Is Your Gym Membership A Luxury?

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This week is all about the money!
The start of the year sees a huge amount of people joining their local health club or gym determined to get fitter – but it’s also the time of year that sees the biggest number of cancellations too.
People cancel their gym membership for a huge amount of reasons but the 3 most common are:
– They haven’t used their membership in a long time
– A change in their finances
– A change in “lifestyle” (which usually means that they simply don’t want to go to the gym anymore)
Either way they all tend to boil down to a change in that person’s priorities and the feeling that the money would be more useful spent elsewhere – whether that be on debts, new additions to the family or even going out clubbing.
But that got me thinking whether we see gym membership as a luxury or a necessity?
In 2012 a survey, gym membership was 8th in a list of the UK’s best loved luxury items, even beating a coffee shop latte and for some, the obvious answer would be that it is classed as a luxury!
For some the only necessities in life are the ones that provide food, shelter, clothing, gas/electric and legal taxes – where even insurance is a luxury and of course if you are struggling financially – then yes these are your priorities and membership to a gym is indeed a luxury!
But for some the gym is more than just a gym – it can be a way of life! There are those that spend 2-3 hours a day at the gym – socializing with friends, getting an adrenaline rush and buzz from a great workout and relaxing in the spa or cafe afterwards.
Yes – you can have a great workout at home, but you don’t have the camaraderie of your fitness buddies encouraging you to do more, you don’t have the professionals there to ask for advice and check you are doing it correctly or you may not have the necessary equipment be it weights, treadmills or even the space needed to have a proper workout.
When it comes to fitness – “Gym membership” comes in a variety of forms and costs to cover a variety of budgets.
Google searches, Forums and YouTube can provide you with advice and workouts for free!
OnDemand services providing workouts and advice on-line can cost around £10 per month.
Basic weights based gyms can cost as little as £15-20 per month, Leisure Centres covering the middle ground around the £30 mark, with Top End Health Clubs costing anything from £60-150 per month! You could also be paying for a Personal Trainer, which again could cost anything from £20-£100 per session.
Of course – as with most things you tend to get what you pay for. If you’re paying £15 for your local budget gym, then you can’t expect a huge range of fitness classes, plenty of staff on hand, free drinks, plush changing rooms and a sauna!  Mind you this doesn’t stop people complaining about not having them 😉 People want to get the most for their money!
For some – their health is their biggest priority, no matter the cost and they will work their budget around making sure that they can afford their membership fees. The list of benefits of regular exercise is huge and there are those for whom these benefits far outweigh the costs of membership. Whether it’s to lose weight due to obesity or as part of recovery from cardiac arrest – their gym membership can help them recover or achieve their health goals a lot quicker than if they were trying to do it alone at home and because of this Debt Advice agencies can also include gym membership as part of “necessary expenses” when calculating available funds for creditors.
A lot of council run gyms are also affiliated with local GP surgeries and run an exercise referral scheme where a GP can actually prescribe exercise as a “medicine” and their gym membership is free for up to 3 months. A lot of these centres also offer free membership to those over 75. Not only does this provide the benefits of exercise for these individuals, but it also provides a support system – so it couldn’t be classed as a luxury for them!
So how do you view your gym membership? Do you see it as a luxury? Or do you feel that the benefits you get make it more of a necessity?
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Burning The Midnight Oil: Surviving The Night Shift

