Living in Australia

Exercise

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The benefits of exercise

Exercise plays an important role when it comes to keeping healthy.

Your health and wellbeing is an important part of life. Exercise, a good balanced diet and drinking plenty of water are the basics for living a healthy and happy lifestyle.

Being physically active can improve your overall strength and fitness, as well as improve your self-esteem. It can also help ease stress and give you a fresh outlook on life.

It’s a great way to meet and have fun with other people, or improve your relationships with your family if you can all get fit together.

Just 30 minutes of moderate activity every day can improve your health and reduce your risk of developing certain conditions and diseases.

Being more active can help you:

  • increase your energy levels
  • manage your weight
  • release stress
  • improve your mental and physical health
  • feel more positive about life.

Getting Started

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For some people, getting started is the hardest part. You don’t have to commit yourself to an expensive long-term gym membership or hours upon hours of a strict exercise regime. The likelihood of sticking with those plans is slim.

If you set out with the right expectations and realistic goals you are more likely to succeed in improving your health. It’s also important to not let the usual excuses or your own limitations hold you back.

Don’t listen to your own excuses!

It’s very easy, even before you start to exercise, to make excuses as to why you can’t. A common excuse is that you think you’re too busy. Whilst a good 45 minute workout has its benefits, short 15 minute bursts are also known to be effective. Simply prioritising this time throughout your week could make a big difference. Have a think about where you could substitute some of your time to dedicate to getting your body moving.  Maybe sitting in front of the TV or computer for 30 minutes less 3 times a week could be the way for you to achieve your health goals.

Another excuse is that you might think your body is not up to exercise, either due to an injury, your weight or your age. There are many ways to get your body moving that doesn’t have to involve a lot of mobility. Low impact exercise, such as swimming, water aerobics or pilates may help you to get your heart rate up without aggravating an existing injury. Walking is also suitable as a place to start to begin building up some fitness. There are also thai chi, pilates and yoga classes available that will tailor an exercise routine depending on your needs.

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“I can’t afford it”. It’s very easy to immediately dismiss a plan to exercise based on not being able to fund it. Gym memberships can be expensive, though many do offer a no contract ‘pay-as-you-go’ arrangement that can be a little more affordable if mixed with some free activities. You don’t have to use exercise equipment to be fit, but if you like using it, many parks across Australia now have these available to the public for free. Look up your local council website to find out if you have one in your area.

There are many other ways to exercise for free – walking, swimming at the beach and playing sports with friends and family doesn’t require any special equipment and the bonus is, they’re all enjoyable activities!

Basic exercises you can do at home

There are so many resources available on the internet that you can access to create your own fitness program at home. No equipment is needed, though it would probably make your work out more enjoyable if you had a comfortable outfit and an exercise mat. Pictorial and video tutorials can walk you through the correct way to undertake each exercise. Basic exercises usually include push-ups, sit-ups, planking, lunges, squat jumps and simple yoga moves.

By sticking to a few simple exercises a few times a week, you will notice the exercises become easier and your strength will increase. At that point you will know to increase the intensity or repetitions to keep progressing your fitness.

Get fit with family and friends

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What’s better than getting yourself healthier? Seeing your family and friends get healthier too! Why not make your quest to get moving more regularly a family event? Most of us are guilty of spending a lot of time in front of a TV, computer or mobile phone screen. Whilst you still might be talking and spending time with loved ones, the same could be done whilst enjoying physical activities.

Warm summer evenings are perfect for a stroll around your neighbourhood or to the local park. You could kick around a football or play some basketball or tennis if you have courts nearby. Getting the family out on bicycles is a great way to get some fresh air and even enjoy a healthy picnic en route.

In the colder months, long walks in the mountains, skiing or tobogganing is not only great exercise but will provide you with a lot of laughs and memories along the way.

Friends can also be great to keep you motivated. Why not make it interesting by introducing a little competition, or organise a small team to play sports such as netball, soccer or badminton. Scheduling in time with friends can be a great way for you to stick to a regular routine as well.

Make it fun!

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Exercising doesn’t have to be a chore. Nor do you have to stick to the same routine every time. In fact, it’s beneficial to mix up your exercise to include both strength building exercises and cardio to give your body an overall balanced workout.

But have you ever thought about what interests you have already that gets you moving? Or is there something you always wanted to try and haven’t yet? For example, have you always wanted to take up horseback riding, rock climbing, ballroom dancing, martial arts or kayaking? All require physical interaction and if an activity really interests you personally, you’re more likely to stick with it long term.

