We’re told we should exercise more but how do we go about this?

Here we take a look at some of your most commonly asked questions

AXA PPP healthcare’s expert team of fitness experts, nutritionists and physiologists answer questions on exercise, fitness training and weight loss.

There seem to be 100 ways to keep fit but how do I find out which is right for me? Is there a core set of exercises I should do?

Most importantly it is best to find exercises you enjoy as you will be more likely to stick at it in the long term.

You should aim to include cardiovascular exercises along with bodyweight or resistance-based exercises as they work the body in different ways. So the key to good fitness is a mix of each.

Cardiovascular exercise means moving enough so your heart rate is raised. This could be going for a run, cycling, dancing or anything in fact that manages to work your heart and leave you feeling tired for around 20 minutes afterwards.

Bodyweight exercises are designed to improve strengthen your bones and ligaments along with re-shaping your body. These could be in the form of squats, pull-ups, push-ups or dips.

I do my exercise at a gym but sometimes lack motivation

Try and vary your exercises. If you typically go for aerobic exercise then throw in some resistance exercises too. This way you’ll be challenging your body in different ways and shouldn’t get bored.

It may be helpful to keep a diary of which exercises you do every time as it is so easy just to repeat the same ones.

Another good way to keep you motivated is to go to the gym with a friend on perhaps try out a class? This way you will have fun and a little competition just to keep it interesting. You will also have the added benefit of meeting new people too.

Read more about the benefits of group exercise.

Surely I can lose weight through dieting alone – why do I need to exercise too?

Exercise isn’t all about losing weight. The benefits of exercise such as keeping a healthy heart, improving muscle function and giving a boost to your mood are equally as important as eating a healthy, balanced diet.

However, if your intention is to lose pounds then exercising alongside eating healthily will create an energy deficit which is how our body loses weight. If your diet is already calorie low then exercising may result in an energy deficit without dieting.

Read more on the link between exercise and mental health benefits here. 

Which should I be exercising first – cardio or weights?

The most important thing is to focus on quality rather than quantity. When you are exercising for endurance then focus on the cardio for that particular session. When you are exercising to increase muscle mass then focus on weights. It doesn’t matter which order you do these in and you can always do cardio on one day and weights on another.

However, if you want to do both cardio and weights during the same session then as weights require more complex movements and therefore more concentration it perhaps would be best to do those first. 

I would like to add muscle – should I lift fewer heavy weights or more light ones?

Research undertaken on this conclude that training with lighter weights can have the same outcome as training with heavier as long as you train until your muscles are tired and you can’t do any more repetitions (training to fatigue).

Training to increase both strength and endurance is important so it is best to vary your training to include both heavier and lighter weights. 

If I want to lose weight should I concentrate on cardio or weights? 

Both cardiovascular exercise and weight work is of most benefit for weight loss. Cardio helps your body burn calories while weights will increase the rate your body burns calories (thanks to muscle gain) while you’re resting.

So a combination of both is the key! 

As I have got older, keeping body tone and staying lean has become harder to achieve. Should I change my exercise routine? I currently run 3 times a week and resistance train 2 – 3 times

Our bodies naturally lose some of our muscle and increase our levels of fat as we age (sarcopenia). Resistance training to help preserve muscle mass will give you that body tone but don’t forget the importance of what you eat. If you want to stay lean then adjust your calorie intake too. Evidence suggests that boosting the amount of protein you eat will help preserve muscle and may help to shed extra pounds too.

It is recommended that to stay healthy older adults should do 2 types of physical exercise each week – aerobic and strength (resistance) exercises – read more from the NHS here.

As a working parent I fail to find time to exercise – can you help?

The pressures of work and raising children make it difficult to fit everything in to your day let alone finding time to exercise! The key is to try and make it run alongside or part of your everyday activities. If it is more practical to exercise little and often then start by trying a few exercises while the kids are having breakfast such as squats, lunges, press-ups, tricep dips or running on the spot – these will help to set you up for the day as well as giving your mood a boost.

When you take a lunch break then try going for a run or a brisk walk around the park. This doesn’t need to be long – just ten minutes will do.

