Staying active at Level 5


RIGHT ATTIRE Coming into the winter, it’s important to remember that when exercising outdoors, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.

Andrew O'Brien

“Okay, campers, rise and shine and don’t forget your booties ’cause it’s cold out there today!”
Anyone else feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day? The noise from the news is basically the same every day, it’s just the numbers that change; total cases, incidence rates, phases, levels.
Normally at this time of year, I would offer some suggestions as to how to keep up the exercise as the weather gets cooler. Invariably at least part of that piece would recommend doing some gym work, going for a swim or joining a yoga class. This year the gym is out, swimming is for the hardest of hard folks only and, I’m sorry, I just can’t get into the Zoom thing. Where to from here?
This winter our options are limited to walking, running or cycling in our little circles or setting up some sort of home gym.
If our choices are limited, and likely to be repetitive and occasionally weather affected, most people are going to find it hard to stay as active as they should. This isn’t any great surprise; even when the weather is good and there are options aplenty it can be hard to stay active. This is actually an evolutionary trait, so don’t be too hard on yourself. For most of human history physical activity was a necessary evil; our ancestors had to hunt for food, cart water and tend to animals. Given there were often shortages of food, we are wired to avoid expending energy wherever possible.

Strategies for staying active
We need to think of strategies to make it as easy as possible to keep active for the next few months. My first tip is to do your best not to get injured. That sounds like stating the bleeding obvious, but let’s look a bit deeper.
A large percentage of injuries we see in clinic can be linked to changes in lifestyle and activity levels. A previous non-runner all of a sudden going out to do 5km every day for a month shouldn’t be that surprised if they get injured. Nor should someone who has done no upper body exercise be shocked if they get sore shoulders after doing push ups for a week.
Starting cautiously and building carefully is the best way to build a good exercise regime. It’s often suggested that runners should increase their mileage by no more than 10 percent each week and, while some people can handle a lot more and others significantly less, it’s a relatively safe bet for most.
If your exercise takes you outdoors, make sure you have the right clothes. We all know what the weather can do in the west of Ireland, so we should all be ready for it. A bad jacket can ruin an otherwise good day out if it isn’t sufficiently waterproof or breathable.
For those setting up a home gym, finding a reasonably permanent spot is key. The hassle of having to lift weights in and out of the cupboard could quickly outweigh your motivation to lifting them for exercise. If your house is busy, try to find somewhere that is relatively quiet as well. Exercising in the sitting room is hard enough, being climbed over by kids and licked by the dog won’t make it any easier.

Finding the motivation to exercise over the next few months could well be difficult. There are no races for the racers, no matches for those who play team sports and the weather won’t always play ball. How to drag yourself up and out? There are virtual challenges available all over the internet for any activity that might help the competitive.
For the non-competitive and less easily motivated, it’s worth remembering that action often brings motivation. By just getting started and stepping out the door, we often find our motivation increases. To borrow from a well known advertising campaign; don’t think about it, just do it.
I have often written here that best exercise is the one you actually do, so find something you either enjoy or can’t avoid. And while the WHO Guidelines say we should be aiming for 150 minutes of exercise per week, remember that some exercise is still better than no exercise. Run around the house, chase the kids, walk to the supermarket, just move regularly.
And let’s hope that by February 2, when the real groundhog crawls out from his burrow to predict the end of winter, we don’t all wish we could crawl back in there with him.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at