We all know that regular exercise has many health benefits, from improving mood, energy levels and self esteem to lowering the risk of developing dangerous conditions and diseases, but this knowledge isn’t always enough to put our best laid plans into practice! If it was as easy as that, we’d all be super fit, but the truth is that many people do not engage in regular exercise and many who start an exercise programme lose heart and drop out very quickly.
We’re much more likely to make a habit of behaviours that bring us pleasure, and to avoid behaviours associated with pain or displeasure. This is known as Hedonic Motivation.  People are far more likely to stick with a programme of exercise if they actually enjoy doing it. In a population-based mail survey of 1,332 adults, ‘respondents reporting high enjoyment and preference for physical activity were more likely to report high levels of activity’.  It’s much easier to invest precious time and energy into something that makes us feel happy.
An effective way to start getting into exercise is to find an activity that you enjoy doing, and that suits your personality and body type. A 2016 study  found ‘enjoyment of exercise to be a key factor associated with physical activity.’
The gym has many benefits, and we wouldn’t knock it – you can measure your development, use high-tech equipment, get personal training, and it’s a convenient, safe place to go on dark nights after a day at work. It’s not for everybody though. Some people get bored at gyms, find them intimidating, would rather learn a skill, or prefer to be outside. There is also the risk of isolating specific muscle groups for aesthetic purposes (e.g working solely on the biceps, pecs and abdominal muscles), which can cause imbalances and lead to injury. Body image and fitness are not the same thing. There are of course the usual alternatives such as running, football, cycling, yoga and pilates, but in this blog we are going to be looking at a few other activities that are fun, interesting and give you a full body workout.
“Walking is the nearest activity to perfect exercise.”
Professors Jerry Morris and Adrienne Hardman 
Walking is surprisingly effective for improving fitness – a recent study has even found that it is more effective than running for reducing heart disease risk when the same amount of energy is expended. 
Walking Works (PDF) is a recent report by the Ramblers and Macmillian Cancer Support which summarises the physical and psychological benefits of the simple walk.
Just 30 minutes walking per day will fulfil the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations of 2 hours 30 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.  Currently In England, only 66% of men and 56% of women claim meet this recommendation. Most of us could make small changes to our routine to build half an hour of walking into our busy days – walking to work, swapping the ‘desk picnic’ for a walk round the block during lunchtime, taking the stairs, parking a bit further from the supermarket – we all know the drill! Try one of the many smartphone pedometer apps and wearables such as the Fitbit to keep track of your activities. Check out these 7 free walking apps recommended by the British Heart Foundation.
Walking is free, can be done anywhere, at any time, requires no special equipment, and you certainly don’t need to be ‘sporty’ to do it. If you need a bit more inspiration, listen to this 3 Minute Epiphany on the joy of walking by David Mitchell on the calming effects of walking, and how it helped his bad back – ‘I almost never don’t feel better after going for a walk.’
Another great benefit of walking is that you getting out and discover new places. If you live in the Plymouth area, have a look at the Visit Plymouth website for downloadable walking trails and maps.
Surfing is close to our hearts here at The Muscle Clinic. We are spoilt for choice for surfing beaches here in the South West and although we’re very far from being experts, we love to get out into the waves on a weekend.
Surfing is an intense, all over body workout that builds muscle strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health. You quickly build strength in your arms and upper body from paddling out and in your legs when pushing up to a standing position and riding the waves. Standing up on the board quickly improves core strength, balance and proprioception. Proprioception  is the ability to sense where our body parts are in space without having to look, and balance is the ability to control this. This helps to prevent falls and injuries.
The image of the chilled-out surfer is not just a cliche. A 2009 study  showed that ‘a single 30-minute bout of surfing significantly increases positive affect and tranquility as well as significantly decreases negative affect and fatigue’. These findings were true regardless of age and skill level.
If you are new to surfing we’d recommend that you start with a few lessons as it’s not the easiest skill to pick up on your own. For those in the Plymouth area, try Discovery Surf at Bigbury. It’s a friendly surf school that runs surf clubs, kids’ lessons, and offers half price lessons for locals.
Archery relies very much on mental concentration and visualisation, and considerable emphasis has been placed on the psychological approach to training and performance. The absolute focus required from an archery session is the ultimate in mindfulness, and can have a very calming effect. ‘In fact, when it comes to archery remember that if what you are doing is instinctive, devoid of analytical thought, and pure in intent … then you are practicing a form of meditation.’  If you are interested in this, you might want to read the philosophy classic, Zen In The Art of Archery.
However, any archer will tell you that the sport is just as demanding on the body as it is on the mind, and both must work together to develop an effective technique. Drawing a bow builds strength in the shoulders, arms, hands, chest, and core. The correct placement of feet, hips, shoulders and head requires a good deal of co-ordination and with practice this can really help to improve the posture. You will do more walking that you expect as well, with all those trips back and forth to retrieve your arrows!
If you would like to try archery in Plymouth, contact Yelverton Bowmen. They are very welcoming and offer one off taster sessions and 6 week beginners courses. Anyone can get involved from children to senior citizens, disabled and able bodied.
Climbing can be really thrilling, and is an excellent full-body workout, combining strength, stamina, and cardio fitness. It’s great for building upper body strength but you don’t need huge biceps and shoulders to be a climber (take it from me!). From using core strength to keep your balance, to pushing off explosively with your legs, all of the muscle groups in the body are challenged during a climb. Climbing is low-impact – you’re not jumping or pounding along a pavement – so it is a good way to build strength and fitness without putting stress on your joints.
