The reason why you find it so hard to stick to your fitness goals is not because they're unrealistic, but how you're training to meet them, says physiologist Ray Loh of Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
SINGAPORE: The COVID-19 crisis has changed the exercise habits of many Singaporeans.
Work from home has allowed people to exercise more frequently at their own time, while safe distancing rules on indoor sports facilities have encouraged many to pick up new outdoor sports.
According to a January 2021 Ipsos survey on exercise behaviour during COVID-19, about 40 per cent of Singaporeans increased their exercise activities, while 24 per cent exercise less.
However, 30 per cent of Singaporeans reported an average weight gain of 4.8kg.
In my clinic and on daily jogs, I've seen a surge in people trekking, running, and cycling. However, many stopped after one to two months after overdoing it.
Take *Ms Loo, for example, a middle-aged woman who has decided to become more active since the pandemic hit. She started exercising 30 minutes five times a week and alternated her workout with climbing stairs, walking, cycling and jogging.
Unfortunately, after a month, she developed an overuse injury and was diagnosed with patellar tendonitis.
The trouble isMs Loo progressed too quickly without proper conditioning. People who lead a sedentary lifestyle for more than six months should start with a shorter duration of 10 to 20 minutes (depending on intensity) three times a week.
They should progress slowly with no more than 20 per cent of duration, distance, or frequency weekly.
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NEW YEAR RESOLUTIONS GONE WRONG
It's a positive development that more are exercising since COVID-19. As the new year rolls around, many are bound to make new year resolutions of losing weight or leading more active lives.
However, training too much without adequate rest and recovery may be bad for our body and mental wellbeing.
That's why it's hard to stick to demanding fitness plans. Strava, a popular social network for runners and cyclists, analysed user data and predicted most people drop their new year resolutions within a month – on Jan 19, to be exact.
Researchers have yet to find the optimal amount of exercise. The question of how much exercise is too much depends on an individual's fitness level and health conditions.
But the reason why many drop their fitness goals is not because they were unrealistic, but how they've trained to achieve those goals.
*Mr Ng is in his late 40s and diagnosed with hypertension and pre-diabetes. During the pandemic, he started exercising to improve his health. After a few months of training, his friends encouraged him to train for a marathon.
He set a goal to qualify for the next Boston marathon within a year. Following a marathon training programme from the Internet, he increased his running mileage to about 20km daily. However, he developed exercise-induced hematuria (blood in urine).
Like Ms Loo, Mr Ng had the determination and motivation to train hard. However, his problem was in the duration of his training, which is over three hours.
When exercising in a warm and humid climate like ours, replenishment of water and electrolytes is needed every 15 minutes once exercise exceeds an hour.
When exercise exceeds two hours, fuel replenishment such as energy bar or gel is necessary every 45 minutes.
MORE RISKS FOR PEOPLE WITH DIABETES
When exercise intensity increases, it uses up our body's carbohydrates stores, resulting in tiredness, mental dullness, higher heart rate, and in some severe cases, exertional rhabdomyolysis – the breakdown of muscle.
People with diabetes risk hypoglycemia, where blood sugar levels fall to dangerous lows. The risk increases with exercise intensity, so those with diabetes should not exceed 60 minutes of moderate-intensity or 30 to 45 minutes of intense activity.
Here, the aim of exercising is to lower blood glucose levels and improve insulin resistance to lessen the dependence on medication. To do that, we can improve the body's sensitivity towards blood glucose by strengthening physical fitness.
*Richard is a classic example of improving fitness to fight diabetes. He is retired and diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. For the past 30 years, he has been using insulin therapy to control his blood glucose levels. His exercise regime includes walking two hours daily.
I shortened his daily exercise to 45 minutes, starting with 10 minutes of high-intensity continuous interval (HIIT) exercise followed by heavy resistance exercises. Richard has managed well, and his doctor told him to stop insulin therapy after seven months of hard work.
He further reduced his medication to a minimum dosage after a year. He can now complete 30 minutes of HIIT followed by functional resistance training daily.
OVEREXERCISE CAN CREATE STRESS
Exercise triggers the release of endorphins creating the "feel-good effect" in the brain, which is why it's addictive for some.
