What everyone should know about exercise

Exercising at Barnsley LTE Heart Support Group

Our bodies are genetically engineered to exercise.

Fight or flight responseThe “fight-or-flight” response, a physiological reaction developed by our ancestors, is very much with us today.

Back then it was a perceived attack or threat to survival.

Nowadays it is more likely to be a perceived attack of indigestion by slouching on the couch too long.

Since our bodies are designed to move to keep working efficiently, the increased possibility of cardiovascular disease and shorter life span is nowadays the real threat to our survival.

This was brought home to me when my lack of exercise led to massive weight gain and Type 2 Diabetes. I knew that there were reasons and obstacles, both imagined and real, that would stand in my way in changing my lifestyle. I needed to fully appreciate why I needed to exercise.

The “why?” of exercise

1) The first and most obvious, was controlling my weight. Exercise burns calories. Reducing calories reduces weight. “Exercise burns calories” became a simple but effective mantra.

grey-man-125x2682) Exercise prevents diseases – many studies report the truth in this. Heart disease, diabetes, asthma, back pain and arthritis can all benefit from regular exercise. Flabby muscles tone up, heart and lungs function efficiently, and joints loosen up and become less stiff. Stamina is improved. High blood pressure reduced.

3) I was suffering from lack of energy, mood swings and poor sleep. More exercise was the common denominator in improving all these. Exercise releases endorphins that create happiness and euphoria and helps fight depression and anxiety.

5) At times I was finding it difficult to concentrate. Cardiovascular exercise creates new brain cells (neurogenesis) which release BDNF which also prevents cognitive decline. It sharpens memory and boosts brain power. 

These were 5 good reasons for bringing exercise into my lifestyle, added together they enhanced the possibility of reversing my diabetes and a longer life – my new mission.

Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate. The world wasn’t formed in a day, and neither were we. Set small goals and build upon them.
– Lee Haney

The “how?” of exercise – Part One

I’d convinced myself that I needed to become more active – but “how?” My doctor had mentioned walking briskly for 30 minutes a day so I was “out of breath”. I took this as permission to do mild exercise and considering I could be “out of breath” walking to the garden gate I decided to start slowly and gradually build up my exercise goals.

Exercise by walkingFirst I set out my “Exercise Plan”. I’d start with walking just 10 minutes a day, gradually increasing to 15 minutes, then 20 minutes and so on in 5 minute increments up to 30 minutes a day. I would then add in some easy stretching exercises and mild calisthenic exercises (remembered from my gym days). I set no time limit on these incremental increases only moving on when my body felt right to continue. After 30 minutes a day I would gradually increase to 60 minutes.

It was a grand plan but the major obstacle I placed in my way was “not having enough time” to exercise. It was a lame excuse considering all the positive effects I was looking for.

The answer was simple. I set my alarm clock for 15 minutes earlier and gained the time I needed. The more time I needed for walking, the earlier I got up, 5 minutes at a time.

Morning time became my new “exercise period”. It was “my” time and the gateway to a new lifestyle. My journey to living longer had begun.

The “how?” of exercise – Part Two

That was over 18 months ago. I’d increased my morning walk to an hour or so. My mobile phone pedometer tracked an average of 10,000 steps per day (about 5 miles).

I was reaping the benefits – weight loss, more energy, lower stress levels and better concentration. My blood pressure was down and blood tests proved my type 2 diabetes was in remission.

Now I needed to maintain and improve upon all this good work.

After a year or so of morning walks I toyed with the idea of getting more “full body” exercise – toning up all the body muscles and more controlled cardio activity. Thirty years go I would pop down to my local gym three times a week and “work out”. These days I needed to be a bit more careful. I was looking for regular long term exercise in a gym environment that was safe, supervised and suitable for older people.

A chance conversation with an old friend introduced me to the Barnsley Long Term Exercise Heart Support Group. Now that’s a bit of a mouthful and it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, but… it does do “exactly what it says on the tin”.

Exercise at Barnsley LTE

So a few days later I went along and met Steve Plunkett who told me about the group and showed me the facilities. It was just what I was looking for. I filled in the paperwork, got permission from my doctor to attend, and I was ready to go. The first session was an “induction” on how to use the equipment. Since I was attending the evening sessions this was the 10 station circuit training with 3 minutes at each one.

Five months on and I am feeling the benefits. I even walked a marathon over a weekend for the British Heart Foundation. I understand more how “long term exercise” is what my body needs as I get older. The other members are friendly and helpful, all with their own stories to tell. Many have had heart problems and been through cardiac rehab; others, like me, simply want to prevent heart problems. Long term exercise is a crucial ingredient on the road to a longer, more fulfilled life.

As a wise ancient philosopher said –


Get in touch with the Barnsley LTE Heart Support Group and see how your life can improve…

it’s the first step.