If the above sounds too strenuous, get creative and think how you could incorporate more physical activity into your day. Have an interest in art? Why not make a list of art galleries to visit, and tick these off your list one by one. You might not realise how far you’ve walked whilst taking in each piece of art. The same could be done looking at flowers at your local botanical gardens, or out wondering your local markets.

Know your own limits

As you can see, anyone can add exercise into their lives, just remember to know your own limits. Don’t push yourself too hard, and seek advice from a doctor if you have any injuries or illnesses that concern you.

If you find yourself going off track and exercising less, keep in mind that you managed to begin once before, and use the same strategy that got you started in the first place. Remember what you enjoyed about it before and set yourself small goals first, and you’ll be back on track in no time!

Finding the Best Exercise for You

Before you start your new exercise program, it’s always worthwhile doing some research and getting the basics right before jumping in to a new physical activity.

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Get the all-clear from your doctor

Before you embark on a new physical activity program, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor for a check-up – especially if you’ve never exercised before or it’s been a long time since you exercised regularly.

Your doctor can give you help and advice about kicking off and maintaining your new fitness regime safely.

Identify your goals

Think about what you want to get out of your exercise program. Your goals will help you decide what type of activity to choose. For example, if one of your goals is to lose weight, you will probably need to consider some high intensity activity. If you want to become stronger, or increase your cardio-vascular fitness, these will each require slightly different exercise types.

Perhaps you’re thinking about using physical activity as a mode of transport, like walking, running, or cycling to work. Or you may want to improve your core stability and balance through activities like yoga or Pilates.

Setting firm goals will give you something to strive for, and help you stay motivated and on track with your new exercise program. It will also help you measure your achievements.

Exercise options

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There are hundreds of exercise options to choose from. Whether you want to exercise on your own or with a group; in water or on land; inside or outside; there is bound to be something that suits your preference and ability. Here are a few suggestions to think about.

Gyms

Gyms are hugely popular for the variety of activities they offer, availability of exercise equipment, accessibility of fitness professionals, and opportunity to meet new people. Many gyms offer a range of group classes, with qualified instructors who cater to all fitness levels and abilities. Gyms also have a great variety of equipment for cardio and weights workouts that you can use on your own, or with a friend. Some gyms are accessible 24 hours a day, making it easy to fit your workout into your daily routine.

Bootcamps

Fitness boot camps are a type of group training program, usually conducted in the outdoors, by gym staff and personal trainers. They adopted their name from military boot camps, where new recruits are sent for initial training and are often conducted in a military style. Boot camps are great if you love training with other people in a team atmosphere and want to be challenged a little harder than you may otherwise push yourself.

Running

Running is a great way to increase your cardiovascular fitness. It requires minimal equipment and is low cost, once you’ve bought a pair of good quality running shoes. It’s a very convenient way to exercise as you can run whenever it suits you, at a pace you are comfortable with. Running is terrific if you are self-motivated and prefer to exercise on your own, and there are also many organised running groups if you want to meet new people, get involved in events and also get tips on getting faster, or going further.

Swimming

For an activity that suits people of all shapes, sizes and abilities, look no further than swimming. The water supports the weight of your body, so it’s not as hard on your joints as some other higher intensity activities. There are lots of swimming pools open to the public for a small cost and some gyms even have their own pool. Many pools have learn to swim classes for adults and also conduct ‘squad training’ where you can join a group of swimmers of a similar ability for regular coaching sessions.

If you’re not into doing endless laps, or trying to beat your fastest time, some pools also have other water-based activities such as deep water running and aqua aerobics.

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Cycling

Cycling is another versatile form of exercise and also a popular mode of transport. You can get fit while you travel to and from work! It’s gentle on your joints and is great for cardiovascular fitness. While you’ll need a good quality bicycle, it is not necessary to spend a lot of money when you’re starting out. It’s also important to maintain your bicycle, just like any piece of equipment. Safety equipment, like a bike helmet, is essential.

Riding on the roads alongside lots of cars may be daunting for some, and there are many dedicated bike paths in capital cities, if you prefer to keep your riding adventures more leisurely than the daily commute.

Walking

Suitable for all fitness levels, walking is especially good if you’re just starting out in your exercise program. You can do as much or as little as you like, working up to longer distances, faster paces or more challenging terrain.  Once you have a good pair of walking shoes, you’re all set to go! You can walk around the suburbs and cities, bicycle tracks, and even try trail walking in a bushland setting. Walk on your own, with a friend or two, or join a regular walking group. Remember to wear a hat for sun protection during the day.