However, the effect depends on the exercise intensity. When overexertion combines with insufficient rest, cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase.
Not only does this make us tired and depressed, but we may experience mood swings, impaired immune system, reduced mental focus, troubled sleeping, and even weight gain.
It may also lead to overtraining, burnout, frequent injuries, and infections when we fail to recover adequately before the next training.
*Grace is a middle-aged woman who is overweight and has hypertension. She decided to begin exercising for weight loss. She controls her diet and diligently participates in HIIT classes every evening after work.
However, she gained weight instead. She constantly felt tired and had trouble sleeping. She lost her motivation and found excuses not to exercise after a month.
High-intensity exercises can burn more calories but are more stressful and are not sustainable for most people.
Weight loss is a long-term project. When starting an exercise regime to lose weight, improving fitness should be the primary goal. A higher fitness level can enable individuals to exercise at a greater intensity, expending more calories with less exertion.
For example, a person who does brisk walking for an hour may complete 5km, expending about 350 calories. However, a fitter person who can complete 10km in the same amount of time can expend double the amount of calories.
Start with most exercises at a comfortable intensity, limiting higher-intensity activities to once a week. Stress management is also important to improve weight loss and boost motivation.
BUILDING A BALANCED EXERCISE REGIME
Exercise is an important part of life, but to gain maximum benefits, it should be planned carefully to achieve specific ends.
Most people want aerobic fitness, so they go jogging, cycling, and swimming. Minimally, this should be for 10 minutes at moderate intensity to enhance cardiovascular fitness.
Then there are those who want to build muscle strength and endurance and for that, there's weightlifting, stairs climbing, and HIIT body-weight exercises. These should consist of "heavy" resistance training with low repetitions and long rest intervals.
And to improve flexibility and mobility, do yoga and stretching exercises which are less effective for cardiovascular fitness. On the other hand, cardio activities may not increase muscular strength and flexibility as effectively as strength training and stretching exercises.
A good exercise regime should include strength training, flexibility exercises, and cardio activities. The key is to find what suits your purpose and keep an eye for overuse injuries. You need to build up intensity slowly and stretch and hydrate if you are hitting an hour.
*Pseudonyms were used in this commentary.
Ray Loh is Senior Physiologist at Sports Medicine & Surgery Clinic, Orthopaedic Surgery Department, Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
Related Topicsexercise Home workouts Fitness COVID-19 Pandemic Health
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Performing exercises correctly ensures that the load is placed on the muscles and joints that are being specifically targeted through the movement. Performing an exercise incorrectly can quite often lead to other joints and muscles being loaded or not getting the full benefit from the exercise in the target muscles.What are the effects of not exercising for years? ›
Not getting enough physical activity can lead to heart disease—even for people who have no other risk factors. It can also increase the likelihood of developing other heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes.How does exercise add years to your life? ›
Physical activity reduces many major mortality risk factors including arterial hypertension, diabetes mellitus type 2, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease, stroke, and cancer.How do you stick to your New Year's fitness resolution? ›
- Focus on Daily Habits Rather Than End Results. ...
- Write Out Your Goal & Place It Somewhere You'll See Every Day. ...
- Be Realistic & Start Small. ...
- Find an Accountability Buddy or Join a Group.
- There's power in numbers. ...
- Reward Your Small Accomplishments.
- Help you control your weight. ...
- Reduce your risk of heart diseases. ...
- Help your body manage blood sugar and insulin levels. ...
- Help you quit smoking. ...
- Improve your mental health and mood. ...
- Help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age.
1. Aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise, which speeds up your heart rate and breathing, is important for many body functions. It gives your heart and lungs a workout and increases endurance.What are 3 consequences of not getting enough exercise? ›
Not getting enough physical activity comes with high health and financial costs. It can contribute to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, several cancers, and obesity.What are 5 negative effects of not exercising? ›
- Heart diseases, including coronary artery disease and heart attack.
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- Metabolic syndrome.
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Certain cancers, including colon, breast, and uterine cancers.
After a year of exercise:
Your ability to keep your muscles contracted and muscle endurance will be better, and you should be finding that you can lift more. Your body will be more agile and in general you should have less joint and muscle pain.
Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier, more relaxed and less anxious. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.
Exercise helps reduce anxiety and depression
"When you exercise, it increases endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline and endocannabinoid -- these are all brain chemicals associated with feeling happy, feeling confident, feeling capable, feeling less anxiety and stress and even less physical pain," McGonigal says.
Exercise not only helps you live longer — it helps you live better. In addition to making your heart and muscles stronger and fending off a host of diseases, it can also improve your mental and emotional functioning and even bolster your productivity and close relationships.What's the most common New Year's resolution? ›
Most Common New Year's Resolutions
Improved mental health (45%) Improved fitness (39%) Lose weight (37%) Improved diet (33%)
- Exercise more.
- Lose weight.
- Get organized.
- Learn a new skill or hobby.
- Live life to the fullest.
- Save more money / spend less money.
- Quit smoking.
- Spend more time with family and friends.
Research shows that physical activity can also boost self-esteem, mood, sleep quality and energy, as well as reducing your risk of stress, clinical depression, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.What are 3 good reasons to exercise? ›
Being physically active can improve your brain health, help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities.What are 10 reasons you should exercise? ›
- Feel more energized.
- Burn more calories at rest.
- Improve overall appearance.
- Be able to withstand stress.
- Decrease risk of illness.
- Speed up recovery from injury or surgery.
- Keep focused.
- Build up cardiovascular endurance.
How does exercise help my mental health? Exercise causes your brain to release 'feel good' chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that help improve your mood. It also improves your fitness, which can help lift your mood. Doing physical activity can also distract you from negative thought patterns.How does exercise reduce stress? ›
Exercise increases your overall health and your sense of well-being, which puts more pep in your step every day. But exercise also has some direct stress-busting benefits. It pumps up your endorphins. Physical activity may help bump up the production of your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters, called endorphins.What is exercise in short answer? ›
Exercise is a body activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness.
- “I hate exercising” ...
- “I am too busy studying / working / full time parent” ...
- “I am too tired” ...
- “it's too difficult or painful” ...
- “I have an injury” ...
- “I am too old” ...
- “It's too expensive” ...
- “I am too inactive / embarrassed to exercise”
“Overtraining can lead to overuse injuries such as muscle strains, stress fractures or tendon injuries.” Plus, when you exercise too much, you may lose your motivation or simply no longer enjoy your sports or workouts,” said Amy Jo Overlin, MD, a sports medicine physician at Banner Health in Phoenix, AZ.How does exercise affect mental health? ›
Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.Can you be healthy without exercise? ›
Exercise is Essential for Good Health
It's impossible. Being sedentary, or an absence of exercise, is an inherently pathological state, and a risk factor for basically every single metabolic disease: Heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, dementia and Alzheimer's, osteoporosis, colon cancer, and more.
Over the long-term: Physical inactivity can lead to greater risks for major health problems, from heart disease and diabetes to early death.What are the non benefits of exercise? ›
- Natural mood booster: Endorphins are hormones in the brain that reduce your perception of pain and trigger happiness. ...
- Release stress and physical tension: Working out not only releases endorphins, but it can also help refocus your energy away from life's stressful situations.
You'll need three months to gain it all back. It might come back even faster. Sports scientist Greg Nuckols noted that a 3-month detraining period might require a month or less to regain all of your lost muscle.How long does it take to get back in shape after years off? ›
“If you have been out of shape, or not working out for 10 years — or forever — it will generally take about 2 months of working out most days of the week to get to a moderate level,” New York-based Nikki Glor, creator of NikkiFitness videos, told Healthline.Can 2 weeks of exercise make a difference? ›
Between two and four weeks of regular exercise you will start to see measurable improvements in your strength and fitness. If weight loss is a goal and your exercise program is being complemented by healthy eating then you may start to see desirable changes in your weight.What does exercise do for the brain? ›
It can improve memory and reduce anxiety or depression. Regular physical activity can also reduce your risk of cognitive decline, including dementia. One study found that cognitive decline is almost twice as common among adults who are inactive compared to those who are active.