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Although Halloween was a couple of weeks ago, for anyone that works a night-shift – sometimes it can feel like you are living in a zombie apocalypse – the streets are empty and you’re so tired, you walk around in a dazed state.
On the odd occasion I’ve done it myself, and it’s like being on a long distance flight – very little sleep, permanent snacking, little movement from my seat, and when you finally arrive/finish your shift – you are so tired you almost fall asleep driving home and when you get there end up collapsing on the sofa completely drained – messing up your system even more!
The pitfalls and negative effects of night-shift work on your health are well documented. Night-shift workers have a higher risk of cardiac disease, mental health problems, obesity and cancer – and the lack of sleep can make you grumpy, aggressive and emotional. Juggling family and social life on top of it can add even more stress.
So this week I’m providing some tips on how to cope with it!
1. SLEEP IS YOUR PRIORITY
First and foremost, the key to surviving your shift, is making sure that you get 6-8 hours of sleep!
Depending on if it’s the start, middle or end of your shift pattern – it’s important to get some shut eye at the right time.
On the day of your first night shift, try and sleep-in as much as possible and have a nap for a couple of hours in the afternoon.
When you finish the shift don’t go to bed straight away – instead go to bed at a time equivalent to if you had finished work during the day ie. if you normally get home at 6pm and go to bed at 11pm (5 hours later), after your night shift, if you get home at 8am – then go to bed at 1pm.
Once you finish your stint of night shifts, to reduce the Jet Lag effect – when you get home, have a fairly large meal and nap for 3-4 hours before getting up again and then go to bed at your normal bedtime. A Melatonin tablet after your nap can also help to reset your body clock and get you through to bedtime.
2. Did I Mention Sleep?
Quality of sleep is just as vital, so it’s important to cool your bedroom, block out any light with thick curtains or tin foil on the inside of windows (or an eye-mask) and use ear plugs! If you’re scared this means you wont hear your alarm clock, then most fitness trackers have a vibrating silent alarm function (my other half is really grateful for this as I regularly have to be up at 4am!).
Try not to use your tablet or phone or watch tv while in bed and avoid having an alcoholic drink before hitting the sack, as although they all may help you to relax and get to sleep quicker – they affect the amount of quality deep sleep you need.
3. Prep Your Food
Food is another major issue, due to the lack of open cafes and shops most late night workers can fall into the trap of surviving off vending machines – so it’s important to prep! Take lots of healthy snacks and small meals, eating smaller portions but more frequently will help you avoid mid-meal cravings, help you to digest food more easily, which will then also help avoid stuffing yourself at “lunchtime” which can then make you feel even more tired.
Keep hydrated throughout your shift. Coffee or “Energy” drinks are fine for the start of your shift but should be avoided in the second half, so that they don’t affect your sleep.
4. Be A Vampire (only kidding)
Seriously though, daylight while on night shifts, is your enemy! When you finish your shift, wear sunglasses before heading outdoors. I even know some people that will use orange tinted glasses when at home to reduce the effect of sunlight coming in through windows!
At the end of your shifts, it’s quite the opposite and try to get as much daylight as possible after you’ve had your morning nap.
5. Take advantage of the quiet gym
We all know that exercise is good for us and it’s just as important if working nights. Most cities will have 24 hour gyms, otherwise gyms will usually open at 6 in the morning and close 10 at night, so you should be able to get into a gym or have a home workout either immediately before or after your shift – with the added luxury of the gym/pool being quieter and it can give you the energy to start your shift on a high or after your shift, help keep you awake till your bedtime.

 

6. Rethink your social calendar
Family & friends can also make working nights difficult – so don’t accept invites etc for during the day, just because no-one else is on nights. Remember sleep is your priority. Work things around YOUR schedule – play with your kids or help with their homework before your shift, and help get them ready for school when you get home in the morning.  Try meeting friends for “breakfast” rather than lunch or an evening meal.
For all you night-shift workers out there, have a good shift and if you’ve got any other tips – let us know!
Until next time…….

Do you REALLY hate exercise………?

