We all know that the key to good health is following a balanced diet and being physically active. There are no other routes to health that actually work. But why is being active so good for you?
- 1 Why be active?
- 1.1 Health benefits of being more active
- 1.2 Benefits for your body
- 1.3 Benefits for your life
- 1.4 What does being active mean?
- 1.5 Aerobic fitness
- 1.6 At what intensity should you exercise?
- 1.7 Strength training
- 1.8 Flexibility
- 1.9 Becoming more active
- 1.10 Practical steps to becoming more active
- 1.11 Change your habits
- 1.12 Get the best out of your workouts
- 1.13 The best pre-workout supplements
- 1.14 Nutrients
- 1.15 Gaining strength
- 1.16 Energy boosters
- 1.17 Supplements to give you a pump
- 1.18 Fat burners
- 1.19 Brain boosting supplements
- 1.20 Final thoughts
Why be active?
No matter what body type you have, what age you are, or your current level of fitness, being more active can:
Make you feel better.
Help you fall asleep faster and improve sleep quality.
Boost your energy.
Help you to concentrate better.
Helps you handle stress better.
Make you healthier overall by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, making your heart and lungs stronger, and reducing body fat.
Help you live longer.
Health benefits of being more active
The more active you are, the stronger your heart and lungs will be. You are also at less risk of diseases such as:
High blood pressure
Type 2 diabetes
Some types of cancers
If you have existing health problems or chronic conditions, regular exercise will help you to improve your health or manage your conditions.
Benefits for your body
Keeping active will make your muscles, bones, and joints healthy and strong.
You can improve your muscle strength by doing some resistance training. Strong muscles give you the strength to do everyday tasks, and can help to keep your bones strong, which is very important as you get older.
If you do some stretching as part of your physical activity regime, you will find it easier to do everyday things, such as tying your shoelaces or reaching for things on high shelves. Being flexible also means that you will be less prone to injury.
Being active burns calories, so it can help to manage your weight. Resistance training also aids the development of lean muscle tissue which helps you to burn calories even at rest. The more lean muscle you have, the less body fat you will have.
Benefits for your life
If you are fit and active you will enjoy a much better quality of life. You will be able to do more things without getting tired and you will have more energy overall to do the things you enjoy.
What does being active mean?
Being active does not mean simply going to the gym. Being active can include housework, gardening, or walking to the shops. It is important however to do activities that work on 3 aspects of your fitness; aerobic fitness, muscle strength, and flexibility.
Aerobic activity makes your heart and lungs work harder and builds stamina. It pumps oxygen to your muscles, which allows your muscles to work harder for longer. Aerobic activities include walking, running, cycling, and swimming.
The current recommendations for health are that you should either:
Exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 2.5 hours per week, or,
Exercise vigorously for at least 1 ¾ hours per week.
Of course, you can combine different types of activity, and you can spread activity throughout the day. The important things is that it fits in with your schedule then you are more likely to stick to it.
At what intensity should you exercise?
Moderate activity encourages your heart and lungs to work harder. Here’s how to know if you’re working hard enough to get the health benefits:
If you can’t talk and carry out your chosen activity at the same time, you are exercising too hard.
If you can sing while you do your activity, you may not be working hard enough.
If you can talk but can’t sing while you do your activity, you are working at the right level.
Building strong muscles is important for health. When your muscles are strong, you can do everyday tasks more easily, like carry heavy shopping bags. To make your muscles stronger:
Include resistance training in your physical activity regime. This can be weight lifting or doing exercises such as squats which use your own bodyweight.
Strengthen your core. Your core muscles are the muscles in your abdomen and back. These muscles aid posture and balance, and can protect you from back injuries.
To increase the strength of your muscles, do some resistance training at least twice per week. Work on all of your major muscle groups such as your legs, hips, back, abdominal muscles, chest, shoulders, and arms.
Being flexible means that you can move your muscles and joints through their full range of motion. When you are more flexible, you will find it easier to do everyday tasks such as reaching for things from a high shelf and tying your shoelaces.
