Choosing an activity
Sli na Slainte
One of the simplest and most effective forms of exercise for burning
calories and toning up the body is walking. Despite the benefits,
there are still a great number of us who claim we haven't either got
the time or the energy to get out and start walking. Research has
shown that over the last few years it's not that Irish people are
consuming more calories that is leading to health problems and obesity,
but rather that they have become more sedentary.
Walking has many
advantages. It does not require the purchase of expensive equipment
or facilities (apart from appropriate footwear) and it can be enjoyed
by all - young and old alike - at a time to suit each individual schedule.
For those starting
off, a general guideline for time and distance is to walk one mile
in 20 minutes. A fitter walker could walk one mile in 15 minutes,
but it is better to start out slowly and enjoy the experience than
to try to accomplish too much at the start.
Aim to build up
your walk to the guidelines recommended by the Irish Heart Foundation
of 30 minutes per day for most days of the week.
If you are unused
to taking exercise and have lived a sedentary lifestyle for a long
number of years, you must take things slowly when embarking on any
new form of physical activity. A short daily walk is infinitely preferable
to one long walk in the week and six days of inactivity!
Walking is also
an excellent way of burning fat, and is strongly recommended by all
the leading Irish and international weight-loss organisations. Since
we all now live in a motorised society, we get fewer and fewer opportunities
to exercise our limbs, and both our health and our physical appearance
has suffered as a result.
If you are new
to walking, a good idea is to devise your own walking programme over
a period of time. First of all decide how many times a week you are
going to walk and for how long. Combine 'casual' walking (i.e. a stroll
through the park or to the local shop) with 'fitness walking' which
is brisk walking outdoors or on a treadmill at the gym. The next step
is to stick to your new programme and the result will be a leaner,
Drink a glass
of water before and after your walk and make sure to wear proper
footwear. The importance of proper footwear cannot be emphasised
enough. It is worth investing in a good pair of trainers with proper
arch support and a cushioned sole. Remember that walking on a regular
basis in ill-fitting and uncomfortable runners can do permanent
damage to the soles of your feet and to your arches - not to mention
your poor aching back!
Sli na Slainte
'Sli na Slainte'
is the Irish phrase for 'Path to Health' and it is a unique exercise
concept devised and launched in 1996 by Paddy Murphy, Chief Executive
of the Irish Heart Foundation. The aim of the project is to make exercise
more attractive and more fun by putting distinctive signs along walking
routes around the country to mark one kilometre walked.
Since its launch
over five years ago, the 'Sli na Slainte' concept has captured the
imagination of local authorities and members of the public not just
in Ireland, but in many parts of Europe as well.
'Sli na Slainte'
signs are marked with a bright yellow sun and a human figure in yellow,
blue and red, to signify the energy and vitality of life! The routes
are all over the country, in housing estates, along canal and riverbank
walks, public footpaths, alongside the sea and in woodland areas.
Each sign is placed at a convenient one kilometre distance from the
next and you can start and finish your walk anywhere you like. There
are individual signs marking the beginning, end, direction and distances
along each 'Sli na Slainte' route, but after that you, the walker,
are in control. Enjoy it!
is a great way to get fit, and it is also a cheap and cheerful exercise
because the only investment you have to make to get started is a decent
bike and a helmet.
Described as a low-impact exercise ('impact' refers to the amount
of strain which is placed on the joints during exercise), cycling
is an ideal form of exercise for those who suffer from knee or other
With the ever-growing numbers of cars on our roads, one of the biggest
concerns facing cyclists in this country is the whole issue of safety
on public roads. A recently established body - the National Cycle
Network - aims to have cycle lanes and marked paths opened all around
the country to facilitiate those who wish to cycle in safety and comfort.
Maps of their routes and of other cycling routes are slowly becoming
available in bookshops and bicycle shops so watch out for them.
If you are new to cycling, here are a few tips to get you started:
Ensure that the saddle on your bike is the right height. For
safety purposes, your leg should be straight on the downward stroke
of the pedal and your toes should only just be able to touch the ground
when you stop pedalling.
If you are prone to back problems, avoid bending forward on
your bike. Invest in an upright bicycle instead of a racing bike,
and stop cycling immediately if you can feel any pain or strain in
Cycle with a friend, or join a local cycling club (if there
is one in your area). Cycling with other like-minded enthusiasts can
be great fun, and you won't even realise you are clocking up the miles!
Always make sure to wear a cycling helmet, and dress in light,
non-restrictive clothing and a proper pair of runners or cycling shoes.
If you are cycling in the evening or after dark, ensure that you have
proper lighting on your bike and wear reflective safety strips on
your clothing so that you can clearly be seen by motorists or pedestrians.
