New year exercise resolutions that require a trip to the gym or a jog on a hot day can quickly be dumped. Luckily, there are exercises you can do while driving, working and socialising that are not only effective, but appealingly convenient.
Zip up your pelvic floor
One in three women and many men suffer incontinence in their lives which, as well as being embarrassing, can lead to restricted activities and exercise, further exacerbating the problem.
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, a bowl-shaped web of muscles which connects all sides of the pelvis, not only helps prevent incontinence, but heightens sexual function for men and women and leads to healthy bowels. It helps increase a man’s libido, while decreasing pressure on the prostate. For women, a strong pelvic floor during childbirth helps with successful vaginal deliveries, allowing for easier relaxation and contraction, and lessening the likelihood of tearing or needing an episiotomy.
But perhaps the best effect of a strong pelvic floor for men and women is good overall pelvic stability.
Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic floor are easy to do. To ensure you know how to contract your pelvic floor muscles, try stopping the flow of urine while going to the bathroom; essentially these are the muscles that you’re focusing on. Ideally your stomach and thigh muscles remain relaxed.
To do your Kegel exercises, exaggerate this contraction of the deep pelvic muscles, simultaneously drawing your lower abdominal and pubic bone in and upwards. Contract for three seconds, then relax for three seconds. Do this 10 times, three times a day.
Work on holding your contraction for up to 10 seconds at a time, relaxing in between contractions. The more effort and intention you put into the exercises, the more benefits you’ll reap.
Doing a set of 10 Kegel exercises in the morning while commuting, in the early afternoon when taking a break from the computer, and in the evening while watching television, will turn a routine task into an investment in your long-term freedom.
The quality of your breathing affects the health of all of your body’s functions, so learning to breathe deeply has profound affects on your physical and mental health.
Deep breathing helps purify the bloodstream, improves digestion by increasing oxygen to the stomach, heightens the effectiveness of the lymphatic system, rejuvenates the glands, and stimulates your abdominal organs.
It leads to healthier, more powerful lungs which increases your stamina and allows your heart to work more efficiently, minimising the risk of heart disease by providing extra oxygen to your heart’s tissues. It also improves the health of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves by increasing oxygen.
Deep breathing is often neglected and, ironically, it is in times of stress when you most need the extra oxygen, that your breathing becomes shallower and more restricted.
To breathe deeply, first relax your shoulders, chest and belly as best you can. Now engage your diaphragm – the horizontal muscular membrane separating the chest and abdomen cavities. As you breathe in your diaphragm moves down, increasing your chest volume and air-flow to the lungs. As you breathe out your diaphragm moves upward, reducing the chest size to expel air from the lungs.
Breathing deeply also helps relax and energise the mind, releasing tension and reducing stress. A 2005 review and analysis of several studies by Doctors Richard Brown and Patricia Gerbarg, reported that yogic deep-breathing techniques were extremely effective in handling depression, anxiety, stress-related and psychological disorders, as well as obesity and eating disorders.
Keeping your joints supple
Between sucking your toes as a baby and regarding the floor as a restricted area as an old person, your body becomes increasingly inflexible and your mobility restricted.
Everyday activities don’t require much breadth of movement from joints, so extend this breadth with rotational movements of the head, arms, legs and torso. Keeping your joints supple doesn’t necessarily require tying yourself in knots and can be as simple as rotating your ankles while sitting on the bus.
Think about your joints and their range of movement – ball sockets such as your shoulders have a much wider range of movement than hinge sockets, such as elbows and knees. You can rotate your shoulders, wrists and ankles while sitting, starting with smaller, gentle rotations to minimise the risk of injury and warm up the area.
An often-neglected stretch is your side torso which can give immediate relief to tightness. To do this, stand with your feet hip-width apart and inhale as you lift your arms out to the sides and up above your head with your palms facing each other. Take hold of your left wrist with your right hand and exhale as you gently stretch up and to the right, simultaneously stretching open your left hand and moving your hips slightly to the left. Make sure you repeat on the other side.
Stretching contracts the opposing muscles of the area being stretched. When muscles contract, they compress veins which accelerates a flow of venous blood to the heart. Not only does stretching aid heart health, it strengthens muscles and improves your suppleness. Now that’s a remedy for retaining youth … if only your toes weren’t so far away.
Exercise often falls by the wayside when life gets busy or stressful — which is all the time, right? All these opportunistic exercises of a minute or more add up, so anything you slip in during your day is a step in the right direction.