The secret to a healthier running life: consistency
Posted on 19 August 2019
The 2019 Sanlam Cape Town Marathon is on the horizon, which means one thing: it’s time to hit the road. But as these experts explain, that doesn’t mean dedicating your weekends to long runs – strength training, flexibility exercises, and above all, a consistent approach to physical activity, are all key to success on race day.
Between work and family responsibilities, many people simply don’t have the time to exercise during the week. But sports specialists caution “weekend warriors” about the value of consistency.
Are you a weekend warrior? This informal term refers to people who attempt to pack a week’s worth of exercise into just one or two days, frequently partaking in sports events or challenges without enough training time.
Before heading for a mountain trail run after five solid days in a chair or on the couch, here’s what you need to know.
It’s not exercise. It’s physical activity
How much exercise is too much? Paula Pienaar, a registered biokineticist and scientific advisor for EOH Health, says she prefers to call exercise “physical activity”. She adds that we often forget that physical activity can be as simple as mowing the lawn, performing housework, walking and climbing steps.
“The first thing to understand is that our bodies were made to move, to be physically active. It is one of the pillars of good health, along with nutrition and sleep. But often we feel obliged to exercise and we see it as a chore instead of the gift of movement,” she says.
Exercise boosts your metabolism and mood. It regulates your blood sugar and appetite and contributes to weight loss and muscle gain. It also improves concentration, relieves stress levels and helps you sleep better. However, many physicians warn that a weekend warrior’s intermittent bursts of exercise can lead to injuries, which is counterproductive if your ideal is to get fit.
Keep moving. Yes, every day
So how should we be exercising? There are varied opinions on the right amount of daily exercise. But a general rule of thumb for healthy people is to do at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (like a jog or cycle) on most, if not all, days of the week. Ideally, an exercise programme should be personalised with the help of a healthcare provider.
Ingrid Haiden of Claremont Physiotherapy understands the goal of most weekend warriors, but says exercise should always be purposeful as well as sustainable. “While I agree that some exercise is better than nothing, I believe that by doing nothing for five consecutive days of the week while sitting at in desk with your computer, the muscles become tight and weaken from disuse. If you then try to pack in a week’s exercise over two days, it can actually do more harm than good.”
Avoid common injuries
Common complaints of weekend warriors includes over-exertion, chest pain and injury to underused muscles.
Haiden explains that injuries occur when people who don’t train frequently push themselves beyond their fitness level. “As a physio, I often see strained muscles and sprained ligaments that could have been avoided by training more regularly and more specifically for sports events.”
Pienaar also believes that flexibility, mobility and strength should be individually focused on when exercising. “The physical activities recommended by the World Health Organization for health benefits include not only cardiovascular fitness – as is often the target for weekend warriors – but also strength training and flexibility. If you maintain flexibility, mobility and strength, your risk for injuries and chronic pain decreases. But this requires more than once-a-week stints on the sports field or road.”
Make the most of your weekend
Making the most of your weekend is not a bad thing. Planning adventurous workouts can mean that exercise is more fun than forcing yourself to go to the gym to run on the treadmill – as long as you also do your weekday workouts.
Set goals for yourself. If you’d like to be able to climb Table Mountain comfortably, for example, build yourself up to that fitness level by doing shorter hikes and exercising during the week.