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Muscle in on your exercise

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

In this week's final edition on the Mediterranean lifestyle, we're looking at exercise.

Why do we need to be active?

You know you should. But are you? As the Mediterranean pyramid shows us, physical activity is one of the most important factors enhancing our health. If the residents of Sardinia have anything to show, having one of the longest average lifespans on the planet, daily activity is a must.

Take a seat because here’s the bad news. After about 30 years of age (YES 30!!) we start to lose up to 8% of our muscle mass every decade, and it gets faster after 60. Loss of muscle mass is technically known as sarcopenia. With less muscle mass, our metabolism slows down, our ability to utilise blood glucose as energy reduces and risk fo type 2 diabetes increases. In older age, with reduced muscle mass is an increased risk of falls and osteoporotic fractures.

Oh but the thought of exercise! Do you break out into a sweat at the mere mention of it? What about the self-limiting thoughts? “My back’s too sore today”, “My old hockey injury stops me”, “I’m too busy to fit it into my schedule”. We all have that internal chatter that defeats us before we even get started. That’s why I say it’s important to reframe your expectations.

What activity is best to maintain muscle mass?

There are many aspects of physical fitness. There is aerobic (not necessary the leg warmer variety of the 80s), strength, agility, power, flexibility and functional to name a few. They’re all important. However, to maintain our muscle mass, we need to focus on our strength, specifically with resistance training. Resistance exercise can improve bone density, lower blood pressure, improve self-confidence and mental wellbeing, improve posture and even improve sleep. Here’s the good news. Resistance training doesn’t have to mean lifting heavy weights at the gym, although it does have many benefits. Resistance exercise is any activity that involves pulling or pushing your limbs against an opposing force. Let’s look at a few alternatives to grunting in the gym:

  • Swimming and Aqua exercise classes: Exercise in water provides excellent resistance. You are pulling your body weight against the resistance of the water and working just about every muscle in the body.

  • Climbing stairs or hills: While technically a cardio workout because of the higher heart rate that climbing elicits, you are also lifting your own body weight against gravity. Adding stairs or hills into your daily walk is great for your leg & bottom muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves & gluteals). Climbing raises your heart rate quickly and is great for burning calories.

  • Push-ups: If you have good upper body strength, doing 2 round of 10-15 push ups will activate your chest, shoulders and triceps. If you’re just starting out, try doing push-ups on your knees rather than your toes. If you have bad knees you can still activate your upper body muscles by doing a push-up against a wall

  • Gardening: Some activities definitely involve pushing or pulling. Pushing a lawn-mower, lifting pots, digging soil and pulling up pesky weeds all count at exercise.

  • Resistance bands: Having a set of resistance bands is an excellent addition to your exercise regime. They’re affordable and extremely versatile.

How often do I need to do resistance training?

Frequency of exercise often depends on the intensity performed. Heavier workouts or a

super session in the pool should have 48 hours between workouts for muscle recovery.

Moderate intensity exercise such as walking with hills should be done for at least 30 minutes, 5 days per week. Whatever the activity you choose, be careful of any existing injuries. If you are unsure, get in touch and I’m more than happy to book in a consultation to get you started.

Tips for getting started

  • Set some realistic goals: If you don't have a regular exercise regime right now, commit to 3 times per week. Achieve that for 4 weeks, then build from there

  • Recruit your family into your goals: They don't necessarily have to do it with you, even though that's way more enjoyable and you're more likely to succeed. Even just confirming your commitment to your family will help cement your own objectives for yourself.

  • Celebrate your achievements: We love rewards. Set them, right them down and keep referring to them. It doesn't have to be food rewards (though a scoop of ice-cream as a reward does bring back childhood memories - just make sure it's balanced). Have a pedicure. Book in a massage. Buy a new journal. Whatever it is, own it and enjoy it.

So that's a wrap for my series on the Mediterranean way of eating (& living). We have talked whole grains, proteins, healthy fats and exercise. The Mediterranean regime really is one of, if not the most beneficial eating plans. It is easy to start, you don't have to give up any particular food and it's good for the whole family.


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