Stay Active, Stay Happy

Hiking the Daniel Boone Scout trail in the blue ridge mountains during the summer of 2014.

Hiking the Daniel Boone Scout Trail in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina during the summer of 2014.

In October 2013, BBC News published in a article recommending that young people in Britain perform 60 minutes of exercise a day. In June 2014, BBC News published an article that recommended we stay on our feet for three hours a day. In January 2015, the same news channel recommended that people do 20 minutes of brisk walking or mild exercise a day on top of their daily routines. So, is there a right answer or an exact amount of time that we should spend exercising each day or each week? No! Of course not! Stop looking for the right answer, the perfect solution, or the correct equation. Think about how crazy that is for a second. Let’s think about four imaginary people; we will call them Alice, Barry, David, and Jen. Alice works in a restaurant so she is on her feet all day. She commutes to work by foot every single day, and has two kids. Barry works in IT so he sits at a desk all day and the only time he moves is to get food and walk to his car. David works in construction so he is on his feet all the time, and he lifts a lot of heavy things. He cycles to work. Jen works in design so she moves around her office but mostly sits at her desk. She walks to work but it’s an hour each way. These people live completely different lifestyles. Do you get my point? There is no formula for how much you should exercise. It depends on your diet, your lifestyle, how active you are, and your fitness goals. Do you want to gain weight, maintain your weight, or lose weight? Are you just trying to get a little bit fitter or are you training for an Ironman?

When I was in my second year of college, I was so lazy. I used to avoid going to class because it involved walking up a steep hill. Oh how ridiculous it sounds to me now, but my overweight body and my tar-filled lungs simply could not handle that hill. The city centre was only a few blocks from my apartment but I used to get the underground train because I was too lazy to walk. My lifestyle was so incredibly inactive, that my muscles just completely depleted and I lost my strength, my energy, and as a consequence, my motivation too. When you are really and truly unfit, going for a long walk can feel like running a marathon. Combine the lack of physical activity with a poor diet and bad habits, and you have a recipe for disaster. If you live a pretty active lifestyle due to your job and you commute to and from work (i.e. by foot or by bike) then you may not even need to exercise to stay fit. If you live a sedentary lifestyle due to your job or your travel, then you may need at least 30 minutes a day at least 4-5 times a week to stay strong and healthy. My dad, who I am extremely proud of, recently lost over 50 lbs simply by walking 1-2 hours a day. He lives a very sedentary lifestyle due to his job and his extensive long-haul travel, but he committed to going for a walk as soon as he got home from work every day, as well as eating more fruit and veggies, and the results are incredible. I will have to ask his permission but he might even let me share some photos. Did he go on a crazy restrictive diet? Nope! Did he join a gym and take loads of insane hour-long spin classes? Nope! He just started walking and eating less processed crap and more green food.

So, why should you trade in that extra hour of Netflix for an hour of walking, cycling, jogging, or a class at the gym? Sitting for too long actually slows the metabolism, which affects your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure and break down body fat. You may have read about that study where doctors linked obesity and diabetes to the amount of television watched by participants. Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out. If you spend your evening on the couch with a bag of potato chips from 5pm until 10pm or until whenever you go to bed, you are definitely not doing yourself any favours. But I am not here to scare you with the health-related side effects of being a couch potato. Why do I stay active? Simply put, it just feels good. No matter how tired I am in the morning or after a long day at work, I know I will feel more energetic and happy after I finish my run or my circuits class or my cardio session. Yes, I said “more” energetic. Ask anyone who works out and they will tell you the same! Exercise doesn’t make you tired, it makes you vibrant. Perhaps it’s the endorphins or perhaps it’s the increased oxygen and increased blood flow that our bodies experience when we exercise, but it feels freaking amazing. Also, it’s a fun social activity. Doing a class is great because you feel like you’re getting the social interaction that we as human beings need, but without the social eating or drinking.

So, less weight gain, less depression, less risk of obesity and heart disease, and more energy, better sleep, and more happiness. Get off the couch, put down the soda, grab your water bottle and go get some exercise. Whether it’s a walk, a hike, a cycle, a run or a full-blown plyometric circuits class, you will feel so much better for it and you’ll find that with an increase in your physical activity, everything else in your life will get better too. Stay active, stay happy.