Walk, run or cycle? Which is the best exercise?
Whatever form of exercise you choose should be good for your head and body
Michael Sherlock in the mountains near Reus in Spain on a 97km ride.
When Michael Sherlock began taking his bicycle to Dublin’s Phoenix Park at the weekends, it was just meant to be a bit of fun to recapture the feeling of freedom and enjoyment from his childhood. But he soon found that it did more than that. “It cleared my head. You can’t think about anything when on the bicycle, concentrating on the road, so it gave me headspace,” he says.
It’s low impact too, which was important for the psychiatric nurse nurse who spends 12-hour shifts mostly on his feet. Taking his bicycle out on his days off proved to be a powerful antidote to his highly demanding job.
So what is the perfect exercise? What can make a real difference to how you look and feel? Any fitness instructor will tell you that balance is key. With strength training, this means you must work the muscles at the back as well as those on the front of the shoulders, for example, unless you want to create a hunched-over look. This approach applies in your daily life too.
If you spend your days sitting down, you need to get up and move. According to researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Leicester, we double our chances of getting diabetes or heart disease simply by spending too much time seated.
Running is a good counterbalance but even walking helps. Caroline Hogarty of Santé Fitness in Lucan, Co Dublin, says some companies such as Irish Life in Dublin have introduced walking meetings during which staff take a stroll along the Liffey.
Getting competitive has been found to boost motivation, according to a study
“Walking has huge benefits, psychologically as well as physically,” she says. “To make long-term gains, you have to make lifestyle changes. Little things, like taking a 10-minute walk, make a difference.”
Getting competitive has been found to boost motivation, according to a study published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine last year. “You don’t even have to compete against others. A pedometer is a great way to see what you did and then build on that achievement,” says Hogarty. “You have control.”
Those who feel they are under a lot of stress need to counteract that. Yoga, Pilates and meditation are popular ways to do so, and taking half an hour out to breathe deeply and stretch can be rejuvenating. But not everyone finds that it works for them.
There is no one-size-fits all but there is something for everyone
“Triathlons are my best stress relief,” says Maeve Kavanagh, a trainer and tutor with the National Council for Exercise and Fitness at the University of Limerick. “Some people find even the idea of lying on the floor trying to relax stressful and they don’t have to. You need to find what works for you and do that.”
If ballet barre sounds boring, how about rock climbing or boxing? Or what about a suspension classes, such as TRX? Most classes have a pay-as-you go option so you can try a few different things to see what works for you.
“It needs to work with your lifestyle,” says Áine Ní Chonaill, managing director of the National Centre for Exercise and Fitness. “There is no one-size-fits all but there is something for everyone.”
The best exercise
For Sherlock, a pastime has become a passion. In March, 2017, the 57-year-old completed an arduous 97km cycle with friends in Spain for the first time, though he let them carry on for another 120km.
“I never thought I’d be doing something like this at this stage in my life but I love it,” he says.
Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!).
First, pick the programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: This programme is an eight-week course that will take you from inactivity to being able to run 30 minutes non-stop.
- Stay On Track: The second programme is an eight-week course for those of you who can squeeze in a 30- to 40-minute run three times a week.
- 10km Course: This is an eight-week course designed for those who can comfortably run for 30 minutes and want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!