If you would rather take up cycling in the privacy of your
own home, why not invest in an exercise bike and get that body moving.
The great thing about stationary cycling is that you can do it at
any time of the day or night that is convenient to you - so instead
of sitting on the couch to watch your favourite soap opera you could
spend half an hour on your bike! Just think of all the calories you
could burn up in that half hour.
Another option is to join your local Gym and pedal the pounds
away on their stationary bikes. Some gyms in Ireland now offer a cycling
programme to members called 'spinning' which is extremely popular
on the West Coast of the United States.
'Spinning' is like going on a cycling trip with a group of
friends without ever leaving the gym! Basically, your gym instructor
will take you on a cycle ride up and down hills by asking you to increase
or reduce the resistance on your bike. The fitter you are the more
resistance you will be able to withstand.
If you are new to exercise and your body is badly in need of some
overall toning, then swimming is an ideal form of exercise to take
up. It is probably the only form of exercise which tones every part
of your body at the one time and gives you a total aerobic workout.
the body is working against the resistance of the water so you have
to work 12 times harder than if you exercise on dry land, so you burn
up calories at a faster pace and will gain a leaner and more well-toned
appearance much quicker than with other forms of exercise.
advantage of swimming is that it is one of the most gentle forms of
exercise available. The buoyancy of the water acts as a cushion for
the muscles and joints, so it is an ideal exercise right throughout
pregnancy, for those who are recovering from injury and for overweight
people who are taking up exercise for the first time.
While your whole
body gets a total aerobic workout in swimming, different strokes work
on different parts of the body. If your aim is to burn fat, concentrate
on the crawl. The back stroke is ideal for toning the upper body,
especially the inner arms, while the breast stroke is ideal for those
hard-to-tone inner thighs.
up the same number of calories as jogging, but is much less stressful
on the body.
But what if you
can't swim and feel it is too late to learn now? Well, why not take
up water aerobics? This form of exercise is now available at leisure
centres and public swimming pools all around the country and can be
participated in by everyone - young and old alike - and there is no
need to be able to swim to take part.
literally means aerobics in the water. Participants engage in a series
of exercises in the water with the help of a fitness instructor. Many
people find it easier to exercise in water than in a gym because the
water absorbs over 80% of the stress and strain on their joints and
bones. Another major advantage for those who are overweight is that,
since most of the exercises are done underwater, nobody else can see
your body moving, so there is no need to feel intimidated!
is one of the most enjoyable ways to get the body moving and to meet
new people, but sadly not enough of us engage in this form of exercise
anymore. Dancing is a great way to give the body a total aerobic workout
and to burn up calories for those who are trying to lose weight. One
of the major advantages of dancing is that it is so much fun that
you won't even realise you are burning calories and toning up. Many
of us find exercise hard work, but with dancing all the work is taken
out of the exercise session to be replaced by fun!
As well as being
a great workout for your heart and lungs, dancing is a fantastic fat-burner.
It also improves posture and co-ordination, and is one of the best
natural remedies to beat stress and depression.
is all about having fun and 'letting go' it releases inhibitions and
makes us feel less conscious about our appearance. While we are enjoying
our dance session we are also improving our overall appearance, so
what more could we ask for?
in the privacy of your own home is to be highly recommended, it is
an even better idea to join a dance class if there is one taking place
in your area. There are many forms of dancing from salsa to belly
dancing to line dancing, so you are bound to find something to suit
is currently very popular with the proliferation of Latin American
music artists in the popular charts. While we may not all aspire to
looking like the models who appear in Ricky Martin videos, we can
certainly wiggle those hips and do the basic turns and twirls which
are part and parcel of the infectious Latin beat. Although line dancing
has waned somewhat in popularity, it still provides the body with
a great aerobic workout as there is plenty of leg raising, toe-tapping
and hip swivelling.
is belly dancing, and the good news is that you don't even have to
bare your midriff if it is not fit to be displayed in public! Just
wear some loose, comfortable clothing and a scarf around your hips
to emphasise those groovy pelvic movements!
If you cannot
find dancing classes in your area, then take yourself along to the
local disco or country and western hooley and bop the night away!
You will probably never complain about exercise again.
Aerobic dancing first became popular in the late 1960s and is now
an integral part of fitness regimes throughout the Western world.
Aerobics was at the height of its popularity during the Jane Fonda
'go for the burn' workouts in the 1980s, but thankfully, things have
calmed down a bit since then and modern aerobic workouts are not nearly
as gruelling. Nevertheless, aerobics is still a tough workout and
is not a suitable form of exercise for those who are embarking on
exercise for the first time after years of inactivity.
aerobic session consists of a full hour's workout set to music and
under the guidance of a trained instructor. It begins with 5-10 minutes
of stretching and warm-up routines, peaks with 20-30 minutes of target
heart rate dance and then winds down with 20 minutes of muscle-stretching
exercises on the floor (known as body sculpting) and 5-10 minutes
of cool-down exercises
As with all other
forms of exercise, it is essential to wear proper shoes for aerobics.