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I think we all know by now the benefits of exercise – improving your health, reducing risks of heart disease, as well as kerbing obesity to name a few –  but despite this you may be one of those people that says they hate exercise…..
But do you really hate exercise – I mean REALLY?
What I think you’re doing, is either making excuses, or it’s a particular form of exercise that you don’t like – so this week I’m going to try and persuade you otherwise…..
It Takes Too Long!
One of the biggest excuses is time – you have to get to the gym, get changed, spend 30-60 mins working out, then shower, change and get home again. This could be 2 hours on a good day and it is time that you could be doing more fun or useful stuff! Fair enough, the , recommended amount of daily excercise is half an hour, but if you’ve not done that much before, or thinking about how on earth you can try to carry on with this for the foreseeable future, it can be a little daunting – so why not start small! 5-10 mins a day is a great place to start and you can slowly build it up from there. Everyone can fit in at least 5 minutes (it works out at 0.5% of your day if you woke at 7am and went to bed at 10pm even working out for an hour is just 6.5%)  and since we’re starting small you can do it at home or at work and there’s no need to get changed saving you even more time 😉
I’ve Got Too Much To Sort Out!
Maybe you’re  someone that thinks they are simply not ready to start an exercise programme – whether that’s due to a lack of motivation or for the need to have other things in order first (like new trainers or needing to do a list of chores) and you’re sure you should be giving exercise 100% of your attention?
The ting is, if you want to do exercise then the motivation is there, so it’s not the motivation that’s stopping you – it’s the perceived “obstacles” that you are using as a delay tactic.
It’s a bit like when you’re trying to eat healthily, but someone at work brings in cakes- you have one as it would be rude not to, so since you’ve now broken your diet, you might as well start tomorrow….
but how long will this “getting ready” take? If you think about it, knowing the benefits it can bring, rather than putting it off and neglecting your health and well-being – surely eating well and doing some exercise is something you should be starting right now?
It’s Boring!
It might be that you think exercise is boring and being honest some form can be! Personally I can’t think of anything more boring than going on a 10k run or an hour long spin class – but again looking at it honestly there’s usually two things that are usually the truth behind the excuse – Time and difficulty. A 10K “run” would take me a long time and I find both running and cycling hard as it’s a pounding for your legs and no matter what you try to do to try and make it interesting with mud/obstacles courses (or great music and disco lights in the case of spin) – it’s just not enough to tempt me, which bring me to my final point….
As much as people can try and sell you something – if you don’t want to do something then don’t do it!
Doing some form of exercise each day is really important, not only does it bring amazing health benefits, but it keeps you thinking healthy in making other decisions such as with your diet – but t doesn’t need to be a full on 60 minutes in a sweaty gym.
The key is to find a form of exercise you enjoy, whether that starting by dancing to your favourite song, going for a walk on your lunch break, spending more time with your loved one between the sheets, playing with your kids in the park or trying to beat the time is takes you to hoover the house – there are lots of easy and quick ways of getting your heart pumping and your body moving and 5 minutes here and there soon build up!
Who know’s maybe this time next month – you might be looking into salsa classes, self defence courses, and hiking groups and in 6 months looking to run a half marathon, join a gym or start Ju-Jitsu. Who know’s what those 5 minutes today could start.
Why not comment and let me know what you do extra for those extra 5 mins – it might just inspire someone else.
Until next time…..

What Makes You Different? Don’t Let It Stop You!

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Over the past 10 years research has gained momentum in proving the benefits of regular exercise in helping a vast range of people – not just those looking to get buff or lose a bit of weight, and has given rise to it’s own specialisms within the fitness industry.

The term “special populations” is used to cover a variety of types of people but includes pre and post pregnancy, the elderly, and those with medical injuries and conditions from metal health issues such as depression to physical health issues such as disabilities, arthritis and cardiac rehab.

One of the key elements of resistance training is improving muscle strength (a consequence of which also helps improve bone density) and as such is used to help many people from broken or replacement bones, arthritis, and osteoporosis.

Cardiovascular exercise like walking, cycling and dancing all help improve and strengthen the cardiovascular system and so is used to benefit those with high BP, Asthma and helps reduce a person’s risk of heart disease.

The social aspect of interacting with instructors and fellow class mates or gym users as well as seeing improvements in your health & fitness levels, boosts self-esteem and can help with mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

However, each person will have their own specific needs and can differ widely in terms of exercise limitations and how they should be approached when it comes to both designing and communicating a suitable workout.

For example in terms of programme design Diabetics should use steady and predictable movement exercises and avoid exercising late at night. Those with High Blood Pressure should avoid prolonged static holds and exercises where the feet are positioned higher than the head and needs very close monitoring of heart rates.

As such the industry has reacted by creating new and more specific qualifications to provide instructors with the knowledge to provide the best service possible for the customer, in ensuring that their health improves and many work closely with the person’s GPs, dietitians and/or physiotherapists accordingly.

In general for those that fall into a Special Population, extra care needs to be taken and clearance from their doctor or specialist should be gained before starting a new exercise programme. A number of Health Centres work closely with GP surgeries and Doctors are now able to prescribe exercise as part of treatment – in which case they will refer the person to a local Exercise Referral specialist, who will be able to provide a relevant training programme and which usually includes 2-3 months free or discounted use of the Health club’s gym or swimming pool depending on the persons training needs – so it is worth speaking to your GP first if this applies to you!

Otherwise – always seek guidance from a qualified instructor to make sure that you are getting a workout that is relevant to your specific needs and more importantly – safe!

In truth we are all different in one way or another – some of us are a little more different than others.

