Why Exercise is Important

by | Mar 9, 2015 | Our Happiness Project | 4 comments

By the end of last year the only exercise we were getting was a light walk to and from the train or tube each day. That was it.

We weren’t getting any form of regular exercise despite it being a clear and important factor in a happy life based on everything we read, watched and from personal experience.

I definitely buy in to the fact that exercise is not only important for losing weight but also has a huge impact on the rest of your life. Studies have clearly shown that regular exercise increases endorphins, reduces stress, helps ward off depression, boosts self esteem and helps improve sleep. All things that we needed!

At the end of last year I was more stressed than I have ever been before but responded by cutting out exercise completely (to free up more time to work longer hours) when I should have been prioritizing it. I got stressed so exercised less to free up more time to work more which made me even more stressed…it wasn’t a fun ride to be stuck on.

I was fit years ago so still sort of feel like I should be able to do all the same things just as easily. Its a bizarre feeling being so out of shape your body can’t do things that used to be so simple you wouldn’t have even thought about it.  I want to be back to that fit 19 year old I remember!

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My exercise regime whilst back in NZ on holiday: bicep curls to bring a milkshake up to my mouth.

We knew we had to make some changes.

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We did a little too much of this!

The main problem we had was that we weren’t focusing on exercise that we enjoyed and we weren’t making it a priority. Going to the gym and just sitting on a bike was never going to work because we didn’t enjoy it and if we didn’t put getting regular exercise near the top of our priorities then we would always be won over by the couch and more stints of Netflix binge watching.

We made a bunch of plans and came up with ideas to get stuck in to straight away. The plans then hit a brick wall straight away when we both had a cold for the first few weeks of January but we’re starting to get on track now and hope to keep making progress over the next few months and keep finding new, fun things to do to replace all that TV that we’re not going to watch any more.

Running

I have a long term goal of running a marathon but for the last 3 years have had increasingly bad shin splits & arch pain to the point where it was painful just to walk a reasonably small distance. I have spent loads of cash on insoles, gait analysis, expensive running shoes and had several Physiotherapists and personal trainers that have tried to help but so far nothing has really worked. The last personal trainer I had (back in our comparatively fit, pre-wedding days) did have an approach that at least resonated with me (although it didn’t get me back running permanently).

He approached everything quite scientifically with detailed explanations and his conclusion was that my body was so inflexible and out of shape that I shouldn’t even try running again (at least not more than a few km) until I had fixed all the problems first and managed to build some more flexibility and strength.

So for now I have put away my expensive running shoes and heart monitor gadgets and am going to focus on flexibility and strength rather than taking my usual approach of gritting my teeth and trying to run through the pain.  My painful attempts at 5km jogs will be replaced by a lot of strength training, kettle bell swings and stretching.

It might be a few months or it might be longer than a year away before I’m back running but I’ll get there. Then I just need to convince Dayna to come running with me!

Walking

Before you can run, you need to walk right?

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Doing the 17km Rimutaka railway walk back in NZ

Well, that’s part of our pretty simple approach to fitting in at least some form of exercise. The weather in the UK has slowed some of the plans but we’re just now getting back in to walking to and from work each day. We were doing this last year in summer before our big wedding trip and it is probably the main reason we actually fit in to our clothes on the big day.

The beauty of walking to and from work means it uses our commute productively plus avoids the tube (always a depressing way to start the day). My commute is about 40 mins by tube so increasing that to 1 hr 10 minutes walking isn’t so bad (it’s just over 6 km). Dayna’s commute on the other hand is slightly harder since her office moved – it takes about 2 hours to walk to work but she’s still planning on walking a couple times a week (so leaving before 7am on those days!).

Turning our commute in to exercise also has another bonus – we save money on transport (over £500 per year just for me walking 3 days a week). That extra saving and shifting off having a monthly pass helps give that little extra incentive when needed!

We’re trying to reduce dead time in front of screens (especially TV) so some of that extra time can go in to more frequent walks outside of our commute even if its just around the common near our house. We’re also planning on a couple of weekend trips around the UK for longer walks once the weather gets a little nicer.

