Daily exercise – why you should (and why you would) do it…

How often do you exercise? And for how long? Some people might answer twice a week, three times… some maybe more – but every day? Most people probably won’t give you that answer.

As part of my Edinburgh Award, I wanted to explore what kind of techniques would allow me to work more effectively and efficiently as well as improving my focus and concentration. One of the things that I chose to try was daily exercise and getting out in nature.

About a year ago, along with a lot of people at the start of the pandemic, I baked a lot of banana bread and I also picked up running by doing ‘Couch to 5K’. This was mostly due to being in lockdown with my family and not working over the summer so daily exercise and escaping the house was the only way I was probably going to stay sane. The jury is still out on that one…

Anyway, starting to exercise for around 30 minutes, 3 days a week was really tough! I was exhausted afterward and it took me a really long time to get into the rhythm of it. Running is a tough sport! However, doing it taught me to be far more disciplined with myself and helped me appreciate my body for its abilities, strength and resilience. After completing Couch to 5K, I decided to complete a charity challenge and ran 100K in September to raise money for Cancer Research UK. I raised over £300 for the charity in that month and felt great about what I had accomplished!

However, then winter hit. For all of us who live in Edinburgh, well, we know what that’s like. It’s dark, cold, windy and wet and generally not conducive to outdoor exercise. I wasn’t really sure what to do next and felt quite lost with my running. I went through a few months of running occasionally on and off – not really sure how to improve and feeling like I was fumbling around in the dark (no pun intended!).

Around February this year, I decided I would try and get back into running. I signed up for my first ever (virtual!) 5K race with Runderwear and started to train for it. They provided all their entrants with an 8-week training plan and I only had 7 weeks to get ready for it as I entered late! However, the training plan really, really helped me get back into running! I ran 4 times a week for 7 weeks, different types of runs each time: easy runs, fartlek runs, interval runs, long runs, and all at different paces and efforts! It was a steep learning curve but so worth it! It helped me fall back in love with exercise, gave me a goal and I got myself there – with a little help!

Now, you’re probably wondering what has all this got to do with work? Well, there are many, many, MANY articles that talk about how exercise affects cognitive abilities and functions, and here are a few of my favourites:

You don’t necessarily need to read the articles to believe me when I say that exercise improves your energy levels, your ability to focus, your memory, your mental health, your physical condition… the list goes on. If you’re already exercising regularly, you’ll have seen these benefits over some time. As a beginner runner (and beginner everything else!), I have noticed these changes over the past few months. I feel more confident in my body’s ability to bounce back from injury or strain, I enjoy getting outside to run or walk or just move my body in one way or another – even if it’s only around the block – and I feel good knowing that I’m doing something positive for my body and mind and I can feel the difference. I feel the difference in my stress levels, my ability to focus and my mood. It’s helped me maintain an optimistic outlook through the last 18 months of chaos.

In the last few weeks, I haven’t managed to do as much exercise as I wanted. I think this has been due to a few factors, but mostly adjusting to a new 9 to 5 work schedule and moving out of my student accommodation and home for the rest of the summer which is always exhausting! Setting these goals within the Edinburgh Award and giving myself a chance to experiment with my daily routine has been a fabulous opportunity so far and I’m so grateful to the team here for giving me the chance to do this.

In the last week, I’ve exercised 5 days in a row for around 30 minutes, whether that be weightlifting or running or walking, and I haven’t felt this strong or energised in a while. I have felt more effective at work and more engaged in meetings. It’s certainly not something I’m going to be giving up any time soon and I would recommend anyone reading this to experiment with their exercise routine as well. It doesn’t have to be running or weights or a gym class – there are so many sports out there like hiking or swimming or climbing or team sports like football, netball or rugby. Find something you enjoy and don’t be afraid to get stuck in because the results are definitely worth it!

P.S. If you are a beginner runner and, like me, got a bit stuck after ‘Couch to 5K’ have a read of this article that I was lucky enough to be featured in about what’s next after ‘Couch to 5K’?

Header image: “Running Girl” by aarmono is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0