Organised Sports

Participating in an organised sport can be a great way to meet new people, or get your work colleagues together for some fun and team building.  There are many team sports to choose from, like soccer, netball, volleyball, hockey, or touch football (a non-contact version of Rugby League). There are also individual sports like tennis and squash.

Sporting clubs welcome new players and can connect you with people at your own level, or even arrange coaching if you’re new.

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Dancing

Want an exercise that’s good for the mind, body and soul? Dancing might be just the right one for you! Dancing is a full body workout that is medium intensity, increases cardio vascular fitness, improves coordination and flexibility, and is just plain good fun. Dance class is also a great place to meet new people. There are many different types of dance classes for all ages, including jazz, salsa, hip-hop and ballroom. Your local council will have details of classes near you, or you could check online for a DanceSport Australia (ballroom dancing) venue or a dance school in your area.

Yoga

There are a wide range of health benefits to be gained by the practice of yoga. It focusses on nurturing physical, emotional, and mental well-being through a range of techniques including postures and movement, breath awareness, relaxation and meditation. Although yoga is not known to improved cardio-vascular fitness, it will improve core strength and flexibility. Yoga is suitable for a wide range of ages and abilities.

There are a range of yoga styles and what happens in classes may vary depending on the style of the teacher or school. It may take a bit of experimenting to find one that suits you best.

Pilates

Originally developed by Josef Pilates, this type of exercise is focussed on developing core strength and flexibility through a series of controlled movements that use the resistance of gravity. There is a strong emphasis on breathing, control, concentration and flow of movement.  Pilates caters to all abilities from beginners to advanced, and over time, regular classes can improve strength, coordination, and balance.

Things to consider when choosing your exercise

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The most important thing about finding a type of exercise that’s right for you is making sure it’s something you will be able to stick with and easily incorporate into you lifestyle and daily routine. There is no point in joining a gym if you really love being outdoors in nature – you will soon stop going. Here are a few things to think about when finding the best exercise for you.

Your ability and fitness level

If you’re not sure, your doctor will be able to give you some guidelines about your fitness level and where to start in terms of how long, how often and to what intensity you should begin your program. As long as you have been given approval by your doctor to start an exercise program, you can also talk to other qualified health professionals, such as exercise physiologists or exercise scientists, who specialise in designing exercise and activity programs.

If you are just starting out or getting back into exercise after a long break, it’s important to ease into things. Start out slowly and work your way up. This might be as simple as a daily 20 minute walk – 10 minutes out and 10 minutes back – or a beginner level group fitness class such as stretching or Pilates.

Budget

Obviously you need to consider your budget when choosing exercise. You don’t want money to rule whether you can exercise or not. Some gym memberships can be quite costly, but there are now also a number of budget options available. Other sports like cycling can also involve equipment that potentially has an expensive price tag. Do a bit of research about potential costs before you decide on your new favourite exercise.

Solo or Social?

Another thing to consider is whether you like to exercise on your own or with others. Some people like nothing more than being on their own, running or riding their bike. Others love to be able to exercise with friends or make new ones and find that doing their chosen exercise with others makes it easier to keep doing it regularly.

Indoors or Outdoors?

Do you love the great outdoors? Sometimes – especially when you work in an office all day – there is nothing better than getting out in the fresh air and moving your body. If this sounds like you, then joining a gym, or starting dance classes might not be the best exercise option for you. Try to find something like walking, running, hiking, cycling – or even boot camp – that takes you outside, so you can look forward to your workout.

Often, the only way to find out if you like something is to give it a try. You might experiment with a few different types of exercises before you find one that’s best for you. Or you might discover a number of activities that are all fun and improve your fitness. There is no rule that says there has to be just one exercise that’s best for you. Go out there and get moving!

Preventing Injuries

If you are new to exercise, haven’t exercised for a long time, are a man over the age of 45 or a woman over the age of 55, it’s important to have a routine physical examination or fitness assessment before you start. This will pick up any undiagnosed conditions that may be lying dormant so they can be treated and accommodated in your exercise program. Your doctor can also help you to understand what your limits are and suggest an appropriate amount of exercise for you.

Exercise beginners may also find it helpful to find a personal trainer or coach before embarking on a new exercise program. A qualified fitness professional can work with you to design a program that’s tailored to your abilities and goals.

