Taking a little and often approach is the secret to feeling better, say health pundits. Anna Magee quizzed two experts about small things you can do through the day that make you fitter, calmer, and energized
Victoria Woodhall, yoga teacher and author with Triyoga of Everyone Try Yoga (Kyle Books £18.99)
Jane Wake, personal trainer, fitness presenter on ITV’s Daybreak and founder of body-a-wake.co.uk
7am- Bed stretch
‘Your joints move relatively little in the night – which is why we feel a bit creaky in the morning – and gentle rotations on waking in bed can help lubricate them with fluid so you more freely through the day.’
How: Lie on your back raise your arms and legs vertically to sky. Rotate the wrists and ankles slowly one way and then the other. There might be clicking, don’t worry this is generally just joints unused overnight releasing. Make bigger circles with arms and legs so you are bringing movement to shoulder and hip joints. Raise arms and legs vertically and shake hands and feet vigorously. Now come on to all fours for cat/cow to wake up the spine, and your nervous system. Taking a deep breath in arch the back, tilting tailbone upwards and looking forward. Exhale round the back scoop tailbone under and look down. Repeat this arching and rounding with the breath ten times.
7.15-Get HIIT fit
That stands for High Intensity Interval Training, a buzzword in fitness right now and it means exercising for a short time interchanging short periods of hard-as-you-can movement with rest. Scientists at Laval University in Canada found that HIIT could double the fat burn of moderate exercise in half the time and had a positive impact on both energy and fat-burning throughout the day. Best thing? It’s over in 5-10 minutes!
How: Try this before breakfast. ‘Warm up the joints by walking up and down the stairs for about 5-10 minutes gradually increasing the pace,’ says Jane. Now run up the stairs as quickly as you can for 30 seconds and rest while coming down for 30-45 seconds. Repeat this five times or for about ten minutes. ‘If you’re a beginner, begin by doing about one minute of the activity moving as quickly as you can and resting for about two minutes. As you get fitter, shorten the hard and rest sections.’ Stretch your calves by resting your foot against the bottom of a step, point upwards and leaning forward for ten breaths on each side. Now stretch your quadriceps by holding on to a wall bringing your ankle up towards your bottom and holding it with your hand. Tuck in your bottom and keep your torso straight as you take ten breaths and repeat on the other side.
7.40- Sing in the shower
‘This is a great workout for your diaphragm and tummy which can help you breath more clearly through the day,’ says Jane Wake. ‘Make it as loud and projected as you can – neighbours permitting and concentrate in taking in oxygen before belting out the notes. Increasing your oxygen intake though big inhalations is a great way to energise and stimulate yourself in the morning as oxygen has a stimulating effect on the body.’
8.45- Flick the switch on your commute
‘Engaging your pelvic floor muscles in the morning can wake them up for the whole day. Keeping your abdominal area tight and engaged can ensure better posture which helps you breathe more clearly into your belly keeping you more alert,’ says Jane Wake.
How: Try this subtle movement during your commute (no one will know). Pull up your pelvic floor quickly as though you’re holding in a wee and you should feel your tummy reflex pulling your deep abdominal muscles in and up at the same time. Hold for a second and let go. ‘This is what I call the flick switch,’ says Jane Wake. ‘Flick it up by tightening and holding for a second and relaxing for a second. Continue this for a few minutes during your commute, at your desk – whenever you think of it to tighten the muscles. It has an overall waking effect on your whole system!’
10.45 Balance to focus
‘If you need to gather your thoughts before a meeting or key phone call, a balancing yoga posture demands total focus and is a way to cut through the mind chatter and rumination that can come when we’re anxious,’ says Victoria. ‘Dancer’s pose also stretches the thighs, which can tighten the more time we spend sitting, and includes a backbend which in yoga is energising, leaving you feeling bright, calm and strong.
How: Stand arms-length from the wall with feet together. Shift weight into your left leg and raise the right foot to your buttocks taking the top of the foot in your right hand, knees together. If you can’t reach, loop a belt, scarf or tea towel around your foot. Take fingertips to the wall for support if needed or stretch your arm overhead. To help you balance, focus your eyes softly on a spot directly in front of you and exaggerate your breath. Stay here for a few breaths. Now tip forward a little taking your left palm high up the wall, keeping your chest lifted, raise the foot as high as you can behind you, feeling the backbend. Don’t drop the head. Repeat on the other leg.
1 pm Mindful walk
Take a quick walk around the block before lunch to help rebalance your energy and put your morning behind you, says Victoria. ‘Make this a mindfulness exercise by matching your stride to your breath, for example inhale for four strides, exhale for four. When your body connects with your breath in this way you are totally in the moment. A few minutes of mindfulness a day helps with concentration, performance and managing emotions. Doing this just before food helps you become more mindful when you are eating – meaning you may be more likely to make healthy food choices and avoid unconscious or emotional eating. You can also do this mindfulness exercise on your walk to the shops, the school gates – anytime,’ she says.