One of my friends and colleague, James Vincent suffered a horrific motorbike accident losing the use of an arm and had to have a leg amputated at the knee. Through his rehabilitation he got into weight training and discovered ways to adapt exercises to rebuild his muscle strength and mass and from helping others in a similar situation has since gone on to become a Personal Trainer and is now currently training to complete in his first Body Building competition and goes to show whatever makes YOU different – it doesn’t need to be a barrier to getting fitter.

Exercise doesn’t discriminate – it adapts and everyone can benefit.

You can read more about Jay’s story and follow his progress on his Facebook page here – give him a “like”!

Jay Vincent – Disability BodyBuilder

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Up All Night? Get fitter with SEXercise

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Since last time I had a look at exercise and pregnancy, it seemed fitting to look at sex as a form of exercise!

Whilst it can have you getting hot and sweaty at times, at other times maybe not so much.

On average, simply kissing can burn 2 calories a minute but sex itself can burn between 4 and 14 calories a minute.  Of course, the actual calories burnt will vary depending on the position, whether you are being the active or passive participant, as well as your gender and weight.  The average session for us Brits lasts 24 minutes – so that’s a minimum of 100 calories – but it could also be a lot more.

If you’re keen to find out the calories you’ve burnt during your last bout in the bedroom -Superdrug have a website where you can enter you and your partner’s gender and weight, time spent in various positions and it will then produce a graph showing the calories exhausted.

Superdrug Sexercise Calculator

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Taking this a more fun step further – there’s an app you can download (Android & iPhone) called “sexercise+”, which can provide details and guidance on what positions to use if you’re wanting to work on a particular muscle group, as well the ability  to log the positions used “on the go” as it were.

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There are even some sites (and enthusiasts) that can provide details of how to achieve a full body workout quoting position, intensity, number of repetitions, timing and so on.

While on one had this could be seen as a bit of fun – for some, the idea of interrupting your action to check and log your next position on your phone and mentally counting a number of repetitions is definite turn-off.

Whether your love-making is a wild and passionate affair, or relaxed and intimate…  whether it’s a quickie or an all-nighter…. Sex has many more important benefits than just burning calories.

Studies have shown that it can lower blood pressure, it lowers the risk of heart attack, improves the immune system and an orgasm can even help to relieve pain (particularly cramps and headaches), and help you to sleep better.

For women sex helps to strengthen the pelvic floor muscle and avoid incontinence and for men ejaculation improves the health of the prostate.

From a Mental Health stance, sex and intimacy can also soothe away stress and anxiety, boost your confidence and self-esteem and also helps beat depression.

So whether you have a special someone or you’re on your own – there’s plenty of reasons to make time for that special kind of exercise – just make sure to keep it safe and vary those positions to ensure a full body workout!

Pregnant Pause? Exercising when pregnant.

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So this week I’m looking at health & fitness during pregnancy.

There are actually huge benefits of exercise during pregnancy –helping to minimize aches and constipation, it will help you sleep better, as well as lowering your risk of diabetes and depression. You may even end up having a shorter, less complicated labor and building good workout habits during your pregnancy will help you get your body back faster after delivery too.

What exercise you can and should do, largely depends on your current activity and fitness levels and what trimester you are in – and you should always get approval from your GP or Pre-Natal team beforehand.

If you were really active before pregnancy, then try to stay as active as possible. If you weren’t – now is a good time to start!  Beginners should start with just 15 mins of low intensity exercise and gradually build up to 30 mins moderate intensity, 3-4 times a week.

If you have access to prenatal exercise classes then make sure to sign up for them – not only are the workouts modified for pregnancy, but you also get to make some new friends with the other mum’s to be.

It’s fine to keep going to your favourite classes right up to the third trimester – however only as long as you pay attention to how your body feels, limit your intensity and stay within the normal range of motion.  In terms of intensity use a 1-10 scale of Perceived Exertion (with 1 being really easy and 10 being maximum effort) and try to aim for between 3 and 5 on the scale and always  make sure the class instructor or your Personal Trainer knows you’re pregnant as that way they can advise you if you are safe to continue and will provide variations and alternatives.

Highly choreographed classes like Step or Combat aren’t the best choices for expectant women since they require quick direction changes and a heightened sense of balance – so can risk pulling on the stomach or increase risk of falling. Other things to avoid would be Hot Yoga (as it increases your risk of overheating), Contact Sports (for obvious reasons!), or HIIT and heavy lifting. The hormonal changes in your body can make your joints and tendons more elastic – so avoid overloading (either in terms of speed or weight) to avoid damaging the joints.