To train your flexibility, stretch all of your major muscle groups, such as your arms, back, hips, your thighs, and your calves.
When you start a stretching regime, start slowly and gently, and don’t stretch to the point of pain. You will notice that eventually you can stretch further each day.
Becoming more active
Before you become more active, ask yourself some questions:
Are there any barriers to becoming more active? Are you self-conscious, pushed for time, or short of money for example?
Is exercise safe for me? Some people will need to speak to their doctor prior to commencing an exercise programme. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, or any other health concerns, your doctor might be able to help you come up with a safe and appropriate exercise plan.
Practical steps to becoming more active
Change the way you think about being active. Don’t compare yourself negatively with others. Everyone’s body is different, everyone enjoys different activities and has different levels of fitness.
Think positively. Don’t tell yourself ‘I can’t’ because you might feel disheartened and give up your new active regime before you have had the chance to reap the benefits.
Change your habits
Have a reason for making positive changes. This will keep you going when you feel like giving up.
Set achievable short, long, and medium-term goals.
Have a plan to cope with any setbacks.
Get support from your family and your friends.
Measure improvements to your health. For example, keep track of your blood pressure, cholesterol, and body fat percentage.
However you choose to become active, exercise is good for the body and mind.
Get the best out of your workouts
People exercise for many different reasons, but whatever you are trying to achieve, you want to know that you are getting the best out of every session. What you do before, during and after your workouts can affect how you perform and how you recover. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your sessions:
Take in the right pre-workout fuel
Make sure you have a balanced meal at least an hour before you train. You should make sure you include some slow release carbohydrates such as oats or sweet potatoes and some protein to fuel your muscles. Slow release carbs will keep you feeling fuller for longer as well as providing you with a sustained source of energy to get you through your session.
Warm up fully
Warming up correctly is something which many people skip or feel like they can’t be bothered to do. Always take the time to do 5-10 minutes of pulse-raising cardio before you start your gym session. This will warm up your muscles and joints, and prevent injury. Prepare for a weight training session by doing a few light sets of an exercise to prepare the muscles.
Think about boosting your results with supplements
As well as helping you to stay hydrated, adding branch chain amino acids (BCAAS) to your water (in powder form) will help to repair muscles and combat any post-workout soreness.
Get your quota of protein
After you have exercised, your muscles might ache due to tiny tears caused by lifting weights. If muscles are to repair and grow stronger, they need a good protein supply. Protein is the building block of all of the body’s cells, including skeletal muscle.
Restore your energy levels
Your bodies preferred source of energy is glycogen (glucose from carbohydrates). After exercise, your body needs to replenish its stores, so eat some healthy carbs, or a fast acting energy source such as dextrose after a hard bout of exercise.
The best pre-workout supplements
You might feel like you have a great exercise regime, and a fantastic diet, but these might only be pieces of the puzzle. The right food will give you the building blocks of course, but getting results from a workout regime depends on having a healthy nervous system and muscle fibres that are able to work harder.
This is where supplements can come in. Here are some supplements that you should consider adding to your gym regime:
To have enough energy for an exercise programme, you need to take in enough good quality calories. If you don’t, your body will be like a car without fuel. Here’s what you should consider adding nutritionally:
Eat a meal based on whole-foods about 60–90 minutes before training, then drink a pre-workout protein shake on your way to the gym. The shake should ideally contain around 25–50 grams of protein, depending on how much you weigh and how intensely you are going to be exercising. Research has shown that a mix of whey and casein is one of the best pre-workout choices.
Carbs that digest quickly cause the body to release insulin, which delivers nutrients to muscle tissue fast. Mix carbs and protein in a shake in a ratio of 1:1 pre-workout for best results.
To give you a little boost in the strength stakes, try these products either on their own, or blended with other products:
Creatine pushed fluid into your muscle cells, which can reduce soreness and enable to lift heavier weights. Creatine monohydrate is thought of as the ‘gold standard’ product.