Exercise doesn't have to be strenuous, structured or take a long time to have benefits. Any exercise is better than none, but experts recommend adults should be active most days, aiming for a total of 2.5-5 hours of moderate physical activity, or 1.25-2.5 hours of vigorous physical activity per week.Is it better to exercise more often or longer? ›
Researchers report that small amounts of daily activity are better for muscle strength than less frequent, more intense workouts. Experts add that exercising every day is also better for overall health and can reduce the risk of injury.What kind of exercise makes you happier? ›
Walking, stretching and low-level strength training can all be effective in combatting stress and anxiety. Studies have shown that more physical activity throughout the day has been linked to individuals who report feeling happier.What is the link between exercise and happiness? ›
Exercise increases happiness and wellbeing, and it reduces depression and anxiety. According to a study by the University of Michigan more exercise leads to more happiness, but even small bouts of exercise have positive benefits. Exercise has also been proven to have positive effects at all ages.What happens to our brains when we exercise and how it makes us happier? ›
When you exercise, your body releases chemicals such as dopamine (pronounced doh-pa-meen) and endorphins (en-door-fins) in your brain that make you feel happy. Not only is your brain dumping out feel-good chemicals, but exercise also helps your brain get rid of chemicals that make you feel stressed and anxious.Does exercise make you look younger? ›
Exercise provides a full array of anti-aging benefits, and looking better is just one of them. Regular workouts fight aging from the inside out. The benefits of staying active extend to your physical, mental, and emotional health and even your sex life.Why is it important to exercise at the correct intensity? ›
Your exercise intensity must generally be at a moderate or vigorous level for maximum benefit. For weight loss, the more intense or longer your activity, the more calories you burn. Balance is still important. Overdoing it can increase your risk of soreness, injury and burnout.What is the definition of proper exercise? ›
Exercise involves engaging in physical activity and increasing the heart rate beyond resting levels. It is an important part of preserving physical and mental health.Why is exercise important for mental health? ›
Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function. Exercise has also been found to alleviate symptoms such as low self-esteem and social withdrawal.How can you stay motivated to lead a healthy and physically fit life? ›
Keep physical activity interesting
Choose from a range of physical activities. If you feel bored by an exercise routine, try something new or challenge yourself. Try to walk a bit faster on your 30-minute walk, or choose a different route. Set new fitness goals.
Gradually increase the intensity of your workouts as your fitness improves. Also, your heart rate should stay in the lower ranges during warm-up and cool-down periods. Using a heart rate monitor is an easy way to keep track of your heart rate while you're exercising, or you can take your pulse (see below).Is intense exercise better for your health? ›
And the people who had the best health outcomes engaged in at least 450 minutes of moderate exercise each week; they were 39 percent less likely to die. Kicking it up a notch with high-intensity interval training – or short, intense bouts of exercise – is undeniably superior for improving fitness, Wasfy said.What is the conclusion of exercise? ›
Engaging in regular physical activity may produce improvements in an individual's physical health, cognitive performance, and psychological well-being.What are the examples of exercise proper? ›
- Lifting weights.
- Carrying groceries.
- Gripping a tennis ball.
- Overhead arm curl.
- Arm curls.
- Wall push-ups.
- Lifting your body weight.
- Using a resistance band.
JERRY Diaz, a certified National Academy of Sports Medicine personal trainer, said there are seven principles of exercise: individuality, specificity, progression, overload, adaptation, recovery, and reversibility.How does exercise improve self-esteem? ›
When you do aerobic exercise, you feed your brain with valuable nutrients and oxygen, improving cognitive function. After exercise, you tend to feel more focused, alert and able to complete the tasks of the day more efficiently, thus improving your self-esteem.Does daily exercise improve mental health? ›
Although not a cure-all, increasing physical activity directly contributes to improved mental health and better overall health and well-being. Learning how to routinely manage stress and getting screened for depression are simply good prevention practices.What are the 10 mental benefits of exercise? ›
- A better night's sleep. ...
- Sharpens your thinking. ...
- Improves energy levels. ...
- Reduces risk of physical health issues. ...
- Improves your confidence. ...
- Mood booster. ...
- A stress release. ...
- Enhances your memory.