social media. But for those who are, there are lots of online communities where you can track your progress and both get and give support and encouragement.
I used to love sitting down with a cup of tea and the Sunday paper, feeling all relaxed and virtuous after my morning run and shower. And if it was warm and sunny I’d even sit outside – the height of luxury. Rewards don’t have to be big, but it is important to acknowledge the effort you make and give yourself a pat on the back.
Enter a physical activity event
Entering an event like Parkrun or one of the many organised charity walks or runs across the country can be a lot of fun. The annual Walk for Life for the Hospice in Waterford (in November) and Walk into Light for Pieta House (coming up on May 12th) are a regular feature in my family’s calendar. The idea of the Viking Marathon (in June), the six miles – quarter marathon version – has flitted across my mind. Maybe one for the bucket list, but not this year.
– Sarah O’Brien lives in Waterford and works with the HSE. Her job as national lead Healthy Eating Active Living Programme focuses on mobilising the health services to improve health and well-being by increasing the numbers of people who are more active regularly, eating healthily and are a healthier weight