The perks of walking home instead of taking the tube (I won't share a pic of the dodgy part of Wandsworth road I have to walk down though)

The view on my walk commute this week (gets even better when there’s a sunset behind Westminster)

Yoga

Yoga and calming meditation are a common suggestion to help reduce and manage stress. There is also another plus side for me that Yoga will help with the whole extreme lack of flexibility thing I have going on that contributes to the fact that I can’t run at the moment.

Our gym memberships include Yoga and Pilates classes so I’m going to those 3-4 times a week now (with Dayna coming along for a couple) plus I’m trying to get in a routine of doing it at home as well on days off from the gym.

It feels pretty funny turning up to a yoga class full of spandex covered yoga experts when I am the least flexible person in the world but the instructors are awesome so far and very helpful for us newbies. Our Maldives resort trip in June includes Yoga classes so hopefully by then we’ll at least be able to touch our toes with the rest of the class!

So far the Yoga has been great, we’re already getting a bit better at it, stronger and more flexible plus the 15 minutes of relaxation at the end of the classes is awesome for helping reduce stress. I am terrible at quieting my mind and having an instructor talk through it helps to actually get somewhere with it.

It’s made a big difference so far so who knows, maybe we’ll turn in to one of those hemp-wearing, yoga loving couples sipping on shots of wheatgrass and looking down our noses at everyone.

Gym

We had gym memberships last year (more like a monthly donation coming out of our bank accounts to the gym) but the problem was that neither of us actually liked going to the gym. Being surrounded by Gym Grunters and people posing in front of mirrors checking themselves out was never my idea of a fun way to spend an evening.

When we did make it to the gym we would just sit begrudgingly on a bike for 30 minutes before coming home.

I used to enjoy some parts of the gym (probably a primal guy thing but lifting heavy stuff can be fun right?) but being so out of shape has taken all enjoyment out of most exercises. So instead of continuing the uphill struggle there, we’re focusing on the bits that are still fun and will limit the stuff that isn’t that enjoyable as much as possible. That way we’ll keep up with it and stay motivated (I know if we aren’t enjoying it then we need to change it as we’ll only keep that up for a few weeks).

My long term goal is to switch completely away from Gym exercises and just do more outside boot camp style workouts (which our gym does as well) and then just add Yoga and some more fun sports.

Sports

Another consistent thing I’ve come across is that happy people enjoy more of something called “flow” (or being in the zone). Basically this covers doing anything where you are so engrossed in what you’re doing that you shut out the rest of the world and just focus on and enjoy it. Some people get this through playing chess, some through cross stitch, some through cooking and some through playing sport. I’m firmly in the sport group.

I’ve usually played regularly in some sort of sport whether it’s tennis, badminton, football or squash but I gave up on that at the end of last year to free up more time for work. Depressing, depressing work…

Dayna on the other hand hasn’t been active in any sports for a long time ever so part of our plan is to start trying some different things. Dayna had already started this with swimming lessons but we’re also going to try a few other things out like me teaching Dayna how to play badminton. I’m also going to bring back the weekly squash games I was having with colleagues at work.

Finding extra things outside of walking, running, yoga and the gym is still our aim so that normal, healthy and fun exercise is just part of our life. This seems to be a lot easier when we’re travelling rather than settled somewhere.

After all, using ourselves as examples and looking back at photos of when we were happiest, they usually involve us doing something active, not just sitting down watching TV.

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Cricket at the campground (back in NZ)

Soccer at Sunrise

Football at sunrise back at Waimarama beach in NZ

Favourite photo

Swimming in Halong Bay

Macho (wo)men

Paintball in Essex

Wish us luck and if you have any ideas on fun, active stuff we can try out then let us know!  (especially if its travel related and will require us to go somewhere cool to do it…I would love an excuse to enrol us in a Muay Thai boxing school)

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This is the third post in our Happiness Project series where we evaluate the areas in our life that aren’t making us happy and talk about what we’re doing to change. Read the other posts in this series by following the links below:
Our Happiness Project (opens in a new tab)
Happiness Project: The Food We Eat (opens in a new tab)

[jetpack-related-posts]