Specially-designed shoes for aerobics are available, which provide
the necessary arch and side support needed, and also have cushioned
soles that allow for the many twisting and turning movements which
make up an aerobics programme.
As it is a high-impact
form of exercise, aerobics is not suitable for people who suffer from
back problems or who have problems with their joints or bones. It
is not suitable either for those who are very overweight or unfit
because of the strenuous nature of the sustained dance routines.
Many people tend
to shy away from the idea of engaging in complicated and strenuous
dance routines in the company of scantily-clad, svelte young bodies
in a gym, and prefer instead to engage in an aerobics routine in their
own livingroom with the help of an exercise video. A word of warning
though - there are good and bad exercise videos, so it is a case of
Never engage in
an aerobic workout which does not provide for a proper warm-up and
cool-down period and keep an eye on your heart rate while you are
engaging in strenuous dance sequences. If you feel any pain or strain
anywhere in the body, and most especially in the feet, stop exercising
immediately and do not resume until the pain has gone away.
Aerobics may give
you the type of body you have always dreamed of, but it is not a form
of exercise that suits everyone. If you find that you enjoy engaging
in an aerobics workout a couple of times a week you will probably
never suffer from a weight problem. On the other hand, if you simply
hate the whole idea of aerobics, then just search around for some
other form of exercise - there is definitely something out there to
Did you ever notice how you feel much better after having a big stretch?
The truth is that regular stretching is very good for you. Not only
that, but over a period of time, stretching can actually make you
look leaner and slimmer by making your muscles longer, more toned
and more flexible. Stretching is also a great stress-beater because
it releases all that tension and tightness in the muscles, especially
those in the neck, shoulder and back area.
Many leisure centres
now offer classes in stretch-based exercises such as Yoga,
Tai Chi and Pilates. These are becoming more and more popular as a
means of taking 'time out' from our increasingly-stressful lifestyles.
In these classes, the emphasis is on relaxation and listening to the
body, so the stretches are performed without music and in a very calm
and peaceful atmosphere.
This one of the most popular forms of relaxation exercise. The word
Yoga means 'union'. Yoga postures are said to unify the mind, body
and breath so that they work together as one. There are many different
types of Yoga, but all of them are based on gentle exercises that
make use of slow, controlled movements to stretch and tone the body.
A feeling of well-being and relaxation is induced in the body, and
the good news is that those hard-to-tone areas like the stomach, bottom
and thighs will show tremendous improvement with the regular practice
Chi: This an ancient Chinese techique based on the balance
of energies that flow through the body. It is often referred to
as 'Meditation in Motion' as it aims to promote a spiritual tranquility
along with increased mental and physical energy. Tai Chi consists
of slow, flowing movements to relax the mind and body. Like Yoga,
the emphasis is on performing all the exercises slowly and gently
and in a calm and peaceful atmosphere. It is suitable for people
of all ages and all levels of fitness.
Not unlike Yoga, Pilates is another form of relaxation exercise where
the emphasis is on strengthening, realigning and balancing the body
so that it performs in complete harmony. It teaches good breathing
techniques, and makes participants more aware of their own body through
a series of slow, controlled movements. Pilates claims to improve
total fitness, posture and appearance and again it is suitable for
people of all ages and all levels of fitness. Why not give it a go
if there are classes in your area. There are also some good books
and videos on the subject.
Skipping is a fun way to get fit and also provides the body with
a great aerobic workout. One of the best fat-burning exercises around,
skipping is an exercise that almost all of us enjoyed immensely
as children but why did we ever put those skipping ropes away? If
you are very overweight or very unfit, it is not a good idea to
launch full-scale into an exercise programme which is exclusively
based on skipping. Skipping can be quite strenuous (especially for
unfit adults!), so the key is to take things slowly. Start today
with five minutes of continuous skipping and gradually build-up
your speed and stamina to at least 20 minutes per day after two
to three weeks. Skipping can be combined with other forms of exercise
to give the body a total aerobic workout, but bear in mind that
it is a high-impact exercise so it is not suitable for those with
joint and bone problems, or for those who suffer from back problems.
It is also unsuitable for pregnant women and elderly people. If
you have children in the house, they are bound to have a skipping
rope lying around so pick it up and make use of it. Better still,
get the children involved and all of you can have a brilliant exercise
session - and a lot of fun as well!
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