Summer of virtue or summer of decadence

Summer of virtue or summer of decadence

It's easy to take an all-or-nothing approach to fitness and exercise over the summer, either going exercise-crazy or letting everything slip. Neither of these approaches is likely to be very effective or enjoyable in the long run. Here's how to build some moderation into your approach to summer fitness.

What does summer fitness mean to you?

Do you see summer as a time for indulging in delicious crisp salads, grilled fish and an abundance of fresh fruit? Do the long days and the warmer weather translate into more hours of being active and outdoors? Is the prospect of a beach or poolside holiday what spurs you on to work at achieving a slim, toned silhouette? In a nutshell, do you go for a virtuous summer?

Or is it more a case of ice creams and Pimm's than salad? Dozing in the shade or watching telly with a fan on rather than going swimming or cycling? Using a holiday as an excuse to eat and drink too much and generally indulge yourself? Compared to the “virtuous” summer, this sounds more like a decadent summer.

Let me say right away that I don't think one approach is superior to another. Does that sound surprising?

First of all, there are advantages as well as disadvantages to each approach. The virtuous summer has obvious health benefits, but there's a risk that you can get to September and feel like you haven't really enjoyed yourself. Conversely, a decadent summer might not do your health many favours but could be quite a lot of fun!

As ever, the key lies in finding a balance. Here are some ideas.

Enjoy your virtuous summer

Making exercise and fitness a priority over the summer is laudable, but make sure you leave room for enjoyment as well.

Get more exercise outdoors. Swim, cycle, run or just take your yoga mat to the bottom of the garden. Adapt your usual exercise routine to be more outdoors-focused. Try something new altogether. This will give you a bit of variety as well as providing the opportunity to enjoy the summer weather, rather than feeling like summer is passing you by while you're indoors at the gym.

Exercise earlier in the day or later in the evening. A 7am or 8pm workout is a much more appealing prospect in August than in November, and it means that you have more hours free during the rest of the day for other enjoyable things.

Exercise safely. Remember to look after yourself. This may seem obvious, but it's surprising how many people suffer ill effects of overdoing it in the heat every year! You want to enjoy your fitness programme, not martyr yourself. Take the usual precautions of wearing appropriate clothing, drinking plenty of water, using sunscreen, avoiding the hottest period of the day and generally being sensitive to how your body is responding to exercising in warmer temperatures.

Have a goal. Having a personally meaningful goal can make the difference between feeling motivated and inspired to exercise and feeling like it's just another chore to be got through. It doesn't matter what that goal is, as long as it's relevant and motivating to you. A toned body ready for the beach? The stamina to go on a backpacking holiday or run a marathon in the autumn? Entering the period of colder darker weather with plenty of reserves of energy? Whatever it is, keeping your goal in mind will make sticking to your exercise regime more enjoyable.

Plan pleasure. However virtuous your overall approach to summer, make sure you set aside some time just to enjoy yourself. You could plan specific rewards for achieving certain goals. You could have a night a week set aside for a treat. Recognise that pleasure is an important part of staying fit and healthy.

Set limits on your decadent summer

Enjoy yourself this summer by all means, but set some limits to make sure the pleasures outweigh the regrets afterwards.

Have a plan. It helps if you plan your indulgences a little, rather than recklessly and impulsively rushing into the whole array of summer pleasures open to you. So if you're going to a drinks party on Saturday, plan an abstinent Sunday. If Friday is take-away and television night, perhaps Thursday could be salad night. The key is to anticipate those occasions of decadence that you are going to allow yourself to indulge in and balance them with a more measured approach.

Make time for a little virtue. The most indulgent decadence will feel that bit more indulgent if you're also spending some time being virtuous. You'll have a greater sense that you deserve whatever treat is on offer if you're spending at least a little bit of your time being sensible. And it does only have to be a little.

Research has shown significant health benefits from including just two nights of abstinence or three 10-minute bursts of exercise in your week. That still leaves plenty of time for enjoyment!

Really savour what you're doing. When you're indulging yourself, really go for it. Take time to experience the pleasure of whatever it is you are doing. If you're eating an enormous ice cream sundae, don't do anything else other than enjoying the flavours and textures and sensations that go with that. If you're watching telly in a darkened room, savour the coolness and the pleasure of laziness. This approach should make your pleasures more fulfilling, so that you're not constantly craving more but enjoying what you've got.

Enjoy your summer!



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