Some great classes that you can include are Pilates or Yoga (avoiding any of the exercises on your back – always keep your head above your belly after first trimester), water bases classes like Aqua Aerobics or swimming are brilliant as the water supports your growing belly and is low impact.

In Terms of resistance training – try to use the weight training machines rather than free-weights but again avoid any machine or exercise that puts pressure on belly such as the seated row and abdominal crunch and avoid raising your arms overhead (to avoid excessive curvature on the spine) and if using a bench always have an incline.

 

When it comes to food make sure that you load up on the big 5 nutrients – Folic Acid, Calcium, Iron, Zinc and fibre, as well as Omega 3 Fatty acids – ideally these should come from natural sources and you should also increase your water intake. When pregnant your body loses hydration quicker – so make sure to drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated helps prevent headaches, kidney stones, dizziness and common pregnancy complaints such as constipation and haemorrhoids, but also helps avoid pre-term contractions. You know you’re well hydrated when your urine is light yellow to clear.

Finally make sure that you don’t “Eat for Two”!  Half of all woman gain too much weight during pregnancy using it almost as an excuse to eat as much and whatever they want.  Research suggests that when mums-to-be gain excess weight, their babies then have a higher risk of obesity later in life, plus the mothers then tend to retain that extra weight after giving birth.

It’s crucial therefore to base your pregnancy weight-gain “target”, on your height and pre-pregnancy weight but as a guide – if  you’re carrying a single baby, you would need approximately 340 extra calories per day in the second trimester and 450 extra in the third trimester.

To find out what’s appropriate for you  and some more ideas on exercises you can do or need to avoid – have a look at FitPregnancy.com which is a invaluable source of information covering everything health & fitness related during and after pregnancy and is highly commended.

Health & Fitness “Life Hacks”

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This week’s all about health & fitness hacks to make living healthier lifestyle a little easier.

When it comes to diet – try not to resort to using the ones that cut out certain food groups like carbs or fats. Your body has a very varied requirement of nutrients and minerals and all of them are needed. By cutting out foods groups – you are more likely to binge when you come off the diet and you will put the weight back on quicker. When you lose weight you are reducing the size of your fat cells not the quantity – something to bear in mind.

In general you should try to eat smaller meals 5 times a day – but quite often it’s difficult to fit this in so if your sticking to your 3 meals a day try to make your biggest meal breakfast and reduce the size o each meal so that your smallest meal is in the evening when your metabolism naturally slows down.  This will ensure that your body uses up the energy that the food you eat gives you throughout the day, rather than having a large meal in the evening (especially if its a couple of hours before going to sleep) where because the body doesn’t need the energy it will then store it as fat.

When it comes to eating before or after exercise recent studies have found when looking to improve fat burning potential – for women it’s best to eat before exercise and for men to eat afterwards.

Other things you can do is to use smaller plates – studies show that you tend to eat 20% less calories by using a smaller plate as your brain is fooled into thinking it’s a bigger meal and always drink plenty of water (especially having a glass before your meal) – this will not only help you feel fuller for longer but it boosts your metabolism and helps to burn fat quicker.

Sleep has a major impact on your energy levels – try to keep to 7-9 hours but if you do lack that little bit of energy for your workout – rather than spending money on expensive pre-workout drinks – a good cup of coffee or green tea will do the job as it’s the caffeine in the drinks that has been linked to better workout performance.

If you are not seeing the results you want – then mix up your routine. If you are focussing on all cardio then add in some strength training or vice versa. Your body very quickly gets used to coping with the same thing – whether that’s calorie intake or type of exercise – so by regularly mixing things up you keep your body guessing and working harder.

When in the gym try doing your bodyweighted or dumbbell exercise while on a power plate rather than on the floor. The unstable surface means your body has to recruit more muscle fibre to either keep you in position or still be able to complete the exercise – this extra challenge will help burn extra calories.

Sneak in exercises during everyday activities! Try doing calf raises or clench your buttocks while waiting in a queue, lunging while doing to hoovering regularly switching hands….. Apart from strengthening your muscles, you will also burn calories: An average person should burn 4 calories a minute for easy cleaning (e.g., dusting). That is a total of 80 calories for 20 minutes of cleaning so even just 1 hour of cleaning every week, you get a total of 12,480 calories a year! That is 3.5 pounds a year for keeping a clean house!

There’s a ton of more hacks to help get you fitter and healthier here:

43 Science Based Health Hacks