Although scientists are close to developing a pill which can mimic the effects of exercising, exercise in a pill is probably (or hopefully) still the stuff of science fiction. It’s likely that most of you would recoil at the thought of no exercise at all, but sometimes a few shortcuts to health targets are welcome. Here are some ideas:
Target - 150 minutes of exercise per week.
NHS guidelines tell us to aim for over 2 hours of moderate exercise each week. Regular exercise like this will help maintain a healthy weight, reduce risk of disease and improve brain function and mood. But busy lifestyles mean we don’t always have time for long workouts.
The shortcut. Bite-size chunks of exercise over the week can be easier to manage. Rather than scheduling 5 x 30 minute sessions try the easier-to-manage 10 x 15 minutes of activity. It might be easier to jump on the exercise bike for a quick 10 minute session than to muster the discipline to do a proper workout.
Increase activity levels wherever you can e.g. try to stand rather than sit and walk rather than take the lift, and you’ll be burning more calories all day long barely noticing. Try to boost the intensity of all general activities such as walking upstairs, washing the car, or walking the dog so you can also count these as exercise minutes.
Target - Maintain a healthy weight
Burning enough calories to maintaining a healthy body weight brings many benefits including a lower risk of diabetes, cancer and osteoarthritis, healthier heart and lungs, as well as feeling more comfortable and good about yourself. Burning enough calories is the key to avoiding carrying extra weight.
The shortcut. Never underestimate the power of short intense workouts for burning calories. Just 2 minutes pedalling as fast as you can could burn 220 calories, according to researchers from Colorado State University. Short bursts of high intensity workouts are also shown to be highly effective for busting belly-fat.
Combining cardio with strength exercises is also a proven quick-fix for optimum calorie burning. By including plenty of compound moves (those which include more than 1 joint and more than 1 muscle group) such as squats and overhead dumbbell presses you minimise your workout time while maximising the benefits by raising your heart rate. Good technique can make all the difference and a good workout can continue to burn calories for up to 24 hours later.
Finally, if you’re prone to over-eating, simply focus on healthy food choices and sensible portion size. Life’s too short to be counting calories.
Target - Get enough sleep
Eight hours sleep a night is recommended by experts to promote weight loss, boost brain function and many other benefits we discussed here. But it’s not always easy to get enough shut-eye.
The shortcut. Take powernaps. According to a 2007 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine men who took daily naps showed nearly 40% less coronary heart disease, while other research suggests naps lower the risk of heart disease and boost memory. Napping for more than 20 minutes is not recommended however as it can lead to groggy feelings and difficulty in getting to sleep at night. If you’re not a natural napper, try to get to bed 15 minutes earlier each night, which could gain you nearly 2 hours of extra sleep a week. Failing that, brief moments of meditation are proven to reduce the need for sleep.
Target - Eat your five a day
Eating at least five 80g portions of fruit and vegetables each day is the best way we can reduce our risk of cancer and maintain a healthy weight, according to a 2010 study by experts at Oxford University. But what if you’re not a big veg fan?
The shortcut. Try to hide and mix vegetables in with other food, just like mums do with fussy children, e.g. grating courgette into pasta sauce. If farm fresh just isn’t your thing remember tinned tomatoes count, as well as easy to use frozen vegetables. Smoothies are an obvious choice for fruit, and don’t forget that dried fruit, easily added to cereal or eaten with a handful of nuts, now count as one of your five-a-day.
Target - Keep stress levels down
We know that avoiding stress and relaxing can lower our chances of developing diseases and having strokes. But family commitments and work pressures can make finding chill out time difficult.
The shortcut. Try to incorporate short bouts of meditation and mindfulness throughout your day. Just by drawing your attention to different parts of your body as you exercise, or noticing your breathing as you walk around, can all help lower your heart rate and increase beneficial alpha brainwaves.
Remember, reaching official health targets might seem impossible at times, but you can do a lot of good by getting close.
by Jessica Ward
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