Being active could help you extend your life by three years. Although current government guidelines suggest we should exercise for 30 minutes five times a week, new research argues 15 minutes a day is a more realistic and achievable target.
Why fitness matters
“Even a little bit of exercise every day could help you reduce your risk of health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancer,” says Yours fitness expert Julie Robinson. “Being fit isn’t about running marathons, it’s more about being able to do all the things you enjoy doing such as gardening, dancing or playing with the grandchildren. Moving more has a big impact on your mental wellbeing too, it lifts your mood and improves your self-esteem. And of course, it helps you look and feel better too.”
Get fit fast
The phrase ‘every little helps’ really does ring true. Starting with five or ten minutes then building up gradually to 15 minutes over time will make a big difference to your health. And you don’t have to do 15 minutes in one chunk either. “It doesn’t matter how you split up the time as long as you achieve it in the end,” says Julie. “What’s most important is not to sit down for long periods inbetween as it can undo all your hard work.”
We lose muscle strength at a rate of one to two per cent per year after 50 so it’s vital to include resistance exercises when you work out. “This involves using weights or bands to push and pull against,” says Julie. “Not only does it help tone you and make you stronger, it could also reduce inflammation in your body to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia and some cancers.”
Stay on track
“It’s a great idea to keep track of your exercise routine,” says Julie. “Not only will this show you just how much you’re improving, it will also motivate you to keep active every day. Set yourself small, achievable goals and reward yourself when you achieve them.” Keep track of the benefits, too, by writing down any improvements you see in your energy levels, sleep or health over time.
Start small and set yourself a challenge of exercising for two minutes every hour throughout the day. You’ll soon clock up your 15 minutes of activity and be well on your way to stronger bones, a healthier heart, more energy and a better night’s sleep.
Even if you’re already fit and healthy these two-minute challenges are a great way to combat long periods of sitting that have been linked to health problems in the long term.
Take the stairs
It’s one of the best things you can do for your health, strengthening your leg muscles and working your heart and lungs. Climb up and down your stairs as many times as you can in two minutes. If you find it too easy then try doing it carrying some loaded shopping bags.
Dance like nobody’s watching
Put on some of your favourite songs and dance your way around your sitting room for two minutes until your heart is pumping and there’s a smile on your face. It should be fun as well as good for you!
Burn calories and help your heart by doing some ‘ropeless’ skipping – imagine holding a skipping rope then rotate the ‘rope’ forward as if you’re skipping and then add in the footwork. You can simply walk on the spot or hop from one foot to the other.
Sit down, stand up
Strengthen your leg muscles and improve your balance with some chair squats. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart then push your hips back as if you’re sitting into an imaginary chair. Lower yourself down so your thighs are as parallel to the floor as possible, with your knees over your ankles. Press into your heels to slowly bring yourself back to standing. Repeat for two minutes.
Strengthen your arms and shoulders by holding a bottle of water or a tin of soup in each hand with your arms by your sides. Raise your arms up and out to the side until they are at shoulder height, then slowly lower them back down again. See how many times you can do it in two minutes.
Improve your balance by standing on one leg. Hold on to something at first then gradually increase the time you hold without support. Try to build up to one minute on each leg.