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Exercise: ten tips to get moving

Jo Baker is a psychotherapist, tutor and psycho-education co-ordinator at the University of Derby

Exercise helps improve all aspects of your health and with some simple steps you can use exercise to improve your mood, physical health and academic learning.

Not only does exercise boost your immune system, it can be more effective than medication when it comes to pain relief, reducing stress and anxiety and improving mood. It can improve sleep, encourage routine and increase your sense of connectedness.

Exercise also improves brain processing, which can, in turn, increase your academic performance. According to the biggest study of its kind university students who take regular exercise say they perform better, are more employable and have better levels of wellbeing.

How much exercise do I need?

The NHS recommends that everyone does some form of physical activity on a daily basis. The current recommendation for adults is to aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate activity and two strength training sessions per week.

Our bodies were designed to be active, but our modern-day lifestyles mean that many of us spend much of the day sitting at a desk or in some form of transport. There is increasing evidence that, unless you are a wheelchair user, sitting down too much can be a risk to your health.

Recent research shows that moving regularly throughout the day and breaking up periods of inactivity with movement is just as important as structured exercise.

You may be finding it tougher to exercise during coronavirus, but you can still find ways to make movement a part of your daily routine.

10 ways to make movement part of your daily routine

1. Make small changes

Trying to do too much too soon can be overwhelming and disheartening. Instead make small changes such as:

  • consciously increasing your daily steps or active minutes
  • adding in a 10-minute yoga session when you get up
  • doing squats whilst brushing your teeth

2. Do something you enjoy

If you dread the thought of exercising then you’re not likely to stick to it. There are lots of fun alternatives to what we think of as traditional exercise. You could make it a social event too: research shows that exercising with a friend increases motivation.

3, Focus on one goal at a time

Try not to draw comparisons with others as this can reduce your motivation. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to run a 5k, or maybe you want to tone up.

Setting smaller goals along the way will help keep your motivation levels high, making you more likely to get to where you want to be. Think about how you will feel when you achieve that goal and what you might do to reward yourself.

4. Plan it into your week

Whether that is factoring regular brisk walks, a home workout or a gym session, setting aside time to do it will make it easier to achieve.

5. Build up gradually

Perception of intensity will vary from person to person. Listen to your body. If you have had a more vigorous session one day make the next day a recovery day with more gentle movement.

6. Get outside

The added benefit of exercising outside is that the daylight helps to set our internal rhythms, improving both our alertness and concentration during waking hours and also our sleep patterns.

7. Try a HIIT workout

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is one of the most efficient ways to exercise, alternating work and rest periods that will get your blood pumping. It also increases the brain’s ability to grow new cells, including cells in the hippocampus which is associated with memory. One study showed that participants learned 20% faster following a HIIT session.

8. Add in some strength training

Contrary to what some people believe, strength training doesn’t ‘bulk’ you up, but it does make you stronger and fitter. It also protects your bones and increases your metabolic rate as well as boosting energy levels and mood. There is growing evidence that HIIT combined with strength training can actually switch off inflammation.

9. Make incidental movement part of your day

Move whenever you get the opportunity. No special clothes or equipment are required. You could put a reminder in your phone, computer or fitness tracker to move at least once every 60-90 minutes. This will also give you a restorative break from study and improve your concentration levels.

10. Take advantage of technology

There’s a lot of guidance about exercise on the NHS website. There are also plenty of apps out there, both free and paid, that offer guided routines. YouTube is a great resource for virtually any type of exercise at any workout length or intensity you are looking for.

Remember that doing something is always better than doing nothing. Make sure that you wear comfortable clothing, take time to warm up and cool down, stay hydrated and follow the current government coronavirus guidelines.