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If I had a pound for every time a client asked me “How do I get a six-pack?”, I’d definitely not be living in my teeny box flat in London. Tirelessly I have tried to respond appropriately to this question. Firstly to explain that exercise alone will not help you achieve a six pack. But more importantly that I think these popular aesthetic goals shouldn't be the sole reason to exercise.

I’m not a psychologist so will try to avoid the “why” behind wanting such unsustainable aesthetic bodies (read: SELFIE – Will Storr), but in this blog I will try to cover the many more amazing reasons to exercise. Reasons that will help rather than hinder your life. Ones that will hopefully help you appreciate rather than hate exercise.

So, if you glanced the “How to get a six-pack” question and hoped to find an answer here, please read no further.

Am I fit without a six-pack?

Before I begin, I should highlight that this study boils down to this:

- It is impossible to measure one’s health and fitness by a six-pack. -

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not here to put down anyone that does have a cheese-grater stomach, but what I’d like to stress is that this aesthetic is not a measure of a person’s health. Among other things, a six-pack is largely to do with body-fat percentage. It is therefore by no means a scale of a persons health and fitness. It is perfectly normal to be the strongest, fittest version of you without having visible abs.

FACT: The strongest and healthiest person in a room full of athletes could have ZERO popping abdominals.

With that in mind, this chat will outline why I think there is more to exercise than a physical result.

After all, optimum health does not exclusively rely on looking “shredded"!

But, I'll get more 'likes' with a six-pack...

Six-packs have their place (usually behind a selfie camera or on a body-building competition stage) and you’re in good company if you’ve once / still wish you had that body. I too have battled for years with hating my body and setting myself unrealistic aesthetic goals (a story for another blog!). However, what I’ve come to learn through years of both self-practice and training others is that exercise is usually unsustainable when driven by a near-impossible goal. And ultimately, are you actually going to be happier if you can see your abs popping out?

It’s been a long road for me to accept that popping abs do not make me happier. What does make me happy is not having to say no to gelato on holiday. Is saying yes to dinner with family, and not freaking out when gym-plans have to be rescheduled.

- Popping abs might look impressive behind an Instagram filter, but will your family and friends love you more for your wash-board stomach? -

Am I even exercising if I’m not hard-core gymming?

When exercise becomes something we “have to” or “should” do, maybe we should re-assess the why behind our routine. For the everyday person (and I’m not singling you out – we, most of us, aren’t professional athletes), exercise can quite often feel intimidating, overwhelming... you name it, I’ve felt it. So, rather than feel drowned by an aesthetic goal, why not change the way you view exercise? If we look at exercise for all of its benefits – mental and physical – we might just find peace with it.

In an era flooded with intimidatingly attractive “#fitspo” selfies along with a confusing amount of exercise information, it’s no wonder that many of us feel like stopping before we even “start”. BUT – here’s the thing…

Exercise does not have to mean spending hours ‘pumping iron’ in the gym. It doesn’t have to mean running a marathon or doing 500 sit-ups.

So what is exercise?

- Exercise can be dancing around your house in pants. -

...It can be going for a long walk with a friend. It can be attempting some child-hood gymnastics in the garden, attending a yoga class or cleaning your oven (it’s a workout, I tell ya!) All of these things qualify as exercise.

That’s not to say that lifting weights or embarking on an endurance running plan doesn’t have its place. But if you find yourself in a defeated state from too many overwhelming Instagram workout ads, perhaps starting with a walk around your local park is what you need.

Because the great news is, ‘exercise’ at its most basic is simply:

..."moving the body while using your muscles and expending energy".

So, all of the above are examples of activities that will benefit you both physically and mentally. And ultimately that’s why we should exercise, right?

The benefits we forget…

I don’t have to give you an extensive list of the physical benefits of exercise. We all know that along with balanced nutrition (I won’t expand as I’m not a nutritionist!), regular exercise can help give you a healthy heart, strong bones, reduced risk of chronic diseases etc. But what about the mental benefits?

Without getting too “sciency” with you, exercise is an incredible mental tool as it promotes a number of changes in the brain such as neural growth and reduced inflammation. Just like eating chocolate, exercise helps release more endorphins in the brain, which is a natural mood-booster and pain-reducer. It can also help relax muscles, reduce tension, create good habits, improve concentration, motivation, memory and ultimately draw a big highlight on all of the good mental stuff that we all need and love! All of which can help or alleviate symptoms of stress, trauma, anxiety and so on…

An example:

Though anxiety and depression are complex and unique illnesses, with no “magic wand” cure, studies suggest that light exercise can help reduce symptoms of mild to moderate depression as effectively as anti-depressants. (That’s not to say that exercise can be easily accessible in these instances - lack of motivation and low-energy are typical side-effects of anxiety and depression, so exercise might feel like the last thing in the world you’d like to do!). However, in addition to relieving symptoms, as little as 15 minutes’ walk per day can help prevent relapses. So, inserting that little energy-output into one of your better days might be a little kick start to some great things.

Mental benefits don’t stop there. Exercise is also an effective tool for stress-busting. Typical physical effects that stress can have on the body include tension build, exhaustion, insomnia, headaches, stomach cramps, to name a few!... But the JOY of exercise is not only that our friend Mrs Endorphins will come out to play, but on a physical level it can help unravel tension, alleviate exhaustion and lead to a darn good sleep!

Who else? - The above don’t mean you have to be in a vulnerable state initially to feel the benefits of exercise. The list of mental benefits for anyone and everyone are endless. To name a few of my fave:

- Exercise can help encourage the growth of new brain cells, allowing for sharper thinking and improved memory skills. So, NO BRAINER! (or BIG brainer?!) – Dance around the house a couple times this week and you could be on your way to becoming next Einstein - hehe!!)

- Exercise helps promote better sleep! – More time for other fun stuff!

- More energy. More partying?

And my absolute favourite, and in truth the one that has personally been a saving grace over the years:

- Improved self esteem.

You go Glen Coco!

So, I dare you to go out and enjoy exercise. Do something fun. Invite a friend out to dance! Book on to an aerobics class. Reap the benefits without fixating on an aesthetic goal.

- Move because you thank your body, NOT because you hate it. -

If you learn to enjoy regular exercise, it’ll fit into your life without pressure. For those of you struggling with increasing your energy-expenditure without having to turn to a “7 day a week obsessive gym plan”, I will touch on more fun exercise ideas and confidence-building in the gym in future blogs. But for now, enjoy moving, remind yourself of the real benefits, and I promise you’ll love the most important results.

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