Commit to get fit - Mark Beresford

I recently gave a presentation at the University of Sussex as part of ‘Commit To Get Fit’, which is a month long initiative run by Sussexsport for staff at the University. You can find out more about it here.

The title of my talk was simply ‘Commit To Get Fit’ (an introduction to the week) — although the title is a little misleading. The main purpose of the initiative is to get people thinking and challenging their own behaviours to look at health and wellbeing — including taking better care of ourselves; it could be called ‘commit to take better care of your physical and mental wellbeing’, but that’s not quite as catchy.

Here’s my presentation in blog form — I hope you find it useful.

When you see the title ‘Commit to get Fit’ what does it mean to you? Take a few seconds to think… OK, now we will break the title down.

Let’s start by looking at the word Commit(ment)

(Dictionary definition) a state or quality of being dedicated to a cause of activity.

Synonyms: dedication, devotion, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness, fidelity, bond, adherence, attentiveness

My favourite synonym is adherence. Whenever I start to write programs and plans, it does not matter what the content is (to a degree), so long as the athlete/client has adherence we can start to get to work.

Commitment (or adherence), is an attachment to a person, cause, or belief. If you went for one run, could you run a marathon next time out? If you had one driving lesson could you pass your test the next time out? To achieve both of these examples you need adherence: run after run after run, building up your mileage. Work is the same, we adhere at one level, apply for promotions, get promoted, adhere at this level (learning new things and developing at each stage).

Once you have adherence you can start to make it a habit: you are then able to change and tweak things slightly, modifying activities and workouts to your needs and goals.

Getting better at exercise is no different to any other skill — you have to build up: little by little, piece by piece. When you learn a language, you don’t go straight into conjunctions and verbs, do you? A mistake people so often make is that when we start with exercise, we go for the hardest and ‘best known’ exercises, rather than taking the time to build up, little by little, and piece by piece.

Two images that I use to illustrate the importance of adherence that help to write my programs are these:

If we take our time getting the foundations correct the rest will follow.

At Body Happy we are currently developing our own philosophy and progressions. We hope to be implementing these into our program design, which will help to draw a picture for our clients showing them the journey they can expect to make if they adhere to training.

The problem in recent years with adherence is the media. You may remember Sir Dave Brailsford and his famous “the extra 1%”.

Now, if you’re a top level athlete and missing out by milliseconds on a gold medal, then of course, every single thing can make a difference. For the rest of us, what are we doing with the other 99%? This is what will make the difference and takes time to build up.

The problem is that we live in a world where everything comes fast and easily: food, responses to emails, banking, hotels… but fitness? You can download as many apps as you like, but getting fitter will still take an awful lot of effort and adherence.

Impatience damages the chances of success in fitness — we have a goal, and realise it will cost us more than we thought to reach it, which leads us to switch approaches, randomly choosing a new goal or giving up altogether. People also end up doing too much too soon, which can cause injuries. The majority of sports injuries are caused by impatience!

And so to ‘fit’. What does ‘fit’ mean to you?

Take a look at all the athletes in the image — all fit? Of course! But in completely different ways.

However, what we have to remember is these are not ‘normal’ people — they are doing above and beyond the norm. Sure, getting to an Olympian level of fitness would be great, but let’s start smaller to begin with.

The Venn diagram below demonstrates where we at Body Happy are aiming for:

Definitions:

Physical Activity — any movement carried out by skeletal muscles requiring energy

Exercise — physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive movement of the body designed to improve or maintain physical fitness

Health — state of being free from illness or injury

The guidelines for exercise for health are:

150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, 30 minutes - 5 days a week

Or

75 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, 25 minutes - 3 days a week

So, what would actually constitute meeting these guidelines?

10,000 steps

The 10,000 steps rule (roughly 5 miles) has been making the news a lot lately. It’s a good guide but, as I wrote in a previous blog, the 10K step is a bit of a marketing ploy. Yet many fitness trackers and insurance companies still use it as a marker for a daily fitness goal.