Stretching to reach foot and handholds is excellent for improving flexibility, and puts a lovely gentle traction on the spine. A 2016  study found that climbing has a positive effect on chronic low back pain. 30 low back pain patients between 18 and 45, with no climbing experience, climbed for at least an hour a week, for 8 weeks. The results were significant, showing increase in range of movement and decrease in disc protrusion. We have recommended climbing to some of our massage patients who suffer from chronic, non-specific muscle pain. They have absolutely loved it and found it to be a life-changing activity.
You can climb on an indoor wall or outside on a rock face. There are some great climbing locations in the UK from Dartmoor, to Snowdonia, the Peak District and Lake District. Climbing can be dangerous, so if you’re just starting out, we would recommend that you find an experienced partner, or get some lessons first, to get a good grasp of the basics of ropes, gear, and navigation.
Stoke Dameral Climbing Club in Plymouth is a friendly and affordable way to get into climbing. Dartrock offer indoor climbing courses at Marjons and Buckfastleigh, and tuition on local outdoor routes.
Roller Derby isn’t something we have tried, but we have included it here because we know a few roller derby players, and they are passionate about their sport. Roller Derby is played on 4-wheeled roller skates, and is a full-contact team sport. It improves cardio fitness, all-over strength, balance and endurance, and is a great way to build self-confidence.
Roller Derby has a badass reputation and has been described as ‘team boxing on roller skates.’  It is great for developing teamwork skills and encourages fair play, cooperation and respect for one another. Although there are mens’ teams, Roller Derby made its name as a womens’ sport, empowering women to be strong, athletic and powerful, and part of a close-knit community that has loads of fun.
Interested? Check out Plymouth City Roller Derby, who welcome both women and men, and try one of their taster sessions.
A January dip in the chilly sea is not as crazy as you might think. It provides many health benefits including a huge endorphin boost. Endorphins can make you feel euphoric, and are the body’s natural painkillers, so regular cold water swimming can help to soothe muscle aches and pains. It is also said to help relieve depression.
Getting into cold water causes a mild stress on the immune system, and this helps to strengthen it by giving it a bit of practice. Significant increases in white blood cell count were found when scientists from the Czech Republic immersed willing subjects in cold water for one hour, three times a week and monitored their physiology. 
Other long-term benefits of wild swimming include improved circulation, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduction of fat disposition, inhibited blood clotting and increased fertility and libido – so what are you waiting for?! Actually, it’s probably best to slowly acclimatise yourself to the cold – either use a wetsuit to start with, or begin at a warmer time of year and ease yourself into the colder weather.
‘If you like to swim under a blue sky with no barriers, no chlorine and no limits’ and would like to go out swimming with others, get in touch with Devon and Cornwall Wild Swimming.
The final item on our list is dancing. Whether it’s letting loose on the dancefloor on Saturday night, Salsa, Lindyhop or Ballet classes, dance brings many health benefits as well as being great fun. It’s brilliant for cardio fitness, improves balance and flexibility, and helps keep bones strong, preventing osteoporosis.
You might think dancing is just for young people, but it’s a really beneficial social and cultural activity for older people too. It keeps the mind sharp and the body active. Regular dancing is linked with a 76% reduction in dementia risk  and can help slow the development of Parkinson’s.
Dancing is a bit of a love/ hate activity – some people could never be persuaded to get up and dance, whereas others absolutely love it. This is sometimes a question of confidence, and if you feel you have two left feet but want to give dancing a try, give something like Jazzercise a go: you are guided through every move, it’s lots of fun, and no-one is judging your dancing skills.
We hope this list has helped provide some inspiration to try something a bit different. Have you found a sport or activity that you love? Let us know in the comments.
References and Further Reading
- Wikipedia contributors, Hedonic motivation, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,
- Salmon J1, Owen N, Crawford D, Bauman A, Sallis JF (2003). Physical activity and sedentary behavior: a population-based study of barriers, enjoyment, and preference. Health Psychology. Mar;22(2):178-88
- Baldwin DR, Datta S, Bassett DR, et al (2016). Acta Psychopathol. Feel Better But Exercise Less: An Examination of Exercise Enjoyment, Personality and Physical Activity in Young Adults.
- Ramblers and Macmillian Cancer Support, Walking Works (PDF)
- Health and Social Care Information Centre (2013). Health Survey for England: Is the adult population in England active enough?
- Karlek, Sandy, 2015, Benefits of Balance Exercises – Enhancing your Proprioception
- Pittsinger, Ryan Frank, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, LONG BEACH (2009). The effect of a single bout of surfing on exercise-induced affect
- Fortadam, skyaboveus, 2016, Traditional Archery : A Wonderful Form of Modern Meditation
- Clin J Sport Med. 2016 May;26(3):199-205. Climbing Has a Positive Impact on Low Back Pain: A Prospective Randomized Controlled Trial.
- Health Fitness Revolution (2015). Top 10 Health Benefits of Roller Derby.
- The Next Challenge (2010). 5 Health Benefits of Cold Water Swimming
- New England Journal of Medicine (2003). Leisure Activities and the Risk of Dementia in the Elderly.
With thanks to Discovery Surf School for use of the top image.