This is an amino acid which boosts muscle strength and endurance by increasing the body’s levels of carnosine, a small peptide formed of beta-alanine and histidine, known to enable muscles to contract harder for longer.
This is a Tibetan fungus that helps to boost basic strength by contributing to your ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) energy system. This governs explosive power which will enable you to lift heavier. Combine cordyceps with creatine to boost its potency even further.
Energy boosters work in several different ways. Some stimulate the central nervous system (CNS), while others boost brain activity. Boosting energy by either of these means will allow you to train harder for longer.
Research has shown that a dry form of the stimulant caffeine is the most effective form for increasing energy and strength. Taking caffeine also helps to reduce the perceived pain and exertion of lifting weights.
This group of amino acids includes leucine, isoleucine’ and valine. BCAAs are absorbed more readily into your system, as they don’t need to be metabolised by your liver to go directly to working muscles, delivering fast energy.
Supplements to give you a pump
Muscle ‘pumps’ are about more than aesthetics. A muscle pump delivers blood and nutrients to muscle tissue, helping it to recover from intense exercise and grow.
This is an amino acid which converts in the body to nitric oxide, which is a gas molecule that allows the blood vessels to expand so that more blood, oxygen and nutrients reach your working muscles.
Research has shown that citrulline may convert to arginine more effectively than arginine taken in supplement form. Some research shows that taking a combination of citrulline and arginine may be more effective for increasing the production of nitric oxide than taking either supplement individually.
This supplement has been discovered quite recently, supports the production of nitric oxide synthase, the enzyme that helps to produce nitric oxide from arginine.
Excess body fat isn’t good for health, but it is a good source of fuel for the body. The key to using fat as fuel is to encourage your body to mobilise it for use. These supplements encourage your body to burn fat as fuel:
These are increasing in popularity, and they can both increase metabolic rate and release fat from storage so it can be used to fuel exercise.
You will sometimes see this called capsaicin, a supplement derived from chili peppers. It helps to increase your metabolic rate so you naturally burn more calories.
Green Coffee Bean Extract
This supplement contains a high concentration of a compound called chlorogenic acid than roasted beans. This chemical works with caffeine to encourage the body to release and burn fat.
Brain boosting supplements
Increased brain activity means increased focus and that automatically means more intense workouts.
This is an amino acid which boosts mood, enhances focus, and is even known to boost libido. In the body, tyrosine is used to support the production of hormones and neurotransmitters that include dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and thyroid hormone.
This is a by-product of the amino acid phenylalanine, phenylethylamine also helps to boost brain chemicals including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
This nutrient is a precursor to acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for boosting muscle contractions and other brain activity. Choline is also known to improve memory.
Eating well and taking regular exercise is the key to good health. Being active can help to prevent diseases, and it can help you to keep your heart, lungs, muscles, bones, and joints strong. This has repercussions for how easy you find it to do everyday tasks, and how healthy you remain as you age.
Being active does not necessarily mean going to the gym. Physical activity can include housework, gardening, and walking to the shops. The current recommendation is that you should exercise moderately for around 2.5 hours per week at least. Moderate exercise is any exercise that is equivalent in intensity to brisk walking.
Becoming more active is easy, if you take into account the barriers you might face, and come up with solutions to get past them, and if you get the appropriate health checks done before you exercise. Exercise is safe for most people but it’s always a good idea to speak to your doctor if you have any health problem or chronic condition. They may be able to help you put together a safe exercise plan that may help to improve your condition.
But if you are working out hard and exercising right, you want to see the best results possible from your workouts. Supplements may be the best way to boost your efforts. Supplements work by boosting the efficiency of the nervous system, boosting brain activity, and encouraging the body to burn body fat as fuel.
Of course, supplements won’t be as effective in the absence of a balanced diet and a sensible exercise regime, so these should form the basis of any healthy lifestyle. But if you want to have an edge in the gym, there’s no harm in giving them a try!