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Soon after Christmas and New Celebrations, it is probably true to say that fitness centres become unusually busy, numbers being boosted by all those who have obviously enjoyed themselves over the festive period but are aware that they have gained a few extra pounds in unwanted weight.

Are these people there because of their appearance? Is it because they do not like the change in their appearance that has come about over the preceding five weeks? FIVE weeks? Well, while Christmas and New Year really last only one week or so, the celebrations usually start about a month before the actual festivals themselves. Quite a lot of unwanted weight can be gained during that time.

The previous paragraphs suggest a rather a cynical and pessimistic point of view. Maybe these visitors to the fitness centres actually go because they know that they need to gain the full benefits of exercise. However, the numbers usually drop back again to their normal levels from the end of February onwards. Maybe those New Year Resolutions were founded on the fear of not looking so trim rather than on an appreciation of what the full benefits of exercise are.

What, then, are the full benefits?

Certainly, if anyone IS overweight, it is in their interests to reduce the unwanted pounds but not just for the sake of appearances. A better appearance is just a desirable secondary outcome of exercise.

The real reasons for exercise should be as follows.

1. To lose unwanted weight (i.e. fat!) yes, because doing so benefits the general health; in particular losing weight lessens strain on the heart and can help prevent Type 2 diabetes.

2. To increase the general health of the body to avoid, for example, osteoporosis, poor digestions, lower back pain and sleeplessness.

3. To improve muscle tone for good posture, to be able to cope with tougher jobs, to increase stamina, strengthen the heart and lungs, reduce the chances of cancer, help prevent high blood pressure etc.

4. To improve balance and the flexibility of joints.

5. To maintain good mental health because exercise helps us to deal more efficiently with anxiety, stress and even depression.

It is sometimes thought that exercise to take advantage of all these benefits needs to be undertaken in a fitness club but this is not really so. Joining a fitness club has its benefits. Members can get professional advice from a fitness trainer, advice suited their needs and to their starting fitness levels but the actual need to travel to a fitness centre and to joining others doing the same thing can be a motivating factor. There can also be social benefits from membership.

However, getting fit can be achieved without joining such a centre although it is advisable to acknowledge three important requirements.

1. First, check with a doctor that certain types exercise will not aggravate any existing negative health conditions.

2. Get advice from reading or watching fitness DVDs before starting out on exercise. To get the most out of exercise, it is best to prepare a programme of activities in advance.

3. Age also needs to be borne in mind. Obviously, the potential of a very active 18 year old is not the same as that of a previously sedentary 50 year old. It is also true, though, that a 70 year old – yes, a 70 year old CAN benefit from getting fitter either alone at home or in a gym – that a 70 year old may not achieve as much as the sedentary 50 year old although there are definitely exceptions to that assumption.

4. Remember, too, that a healthy diet is an important factor in getting fit and staying fit. There is more about this on my website (see below).

To sum up, common sense needs to prevail. Get written or spoken guidance, start gently and have reasonable, attainable goals. If all these factors are kept in mind the healthier life achieved will lead to a happier life.

And the trim pre-Christmas figure can also be regained!

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