Regular exercise for 2020
New Year resolutions are a great way to kick-start living a healthier life after all the excesses of the festive season, whether it’s quitting smoking, reducing alcohol, eating better, or doing more exercise. But two weeks into 2020 those well-intentioned resolutions start to feel a little harder to keep up. Research from Strava (a social media platform for cyclists and runners to share their activity) has predicted that the 19th January 2020 will be the day most people give up their New Year resolutions.
My own resolution was the brilliantly vague ‘get fitter’. I always far preferred team sports to individual disciplines, but the reality of a junior doctor’s unpredictable rota has finally, in 2019, laid my amateur volleyball career to rest. And so with the rest of town it seems, I have been dragging myself to the local gym these first two weeks of January.
The department of Health and Social Care published new guidelines in September on the recommended amount of physical activity adults should undertake. It advises 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (such as brisk walking or cycling), or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (such as running), or even shorter durations of very vigorous intensity activity (sprinting or stair climbing), or a combination of the above. However, they have now adopted a ‘some is good, more is better’ statement to encourage those starting from a low baseline level of activity.
Regular exercise has been described as a ‘miracle cure’ in a publication by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, improving symptoms of COPD, angina, peripheral vascular disease, mental health conditions and chronic pain, and reducing the risk of some cancers. As heathcare professionals we should be recommending exercise to our patients like medicine. We can’t assume every patient knows the importance of regular physical activity.
We must also not forget the importance of exercise in our own lives. We need to look after ourselves so that we can, in turn, look after our patients. At population level, working lives are becoming more sedentary and medicine is no exception. Electronic investigation requests means fewer trips to various departments to work patients up, and electronic prescribing means no one needs to dash to the ward at the far end of the hospital anymore to prescribe antiemetics for a vomiting patient.
To let you into a secret: I don’t see my new gym habit sticking. It clearly works for some people (the gleaming biceps that surround me twice weekly attest to that), but I find it incredibly dull. There are however, many creative and sociable ways I have found that have helped me work more exercise into the weekly routine that I’m planning to revive. In the interest of looking after ourselves, each other and our patients, I thought I would share them with you.
- GoodGym – a community of runners who combine running with stop-offs for physical tasks at community projects, weekly group runs, or running to visit an isolated older person in the local community. Free to use (but donations welcome) there is nothing not to like. https://www.goodgym.org
- Find something to train for – whether it’s a running, cycling, swimming event, or all three(!). Having a sporting event on the horizon is often the motivation required to get out of bed on a Sunday morning. https://findarace.com is a great place to start.
- Strava – If you’ve not heard of Strava you must be living under a rock. A social fitness network, using GPS data through your phone or fitness device. There is something so gratifying about the way Strava congratulates you on outperforming yourself, and when you repeat the same route or route segment that I can only recommend with an addiction warning. It is truly flexible, supporting your individual activity but keeping you connected to the Strava community.
Do you have other ideas? Any strategies that you have managed to work around the long hours a career in medicine demands? Or perhaps something a patient has recommended? I would love to hear them.