A couple of months ago, I started my Ph.D. studies at the Gdansk University of Physical Education and Sport. For the next 4 years, I’ll be researching how physical activity influences health, with a specific focus on cancer patients.
However, my love for sports didn’t come naturally. At the age of 16, I was a perfect couch potato who weighed 88kg and whose diet was based on sweets, cakes, and coke. My mother was a single parent who didn’t have the time or knowledge to cook healthy meals for us. I don’t have any photos from that period because I was so ashamed of my body and avoided cameras at all costs.
But then I met a boy… and that first love inspired me to DO SOMETHING with myself. That summer, I lost 15kg (being so in love that I lost all my appetite 😆). But then, a couple of years later, something miraculous happened – on holiday in Rome, by accident, I witnessed the Maratona di Roma. Out of the blue, I decided that I was going to run this 42k marathon the next year.
Everyone probably thought I was crazy, but I started training the day after I came home. I bought a dozen books, scoured the Internet, and designed my training plan (*which now I know was far from perfect). I don’t know why I wanted to run the marathon. Maybe because I wanted to prove something to myself. Maybe it was because I wanted to be in better shape.
To make a long story short – I lost more weight, got fit, and ran the Rome Marathon. It was a very painful experience, but I’m still proud of it.
That was 12 years ago. Since that time, I’ve tried to stay physically active. I’ve been through different sports phases: more marathons, then triathlons, then becoming a gym fun and fitness class addict 😆.
But then, in 2019, I was diagnosed with cancer. And one of my biggest concerns (just after not dying from cancer) became whether I would still be able to exercise. I just couldn’t imagine myself lying in a bed and not moving for 6 months. I didn’t get a lot of information from my doctors, who are simply not sports instructors, so once again, I designed my own training plan (it was better than the one for my first marathon, but still, I would make a lot of corrections today).
I started practicing yoga, which I found very helpful not only for my body but also for calming my mind. I walked in nature, cycled, skated, and when I was in the hospital, I did resistance exercises with bands. I’m 100% certain that being physically active help in my healing process.
This is what the research shows – no matter whether we’re healthy or dealing with an illness – we need to exercise!
That is why this blog is dedicated to giving some tips about physical activity.
Regular physical activity not only has a positive effect on how our bodies look and feel. It also has a major role to play in coping with stress. Exercise and other physical activity produce feel-good endorphins and improve our ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress.
If you are still unconvinced of the importance of increasing physical activity in your daily life, consider the following positive effects of regular exercise:
- Lower rates of coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer and a higher level of cardio respiratory and muscular fitness.
- A healthier body mass and composition and enhanced bone health.
- Higher levels of functional health.
- Better cognitive functioning.
- Higher levels of wellbeing.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO),adults aged 18+ years should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of both.
Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
The WHO gives the following tips for becoming more physically active
- Create an intention: Before you start to change your behaviour, it is important to create an intention. An intention could be for example: “I want to improve my fitness”, “I want to handle stress better”, “I want to be in better shape so I can go hiking with my children next summer”.
- Plan your activities: To realise your goal, it is best to define concrete and realistic plans for yourself to consolidate your motivation. Therefore, you define what you want to do in your daily life and when and how you will do it.
- Choose a physical activity that you enjoy: We are all different. We have different preferences, body types and different past experiences. Although it is important to combine all types of exercise (aerobic, strength, balance and flexibility), the key to success is to find a type of exercise that you enjoy. There is nothing less motivating than forcing yourself to do things that you hate. So, if you don’t have a favourite sport, try out some new ones. Start going for long walks and gradually work your way up to jogging. Go to the swimming pool. Sign up for yoga or another type of group fitness class. Once you have tried a few different sports, choose whichever one is the most enjoyable for you.
- Recognise and experience barriers: It can be easy to start exercising but difficult to maintain your new routine. Events(e.g. unexpected visitors), other barriers (e.g. bad weather conditions) or your inner couch potato (e.g. “I would prefer to stay in and read my book today”) may hinder you in doing your planned activities. Such barriers are normal. You will experience them more often at the beginning of your active lifestyle. Acknowledge them and come up with strategies to deal with them.
- ‘Postponed is not abandoned’: Learn coping strategies for times when you get off track. If an unexpected event occurs, it can be convenient to abstain from the planned activity. However, if you live according to the motto ‘postponed is not abandoned’, it encourages you to stick with it and come up with a new plan. If unexpected events happen more often, you can adapt your plans to accommodate them. Encouraging your family and friends to join you in your activity can be a great way to combine socialising with physical activity.
- You can use coping strategies for other barriers. In this case, coping strategies just means an alternative course of action in the face of certain events. For example, if it’s raining and you can’t exercise outside, you could plan to go for a swim in an indoor swimming pool instead.
- If your biggest enemy is your inner couch potato, you can employ several strategies to cope with this. For example, you can make plans to exercise with friends, which can help to motivate you. Even just telling other people about your intentions can act as an external motivator. Positive self-talk can also help to motivate you as well as visualisation of the positive effects of exercising. You will have to find your own strategy to overcome internal or external barriers. Test them in several situations and adapt the techniques that work best for you.
WHO (2010). Global recommendations on physical activity for health.
Based on Needs analysis of Active I project, 2013-2016, 539664-LLP-1-2013-1-DE-GRUNDTVIG-GMP