How much exercise is enough exercise to be healthy?
The stress of being self-employed is enormous. There is the ever-constant anxiety of wondering whether or not orders can be fulfilled, salaries paid, having enough cash flow for maintaining operations, and other endless worries. Sadly, with so muh occupying my mind, exercise was the least of my worries. My workday started any time from 03:00 am and I knocked off at 9:00 pm or even later. Where would I get the time to exercise, I used to wonder to myself. It’s only recently that I realized that for my own wellbeing, I needed to make time for exercise and other outdoor activities. In my previous blog, I wrote about the relaxing effects of gardening. In this blog, I’ll be writing about physical exercise/activity and hiking.
We read a lot that exercise, like sex, can release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals. We also know of the health benefits but how many of us can say we prioritise exercising or any kind of physical activity? Every year we sign up for gym memberships as part of some well-intentioned resolution. We go into the gym or start jogging for the first week after the festive season and thereafter, the gym membership gathers dust until the next year. As a professional, exercise was an afterthought, and as an entrepreneur, it just became a distant concept. Why is it that we never make time for such an essential activity despite knowing of the benefits?
Countless studies have been conducted on the benefits of exercising. An even more compelling case for exercising is that it has also been found to have positive effects on people with stress, anxiety, and depression. This is due to physiological and biochemical mechanisms which include the release of endorphins. Interestingly, some researchers also looked at whether or not exercising outdoors had more beneficial effects than exercising indoors. Exercising outdoors did not lead to more beneficial changes per se. However, outdoor exercises were seen to be more calming and thus had more stress-reducing effects associated with calming environments. This shouldn’t detract anyone from doing indoor exercise though. Sometimes, exercising indoors is all we can manage, and you still get all the benefits that come with exercising.
To be quite frank, I was motivated to start exercising because lockdown weight gain is very real! I needed to do some exercise to maintain my weight, over and above the other benefits that come with it. So, my indoor cardio exercise is geared primarily for maintaining weight. I was part of the athletics team in school and maintained an active lifestyle in university. So, I hardly struggled with weight. But alas, the struggle is real for me now. In addition to exercise, I try and maintain a healthy diet as well. I’m not on any formal diet programme, I just consciously try to eat healthily and be active.
I don’t have a goal weight or anything, I just want to be happy with the way I look and feel. My clothes are also a good indicator because I don’t want them to be too tight, nor do I want a new wardrobe. These are my motivating factors, and the byproduct of my workout is feeling good mentally as well. It’s not always easy to get up and exercise, sometimes the motivation is simply not there, and I have to work 10 times harder to stand up and exercise. I do a high-intensity interval training workout that combines jumping rope and an assortment of crunches, burpees, and squats. So, you can imagine how difficult it is to look forward to it sometimes. I take supplements and drink tea that helps me with my energy levels and detoxing as well.
I have now also rediscovered my love for hiking and I try to hike at least once a week. Again, this is me consciously making the time for this activity that I find so relaxing and calming. Hiking clears my head and motivates me. It’s hard to stay motivated when everything seems to be going pear-shaped, we need all the help we can get. I have been to some of the most beautiful hiking spots in and around Johannesburg. We live in a beautiful country with so much to be explored. You’ll see some of the hiking trails I’ve really enjoyed in a series of pictures peppered throughout the blog. The beauty that is all around us in nature has such a tremendous calming effect. When the lockdown measures were eased and we were able to go to public spaces again, it felt like rediscovering everything anew.
I must say, I’m surprised that I still have a love for hiking because five years ago, I got lost on a hiking trail on Table Mountain in Cape Town. I suppose I still hike because the whole situation on Table Mountain was so comical. The sun was hot, the scenery from the mountain was, as always, enchanting. I was burnt to a bronzed crisp on that mountain, I was so dehydrated I didn’t have any saliva in my mouth. I was distracted from my woes by watching helicopters scooping water from the ocean to douse a fire on Lion’s Head, a mountain across Table Mountain. The Western Cape province is often plagued by veld fires that cause devastating damage and I was witnessing one such incident and how the brave men and women in the fire department were fighting to keep the fires at bay. Thinking of that kept me distracted for a while until I was rescued by the park rangers. Also, the views more than made up for the ordeal, so I’ll always hike to carry on seeing the beauty that nature has to offer.
I returned to Cape Town again this year and the first order of business was a hike up Table Mountain. I’m writing situated on the foot of Table Mountain now. At the start of the hike, I wanted to give up. The hike is extremely steep until you get to the top. Although I thought I was a bit fit, my thighs were burning within the first minute of starting my hike. I joined a group of hikers from the Chicks Who Hike team(a group formed specifically for women who want to hike but do not have other people to join. You can find them on Instagram under the handle chickswhohikeza). They encouraged me to carry on and were patient with me until I got my second wind and could keep up. The swim in the dam at the top of the mountain as well as all the amazing views made my effort well worth it. I also got a sense of accomplishment after completing my longest hike so far (16km).
As professionals and entrepreneurs, it is essential to take time out and mind our mental and physical wellbeing. It has been shown that taking time out and cutting work hours can significantly increase productivity and job satisfaction. Unilever is trialing a four-day workweek in New Zealand. Employees can cut 20% off their work hours without losing their pay. The performance of the employees is measured by output as opposed to hours. Other companies such as Microsoft have also trialed four-day workweeks and saw their sales leap by a whopping 40%. Productivity and job satisfaction also increased dramatically. The New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern has advocated for a four-day workweek to encourage flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through this action, she also hopes to boost local tourism.
A lot of small businesses have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. One way we can assist small businesses is through local travel and embarking on activities such as hiking to keep fit. Some trails have farmer’s markets on the premises so that after a great hike, one can buy products from local entrepreneurs. It is a calming atmosphere that’s excellent for post-hike relaxation. Besides keeping fit and relaxed, being active can prevent death. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), up to five million deaths per year are a result of people not being active. So, being active can literally save lives.
How active is active you might ask? Well, WHO recommends up to 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity per week for adults (including those living with chronic conditions or disability). For children and adolescents, 60 minutes of activity is recommended. A whopping $54 billion in health care and $14 billion in reduced productivity is lost each year due to lack of sufficient physical activity in adults and adolescents. In addition to reducing the negative effects of anxiety and depression, physical activity can also prevent and help in managing heart disease, type-2 diabetes, and cancer, according to WHO. So why are we so shy to get out there and start being active?
I like a slogan that WHO uses which goes “every move counts”. One doesn’t necessarily have to go to the gym or jog every day to keep active. You can start with simple everyday activities such as walking, wheeling, cycling, dancing, playing, and cleaning. WHO also recommends gardening as another way of staying active. So, you see, every physical activity of any duration counts in terms of positive effects on one’s wellbeing and mental health. More is always better but start small.