There may also be ways you can get fit together. Take them on a family bike ride, go swimming or when you take them to the park wear your trainers and squeeze in a quick jog while they play.

What is a healthy breakfast? 

A healthy breakfast is a balanced breakfast. Combine lean protein, wholegrain and healthy fats to give your body plenty of fibre and carbohydrates which release energy slowly over time and will help you to feel fuller for longer too.

It is best to avoid sugary cereals as this will lead to you feeling hungry much sooner.

A healthy breakfast should include foods such as:

  • Greek yoghurt, eggs, lean meats = proteins
  • Nuts, avocados = healthy fats
  • Oats = wholegrain
  • Fruit and vegetables = fibre

A good choice for breakfast is porridge to which you could add plenty of fruit. Eggs are versatile and can be cooked in many ways – try a poached egg on wholemeal toast.

Find out more on what to eat during exercise

I have a healthy balanced diet but eat 1 bar of chocolate with 1 can of cola a day – is this bad for me?

Active people generally need more energy but eating a chocolate bar along with a fizzy drink every day may mean you are exceeding the levels of sugar that your body should be having every day.

It is advised that our sugar consumption should not be more than 90 grams per day. A can of fizzy drink contains around 39 grams of sugar and a standard chocolate bar contains around 25 grams. There will also be sugar hidden in other foods that you may eat during the day too. It is always a good idea to check food labels to give you an idea of your sugar intake.

Have you considered swapping your sugary snacks for something more healthy? There are considerable health benefits from eating less sugar – it may also help to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Should we go on a sugar detox or do our bodies need some sugar?

Large quantities of artificial sugar are bad for us so it is important to limit the amount we consume.

Naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, however, does form part of a healthy and balanced diet by providing a useful energy source for our bodies. Studies indicate there is no maximum amount of fruit our bodies can consume that would impact negatively on our health. Having said that, fruit should be consumed along with a wide range of food groups to provide us with the full range of nutrients our bodies need.

It should be noted, however, that fruit smoothies should be eaten in moderation as most of the fibre is removed so leaving more fructose and glucose than whole, raw fruit. 

I don’t eat meat – will this help me to lose weight?

In order for our bodies to lose weight we must burn more calories than we consume over a day, either through reducing our food intake or exercising or preferably both!

Reducing our food intake does not necessarily mean we should cut meat or fish out of our diet.

Vegetarians need to find other ways of consuming protein for muscle growth and repair and omega 3 to maintain energy levels and overall health.

Alternative protein sources include beans, lentils, pulses and quinoa and alternative sources for omega 3 fats include rapeseed oil, flaxseed, soya and walnuts.

Learn more about healthy fats

Will it harm my body to substitute one meal a day for juice?

It won’t necessarily harm you and it will mean that you may be eating less calories than you burn and so will result in weight loss but generally this is not a sustainable long term solution.

Our bodies will also lose excess weight by finding healthy food alternatives and controlling portion sizes. A meal has its advantage over a juice in 2 ways; it will have a greater variety of the nutrients your body needs to be healthy and will also have the added benefit of making you feel fuller for longer. 

Which foods should I eat alongside my training sessions to help me gain upper body muscle?

If you are aiming to gain muscle then protein is the key. Including a good source of protein with each meal will help your body to maximise muscle growth and also help you to recover from your training sessions.

Good sources of protein include eggs, dairy, fish and lean meats such as chicken and turkey. Meat-free protein can be gained from such foods as quinoa, buckwheat and soy.

Read more on eating a balanced diet

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The more you know about your body and how you can look after it, the healthier you are – and the stronger and bolder you become. That’s why we never stop looking for ways to support your health. We want to give you the tools and knowledge you need to take care of yourself – so you’re ready to face whatever the world brings.

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24th Aug 2019
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Some good hints and tips. Thanks! I am making an appointment in my diary 3 times a week to concentrate on refreshing my workout. It is a change of lifestyle that is needed rather than a quick fix.
20th Aug 2019
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I find having a dog helps a lot as we have to walk them twice daily-rain or sun and it gives us a good exercise as well.

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