“Self-care is not an indulgence. Self-care is a discipline. It requires tough-mindedness, a deep and personal understanding of your priorities and a respect for both yourself and the people you choose to spend your life with” – Tami Forman, contributor, Forbes magazine.
What is Self-Care?
Self-care includes elements of exercise, nutrition, sleep, relaxation; social connection, authenticity, purpose in our work. It’s the stuff that makes all the difference to how we feel and function, which we have often had to find out for ourselves with experience. And it’s often difficult to find time for it in our busy lives.
As health professionals with three decades of combined experience, we have found that people often struggle to make time for one of self-care’s most important elements – physical activity. Statistics suggest that only a small minority of us currently meet the minimum levels of physical activity recommended in international guidelines. Approximately one in three adults in Ireland meet aerobic activity guidelines (150 minutes of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, per week), while an estimated one in six meet guidelines for strength exercise (twice a week for all major muscle groups). Both are considered necessary components of weekly physical activity.
Inactivity may be more harmful than smoking
Combined with high amounts of sitting, particularly for work purposes, low activity levels are a huge problem. Being inactive carries greater risks to health and longevity than either smoking or being heavily overweight. In research, people with a high body weight who are either relatively fit or physically active have lower risks of dying prematurely than those at a normal body weight who are inactive.
A priority for self-care should be to at least reach the recommended activity levels described above. These are only the minimum amounts of activity needed to obtain most of the benefits of being active. Often a good strategy for fitting more activity into your schedule is to break it up into small ‘chunks’ of just ten minutes or so at a time. One hundred and fifty minutes per week translates into 30 minutes on most days; two or three small chunks every day and you’re there. If you happen to do all of the chunks in one go, that’s fine too.
The one change that we recommend the most
The muscle strengthening component (twice per week) can be harder to fit in, as this often involves travel. These sessions also generally take longer than the chunks we just mentioned. Strength exercise has unique benefits that protect our bone, muscle and organ health, however, so it is worth making a special effort to fit these sessions in. If you were to make one change to your exercise program this year, doing strength exercise sessions regularly would be our recommendation. Guidelines prescribe at least two sessions per week: Keep these ideas in mind for making these easier to fit in:
- Find a gym near work. There are lots of small exercise studios popping-up. See if there’s a good one that you could use before work or at lunchtime. If you have a company gym, lucky you!
- Do your strength sessions at the weekend. If you don’t have a good gym option near work, keep these sessions for weekend days when you have more time. Prioritise getting your recommended aerobic activity in during the week, leaving less for you to do on the weekend. Two strength sessions over the weekend each week should work perfectly well.
- Train efficiently. Keep your strength training sessions short, while maximising the benefits by training efficiently. A single set approach (one set per exercise) is shown to give around 70-80% of the benefits of multiple sets, while taking around one-third of the time. As well as a lower workload, the single set approach cuts out all of the rest periods in a strength workout, which is effectively time wasted. Resting less will also improve your fitness. You can add strategies like training to muscle fatigue, or doing ‘drop sets’ – where you use lighter weights after first tiring out with a heavier weight – to make the single set even more effective. Using a single set strategy, it’s relatively easy to get a strength workout into 25 or 30 minutes, which makes doing these sessions much easier time-wise.
Benefits in Self-care
Fitting strength training sessions into your regular exercise schedule, plus some walking, running, or other activity that you enjoy, is one of the best things you can do for your health. Make this one of your go-to strategies for self-care this year and see the benefits it brings.