The problem for many of us is that this number of steps is NOT achievable in our current daily routine because our lifestyle has changed so much over the years. We wake up, walk to the car, drive to work, walk from our car to our desk, spend 8+ hours at our desk, finish work, walk to the car, drive home, walk from the car indoors, sit on the sofa watching catch-up TV, sleep and repeat.

It’s harder than you think to get 10,000 steps in! By living like this, you’d get in around 5000 steps, but you can add a further 3,000–4,000 steps (walking speed/body size) through a 30-minute moderate pace walk, which would get you to the 10,000 guidelines.

Why not try walking meetings, have a head-set phone so you can walk about the office as you make a call, walk to a colleague’s desk instead of phoning them or sending them emails, and include a walk break every 30–60 minutes (complete a lap of the office or four). Try to always take the stairs instead of the lift and take the longest route to the office from the car park.

The guidelines say 30 minutes a day, but do these have to be continuous or can they be accumulated?

Studies have looked at continuous and accumulated physical activity. The research shows that, for health, there is no difference between accumulated and continuous. These studies look at accumulated, totalling the same time as the continuous bout. So, if all you can spare is 10 minutes before work, 10 minutes in your break and 10 minutes after work — get moving for your health.

One study has also looked at 5–8 x 2 minutes of stair climbing over a period of a day. The study reported cardiovascular health benefits when compared to non-exercising subjects, which is no surprise. This study does show that if you are currently sedentary, starting to move frequently throughout the day can have positive health benefits for you.

What other options do you have?

Active commuting — walking or cycling. Only 3% of us walk to work, with those who walk 6 miles a week lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. 3 miles is about 1 hour of walking, this could be incorporated 2–3 times a week from work.

Take a look at where you can get in an hour from Brighton city centre with this 3-mile radius guide:

And here’s a 5-mile radius from the University of Sussex campus:

11% of Brits are now cycling to work. The benefits of cycling are, in fact, greater than walking. Cycling not only lowers cardiovascular disease but also mortality and cancers. This could be also due to fact that 90% of cyclists met the minimum physical activity guidelines, compared to 54% for walking. Personally, I find cycling to and from work less stressful than the train and it takes me the same, if not less time.

To increase your physical activity, why not look at the great initiative of parkrun? It’s for everyone, it really is. Take your family, your dog… walk, run, walk and run — no one minds how long it takes you!

Importantly, we need to break up periods of sitting. We all need to move more, as sitting is being linked to diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases and obesity. But what can you do? Stand up, stretch, walk around the office, wake the body up. All these things will help get the blood flowing — meaning you don’t have to keep reaching for the coffee (although if you do, make it in the kitchen furthest from the office!)

Sitting is bad as the body starts to switch off: our metabolism slows down, slowing the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and our ability to metabolise fat. Not moving then causes muscle wastage, as they are not being used and bone strength decreases. Our muscle mass helps burn calories and regulate blood sugar levels, weaker bones are more likely to break in trips and falls.

So how can you bring all of this together?

  • Start moving more every day
  • Adhere and commit to the changes you implement
  • Try and find a form of exercise you like doing! That might be team sports, gardening, walking, running, yoga or swimming
  • Choose something that fits your lifestyle, whether that’s 1 x 30 minutes, 2 x 15 minutes, 3 x 10 minutes

Finally, a study recently published in the U.S., (where life expectancy is similar to the UK) found that there were 5 particularly good habits that increased life expectancy of both men (adding 12 years) and women (adding 14 years). Why not see if you can make them habits for you?

  • Having a body mass index between 18.5–25 (if you are really muscular you may be above this)
  • Doing 30 minutes of physical activity every day
  • Low alcohol consumption — a max of 150ml of wine for women and 300ml of wine daily for men
  • Not smoking
  • A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains, but low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat.

Good luck with committing to getting and staying fit. And get in touch with me at Body Happy if you’d like any help!