Begin with the Basics

You wouldn’t set out trying to run a marathon without doing any training, right? The same goes for any type of fitness goal. It’s important to do the groundwork and prepare your body to build up to bigger and more challenging goals. Many people jump into their new exercise program with great enthusiasm, only to find they’ve gone too hard too soon and end up getting injured.  Slowly improve your strength and fitness by setting achievable milestones that work up to your ‘great big hairy audacious goal’. By gradually increasing the duration and intensity of your workouts, you’ll avoid injury and burnout.

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Getting to the Core of things

Part of getting the basics right includes laying the foundations for strength and stability in your core muscle groups. Your core muscles – the ones around your torso and pelvis – keep your spine aligned and entire body stable and balanced. A strong core is essential, even for everyday activities like bending over to pat the dog, lifting your two year old child, and twisting to grab the next ingredient while you’re cooking dinner. Taking care of your core will help to prevent back injuries and can even play a part in minimising sprains and strains to ankles and knees by keeping your body stable.

Some gyms and personal trainers offer exercise programs specifically targeting the core. Pilates is also an excellent activity that focusses on strengthening core muscles. Originally developed by Josef Pilates, this type of exercise is focussed on developing core strength and flexibility through a series of controlled movements that use the resistance of gravity. Pilates caters to all abilities from beginners to advanced, and over time, regular classes can improve strength, coordination, and balance.

Your Body is a Machine

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The human body really is like a finely tuned machine. It needs to be maintained properly with, the right fuel, regular tune-ups, plenty of fluids and regular rest and recovery, in order to operate at its peak and avoid injury. Think about your car: If you don’t keep it topped up with fuel in the tank, water in the radiator, and oil and other lubricants, things don’t work quite as they should – or it can stop running altogether. To help keep injuries at bay, maintain your body like the amazing machine that it is.

Hydration

Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after any workout session. Becoming dehydrated will put you at risk of overheating and will mean your body just doesn’t work as efficiently as it could – in turn affecting your fitness goals and putting you at risk of injury. Not having enough fluids will make your body less efficient at delivering oxygen to your working muscles, reducing your ability to lift more weights, or run, swim or pedal faster. Trying to push your body to perform while dehydrated and overheated can result in serious long term muscle and organ damage.

Fuel the Machine

Putting the right food – or fuel – in your body is important to being fit and active and staying injury free. Making sure your body gets the right nutrition is an important part of an active lifestyle. A good balance of fresh foods, including protein, carbohydrates and the right kind of fats and oils will help keep the machine running smoothly and efficiently. Not having the right fuel will put your body under unnecessary pressure and potential risk of injury.

Warm Up and Cool Down

It’s important not to just jump straight into high intensity activity, or to stop suddenly. A thorough, gradual warm-up will gradually increase the heart rate and get blood flowing to the muscles to prepare the body for more intense activity. Your muscles will respond better to the physical challenges you set them if they’re been prepared.

Warm-ups need only take 5-10 minutes. You should feel your breathing and heart rates increase slightly and be perspiring slightly. Typical warm-up activities include things like gentle walking before a higher intensity walk or brisk walking before a run. You might go for a bike ride, or use a stationary exercise bike to warm up your muscles.

Cooling down – especially after a high intensity workout – gives your body a gradual recovery of heart rate and blood pressure. It keeps your heart rate from dropping too quickly and prevents the light-headedness or dizziness that can affect you if you stop too quickly. Cooling down at the end of an exercise session is very similar to warming up. It generally entails a low-intensity continuation of your workout for 5-10 minutes.

Stay Flexible

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Stretching before and after your workout – and even in between exercise sessions – is just as important as the exercise itself. Stretching, together with maintaining a strong core, will help you gain better poster, decrease body aches and pains, and most importantly, help prevent injury. Even just day-to-day use of muscles can cause them to get tight. Sitting at a desk is one of the biggest causes of tight hamstrings and hips which can lead to lower back issues. 

Stretching will help keep muscles long and lean and increases blood supply (which includes oxygen and nutrients) to hard working muscles to keep them working optimally. As a general rule, it’s best to stretch when you muscles are already warm, so include a few stretches in-between your pre-workout warm-up and some more at the end. And keep one session per week dedicated purely to stretching – this might be a yoga or Pilates class, or a session tailored just for you by a personal trainer or exercise specialist.

And apart from the science of stretching – it feels really good!

How to stay active in Australia

There’s so much to see and do while you’re in Australia, and a great way to see as much as you can is by getting out there and being active.

Here are a few fun ways to experience Australia and stay active while you’re here:

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