Friday 19 July 2019

Karl Henry: Simple ways to build small bursts of exercise into a stress-free life

Karl Henry at home with his two dogs. Photo: Fran Veale
Karl Henry at home with his two dogs. Photo: Fran Veale
Karl Henry

Karl Henry

Last week I challenged readers to leave the phone outside of the bedroom. How did you get on? It's tough, isn't it? You don't realise how attached to your phone you are until you actually have to try to put it away, out of sight. But the reality is that sleeping without your phone in your room will have a huge impact on your sleep quality, which has a positive impact on your stress levels and overall well-being.

We're carrying around more stress than ever, and the simple changes I have given you over the past four weeks are a great way to start tackling and reducing that stress. I know change is scary, but small changes are much easier to implement and can often be more effective as they are easier to do and also last longer.

So lots of work done, but some more to do! This week I want to focus on exercise and the role it can play in creating a more relaxing day for you. Working out is one of the most important aspects of de-stressing. Once you've got a healthy plan in place, adding more exercise in as part of your day is crucial.

When you move, you release hormones into the blood stream, hormones that make you feel good, feel happy and help to lower your stress levels. You get your heart pumping, circulating blood around the body, and when the lungs breathe in fresh air, the body releases pent up tension. It's all about improving your mental and physical state, improving your gut health, your sleep and also, crucially, your mood, which directly impacts everything and everyone around you.

Don't worry, I'm not going to suggest jumping into a gruelling workout routine, but I am going to recommend that your day contains as much movement as possible. Our bodies were designed to move, not sit in cars and buses or at desks all day. Lack of movement is increasing your stress levels, expanding your waistline, negatively impacting your mental health and contributing to a host of other harmful things, so let's make sure you avoid that.

For me, the most important thing when you're exercising is that you are working hard enough, even just for a few short seconds, like walking up the stairs in work for example. Ideally I want you getting at least slightly out of breath, even just for a short time, as this is a way of ensuring your body is getting some really effective stress-busting movement. So apply any of these rules to your day:

  • walk to or from work;      
  • cycle to or from work;      
  • take a walk on your lunch break;      
  • use the stairs instead of the elevator;      
  • incorporate a session at the gym.

Ideally I want you to get as much exercise into your day as you can, so try some of these simple methods:    

  • get off the bus or train one stop earlier;      
  • park further away from your destination;      
  • take walking meetings;      
  • don't use the lift or escalators, especially when you travel;      
  • have a car-free day at weekends;      
  • stand more at your desk or on your commute;      
  • introduce regular walk breaks into your work day, even for two or three minutes;      
  • start an exercise competition with your colleagues.

No matter what fitness level you are at, you can gain so much by getting some exercise into your day. In fact, if you are a total beginner, you will see the benefits even faster.

The exercise component of de-stressing simply builds on the other foundations that the last four columns have addressed. Remember to plan for relaxation by de-cluttering anywhere you spend time, improving your sleep and surrounding yourself with positivity. Add in the exercise and you will be truly on the road to a healthier, happier and more positive life.

Listen: Real Health Podcast: The best gadgets, tech and apps to improve your health & fitness

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