2.30pm- Take the stairs…five times
Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that women who ran up and down the stairs at work for two minutes at a time, five times a day boosted their fitness over an eight week period. Scientists call this incidental exercise which is simply about fitting in quick bursts of exercise wherever you can through your day, says Jane Wake. ‘It’s great for boosting metabolism and energy through the day.’
How: ‘You can make stair-climbing into a strength exercise,’ says Jane Wake. Most of us climb steps on our tippy toes but of you place your whole foot on the stair and then lift your body weight while engaging your core, you will work your thigh and gluteous (butt) muscles more deeply. ‘Try pausing for a split second at the top of each stair to make your bottom work even harder, as you get fitter climb two at a time. Some of my clients go to the loo a few floors up to squeeze in some movement into their work day,’ says Jane.
4pm- Arm circles while the kettle boils
‘These are both energising and relaxing at once,’ says Victoria, ‘They’re great for releasing tension in the upper back which can build while sitting at your desk. They can also be mind-clearing exercise as they require a bit of concentration and coordination.
How: Stand with feet hip width apart and parallel. Firm up the legs by drawing the kneecaps up. Raise both arms overhead, take one arm forward and the other back in a circle until they meet again at the top. Repeat a few times and then rotate the other way. ‘If this is tricky do one rotation with both arms very slowly and as your body learns the movement you can speed up,’ says Victoria.
5 pm-Revitalising ‘lion’s breath’
By this time tension from a stressful day can show in our faces as a clenched jaw, staring eyes and furrowed brow. ‘The yogic lion’s breath is a quick and revitalising way of releasing all the tension in the face,’ says Victoria. ‘It’s great if you have somewhere to go after work as it can make you look more relaxed and the deep breathing can being more brightness to your eyes and flush to your cheeks.’ How: You can do this anywhere including at your desk or in the loo – it depends if your colleagues mind you pulling faces! ‘Sit on a chair, legs wide apart, hands on knees shoulders back and relaxed. Inhale deeply, and exhale strongly and audibly through the mouth. As you do so stick your tongue out to your chin as far as it will go opening the mouth and the eyes as wide as possible and leaning forward, shoulders still back, emptying the all the stale air out of the lungs. Do five of these anytime you want to look and feel more energised and relaxed at once,’ says Victoria.
In yoga, postures that place the head below the heart help let go of anything that has been weighing heavily on your mind, says Victoria. ‘The stimulation of blood going to the head can help you feel more clear-headed and alert, at the same time calm,’ she says.
How: with your feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, bend forward from the hips and hold opposite elbows with the hands. Then let the arms hang loosely loosely like a rag doll and give your head a few gentle nods and shakes. Emphasise your exhale – this has a calming effect – by breathing out through the mouth. ‘If you have tight hamstrings and you find this uncomfortable, bend the knees deeply, or rest the forearms on a chair or windowsill. Stay here for as long as it takes to feel yourself relax and re-energise, and come up slowly.’ says Victoria.
6.30 pm- Exercise! (not too much)
‘Cardiovascular exercise such as swimming, brisk walking or jogging is one of the most efficient ways of both increasing energy and burning off excess stress hormones that could keep you awake and tax your energy for morning,’ says Jane Wake. When it comes to exercising to gain more energy, a study from the University of Georgia published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found that low-intensity exercise was more effective than high intensity at alleviating the effects of fatigue. Study participants that rode a stationary bike for only 20 minutes three times a week increased their energy levels by 20 per cent.
How: A 20-30 minute brisk walk before dinner can have beneficial effect on sleep by helping you work off any excess stress hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol that may have accumulated in your system from the day’s events that could later keep you awake,’ says Jane Wake. ‘Don’t go too hard or too long though or you will increase adrenalin and may have difficulty sleeping.’
10pm – Legs up the wall
Feeling too energised before bed can lead to a ‘tired but wired’ feeling when you are exhausted but can’t switch off. The antidote is the classic yogic wind down – legs up the wall. ‘This pose takes the weight off tired legs, supports the lymphatic system, and calms the nervous system,’ says Victoria. ‘Best of all – it involves lying down and pretty much doing nothing. Make sure the TV/radio/phone is switched off’.
How: Sit side-on to the wall and roll on to your back swinging your legs vertically up the wall. Optionally place a cushion behind the waist to lengthen the front of the body Place your hands on your belly, feeling the breath moving the abdomen. Make your exhale twice as long as your inhale – this sends a signal of relaxation to the nervous system, as does covering your eyes with an eye bag or scarf. If your mind wanders gently bring your attention back he breath. If you have teenage children, ask them to join you, especially at exam time. This soothes growing legs, refreshes a tired mind and calms the nervous system.’ Sweet dreams.
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