Exercise your body and mind

With the New Year comes a stack of new resolutions and for many top of the pile will be more exercise. But the days of merely ticking a box with an exercise class or the odd session at the gym are long gone and the way we approach keeping fit in 2016 is expected to be as much about the mind as the body.

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People’s awareness of stress and the damage it can do to mental health is higher now than it has been for decades. While there is still a long way to go, as a whole we are increasingly aware that looking after ourselves is as much about managing that stress and keeping our minds healthy as it is about getting our five a day and not smoking.

Even a moderate amount of exercise can improve our mood and research has shown that exercise can have similar – and in some cases even more effective – results than anti-depressant drugs. This has included a Harvard review of studies dating back to 1981, which concluded that regular exercise can improve moods in those with mild to moderate depression, and also play a role in the treatment of major clinical depression.

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Stress relief is cited as a key benefit for people who see exercise as a crucial part of their lives. Raising the heart rate and flooding our veins with oxygen triggers chemical reactions that offset the strain and exhaustion of our increasingly demanding lives. This not only helps us feel more in control and grounded, but serves as a reminder that there’s more to life.

“Over the last year, we’ve seen the development of an increasingly conscious approach to exercise,” said James Trevorrow, product innovation manager at Virgin Active.

“This consciousness will continue to develop as we increasingly link the way we exercise and the positive effect it has on our mind, utilising it to raise endorphins and help us find a balance in our busy day-to-day lives.”

As well as being a general factor across all exercise disciplines, “mindful fitness” is growing in more targeted ways too. This is borne out by the growing popularity of disciplines like yoga, pilates and tai chi, where calm, focus and deep breathing play central roles.

Celebrity trainer Matt Roberts, whose clients include Michael McIntyre and David Cameron, said yoga had become a perennial player in the trend lists.

“It is a discipline which offers a massive range of different styles as well as continuously delivering results for participants and that means it will continue to top the list.”

On the flip side there are those who look to exercise for their adrenaline fix and goalposts are forever being stretched – half marathons, full marathons and 
ultra marathons are becoming the norm.

Kenton Cool, who climbed Everest for the 11th time in 2013 said it was all about a changing mentality.

“Life is about testing yourself and pushing your own limits. We are starting to see this ‘challenge mentality’ becoming part of our approach to exercise, how much we actually know our own bodies and how far can we push ourselves.” The escapism of these challenges also plays a key part with people wanting to make their lives about more than just work and income.

“Adventure is catching on. In 2016, we think more people are going to be trying new things, whether that’s taking on a challenge like Tough Mudder, learning to ski, or something life-changing like walking the Nile,” said explorer Levison Wood.

But we live in a world of instant gratification and while the appetite for mindfulness grows, so too does the taste for fast fitness results.

This is reflected in the relatively recent trend for high-intensity interval training (HIIT), something that is now incorporated across countless workout classes and disciplines. It consists of short high-intensity bursts interspersed with short recovery periods.

These fast workouts promise fast results which, in research trials at least, also deliver. “It has stayed popular because it appeals to those who are into their training,” said Matt Roberts. “They like the hard, high-intensity, barrier-pushing appeal and it offers a solution that doesn’t eat up too much time but does produce good results for those less exercise minded.

“There will always be concerns about the safety of true high-intensity training for certain individuals but, as always, provided the individual is generally in good health then the approach is fantastic for many different goals and outcomes.”