They say that the hardest part of working out is actually getting up to do it. I couldn’t agree more. Personally, I have a propensity for morning workouts, but even then, the thought of having to drag myself out of bed for a sweat sesh as opposed to staying curled up in the covers fills me with dread—and I think it’s safe to say that many of us feel the same way.
Having been a trained dancer for much of my young student life, you’d think that the good habit of keeping active would have naturally carried on through to adulthood.
It did for a while.
Terrible when it comes to exercise
Like most working adults, by 25, I’d had an on-again, mostly off-again relationship with exercise until I found yoga, and for two blissful years, we were committed to each other. For four days a week, I’d spend at least two hours in a dank yoga studio along Bangsar, and it was one of the fittest I’d ever been. I looked great and I felt great thanks to the meditative goodness of the practice.
But, life happened, and I stopped working out completely.
While the pandemic hasn’t been the best thing to happen to my bank account (hello, online shopping!), it’s possibly one of the best things to happen to my physical health. With the time I’ve saved on commuting to/from work and ferrying my child all over the place due to the current WFH sitch, I could actually do something for myself. The cholesterol reading from my recent annual health screening was enough to motivate me to get back up (read: put the bag of crisps down and drag my bottom off the couch).
But how much would I need to move? And did it matter that I’ve generally got an on-again, off-again relationship with exercise? I did a little research and spoke to an expert to find out.
Renewing your fitness vows
First of all, the human body is amazing, and will find a way to sort itself out. As you go through life, you can’t always commit to working out four to five times weekly. Few have that luxury. Just remember that occasional exercise still benefits the body, even if you don’t do it regularly—what’s important is that you put in the cumulative time.
“If you choose to exercise only on the weekends and equal the volume of someone exercising three days a week during the week, you get the same health benefits,” says Linda Pescatello, PhD, a kinesiology professor at the University of Connecticut in an interview with Element. So, here’s looking at you, weekend warriors—those who do their weekly workouts on the weekends!
And now for the expert’s opinion. I spoke to Lyn Kong, a KL-based fitness trainer and nutritional consultant whom I’ve had the immense pleasure of training under when HIIT and I had a summer romance. Lyn is certified by the American Council of Exercise to conduct group and personal fitness sessions for all fitness levels and goals. Her other certifications include CrossFit Level 2, Certified Kettlebell Trainer Level 1 (IKFF), and Pn L 1 (Precision Nutrition). She’s even represented Malaysia in the 2012 Asia Crossfit Games held in South Korea and finished in eighth place.
Lyn too acknowledges that the health perks of working out add up over time. She says, “While many of us have long assumed that daily or consistent workouts give us a special boost, when it comes to basic health, bodies don’t care as much about consistency as we thought.” It’s important to know, however, that while regular exercise isn’t a must, it’s still the ideal. “Exercising daily can help you feel less depressed, eat fewer calories, be more creative, focus better, and sleep more soundly that very same day. Exercise is cumulative, adding up benefits over your lifetime,” Lyn adds.
Now, before you think that all of this is a get out of jail free card, while something is better than nothing, it’s still best to be somewhat regular … even with a little something. In other words, start things easy and work your way up, but there’s no reason to push yourself—or rather, your body—like crazy. Well, not unless you’re training for something big like a marathon, that is.
OK, enough from me. Here is Lyn’s advise:
Ways to keep the workout flame alive
- Find a workout buddy! Meeting a friend at the gym or park is the perfect way to ensure you follow through with your exercise plans. It’s also a great way to spend time with your friend while doing something you both love, like yoga, online HIIT classes, or hiking
- Track your steps! Just by tracking your daily steps, you’ll be able to see how much activity you get each day. You may be surprised by the amount of steps you take. Otherwise, it’ll challenge you to increase your steps a little each day.
- Select movements you like. What forms of exercise do you actually enjoy doing? Let go of anything you feel forced to do and embrace movements you love. The chances of maintaining a regular exercise routine is much better when you’re having fun doing it, than when you feel like you’re being punished. If you can’t figure out what you enjoy doing, think about what you loved when you were a kid, and tap into your inner child.
Finding the motivation
- Try something new! Step outside of your comfort zone and try a dance or yoga class. Keep trying new forms of movement until you learn what feels the best to you.
- Fuel up well! If you aren’t eating enough or are eating food combinations that don’t support sustained energy, motivations to move are likely to decrease.
- Turn on the beat! If you have a favourite tune, turn it up and move to the beat! Take a walk or listen to a podcast during your walks/runs.
Easy, but beneficial exercises
- Walking. This is something you can do anywhere, and it strengthens the heart and burns calories. You can walk at any time of day, with no equipment other than a good pair of shoes. Brisk walking can burn up to 500 calories per hour depending on a person’s build. Start by walking five to 10 minutes at a time, gradually moving up to at least 30 minutes per session.
- Squats. These give you the best bang for your buck because they use the most muscle groups at once – the quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteals, core strength, as well as flexibility in your lower back and hips. When you use more muscle groups in a movement, you burn more calories. It’s also what we do in daily life – sitting back and getting up from a chair. Your hips and legs are your entire lower body.
- Planks. Okay, maybe not so easy. But planking is an effective way to target both your abdominal muscles and your whole body. Planking stabilises your core without straining your back the way sit-ups or crunches might. Take deep, controlled breaths while maintaining tension throughout your entire body so your abs, shoulders, triceps, glutes, and quads are all engaged.
Pro tip: These fundamental exercises will do your body good, but there’s always room to keep pushing it.
So, how much exercise do you ACTUALLY need?
While most experts will tell you to be active for at least 30 minutes, at least five days a week, as mentioned earlier, you can actually break this up. Here’s Lyn’s breakdown:
- Moderate-intensity exercise (like brisk walking or yoga): At least 2.5 hours to five hours a week.
- High-intensity exercise (like running or aerobic dancing): At least 75 minutes to 2.5 hours a week.
- Alternative: A combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity exercises that add up. Adults should engage in moderate- or greater-intensity muscle-strengthening activities involving all muscle groups at least two days a week.
- Move a little. Any exercise or daily movement is better than nothing! Research shows that some exercise is beneficial to your health as compared to none. It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we’re moving more and sitting less throughout the day. If you’re working from home, set a timer every 30 minutes to stand up and stretch or walk about for five mins.
- Set realistic goals. Even five minutes of walking can make a difference. Small increases in regular movement will lead to major health improvements. It doesn’t seem to matter how many days that you have exercised.
- A little goes a long way. If you can schedule 20 minutes of consistent exercise daily, that would be way better for your physical health AND also your mental health.
Ultimately, working out doesn’t need to feel like a chore. Instead, Lyn says that the best way to keep at it is to find a workout we enjoy and just have fun with it. While all the questions I posed to her were to do with finding ways to lessen our workout time, she does, however, culminate our tête-à-tête with this little nugget: “The more important question is, are you moving more and expending energy in a day? Or are you sitting down and neglecting time for your body’s physical health?” Okay, I’m going to go for a run now—my current love in exercise.