The exercise trap
On the run … busy women need to be ready to squeeze in exercise at any time. Photo: Getty Images (posed by models)
Bronwyn Covill, 47, is the ultimate exercise opportunist. A working mother of two, she keeps her gym clothes in her car so she is always prepared should an occasion arise for her to break a sweat.
"Like lots of mums, I work but I also like to work out," says Covill, a project manager for a Melbourne private-equity company. "I keep my exercise gear in the car, so I can fit in a quick run after work. Sometimes all I have is a half-hour window, but that's enough." She also schedules gym visits when her children, aged seven and nine, are at their own sporting activities. "I'll do a pump class or, if I'm short on time, cardio and free weights. During daylight saving, I run after the kids go to bed."
Covill is clearly super motivated, because it's frightening how easily exercise can sink to the bottom of the to-do list for anyone with a job, kids or an active social life. Australia's National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity – such as walking – on most days of the week. "Regular exercise can lead to lowered blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, and reduced risk of type 2 diabetes," says Professor Steve Selig, clinical exercise physiologist at the school of exercise and nutrition sciences at Deakin University in Melbourne. "It'll also help you to manage your weight, prevent some cancers, and reduce depression and insomnia."
Finding 30 minutes a day to go for a stroll shouldn't be hard, yet 60 per cent of us aren't meeting our daily exercise quota, according to a recent report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. "The biggest reason given for not exercising is lack of time," says associate professor Steve Boutcher, director of the Fat Loss Laboratory at the faculty of medicine, University of NSW.
For many women, though, exercising is simply not a priority. "Fitness is the first thing we tend to drop when we're busy, although it should be the last," says Dr Suzy Green, a Sydney psychologist. "Women tend to be mindful of other people's needs, and put those before their own."
Research conducted by Boutcher found we don't even necessarily need 30 minutes a day. According to his study published in the Journal of Obesity last year, 20 minutes of interval training (whereby, for example, you sprint for eight seconds and rest for 12) is much more beneficial for health. "Depending on your fitness goal, whether it's weight loss, weight management or improved quality of sleep, not everybody needs 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week," he says.
And does it matter when you do it? According to Boutcher, exercising first thing in the morning will burn more visceral fat (which mainly sits around your stomach). But Dr Nathan Johnson, exercise physiologist at the University of Sydney, says this might be the wrong message to send to people who have trouble starting or sticking with exercise. "The most important message is to do it regularly and select exercises [and times] that you enjoy and will stick with."
Johnson says the most important points to remember when exercising are to use your large muscles (such as the legs), and increase the heart rate for at least 30 minutes. And, he adds, exercise doesn't even have to be in your gym gear. Every step, literally, counts. "It may be walking the kids to school, or walking part of the way to work ... Small, incidental amounts [of exercise] count, too."
TIME TO GET FIT
"I go to a 24-hour gym and do my fitness program when I finish my shift [even if it's 3am]. Then I go home and either sleep or relax, which I can't do unless I've worked out."
Erin Williams, 29, owner of a security company in Melbourne.
"You can't do much when the kids are around, hanging off you. Putting the kids into crèche [at the local gym] gives me time to do a circuit class."
Meredith Makeham, Sydney GP and mother of four young children.
"If I do an early-morning shift, I can go for a jog or a swim at the beach on the way home from work in the early afternoon. Other days, I might get to do a morning yoga lass, or an evening aqua-aerobics class – it helps to keep me motivated."
Julia Kelly, 49, a Sydney-based flight attendant for Tiger Airways.
Be clear on what's important to you. If you value your health, then you need to make time to exercise.
Draw up your weekly schedule. Put in five 30-minute sessions of exercise. If this is impossible, schedule in three sessions of 60 minutes.
Make it simple – and achievable. For instance, don't join a gym that's an hour's drive away.
Buy new training gear.
Make exercise fun and social. Catch up with friends for a walk or play a team sport such as netball.
Dr Suzy Green, psychologist
From: Sunday Life