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Just what the doctor ordered: advice for keeping physically active

Looking after our physical and mental health is important during the current Covid-19 pandemic. To offer a range of information and advice to help you support a healthy lifestyle, co-founder of Scalesceugh Hall & Villas, Dr Anita Herdeiro, is sharing regular articles ('Just what the doctor ordered') focusing on different aspects related to our health and wellness. In her second article, Dr Herdeiro focuses on the importance of exercise.

Dr Anita Herdeiro, Scalesceugh Hall & Villas
Dr Anita Hedeiro

With lockdown and us all spending more time indoors at home, there is an increased awareness that the higher our BMI, the greater the chance we could develop conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and of course, Covid-19. Being inactive can also worsen existing health problems.

Focusing on maintaining or increasing our fitness during the pandemic is therefore crucial, enabling us to reduce that excess fat we could have gained, and allowing us to become stronger and boost our cardiovascular health. This in turns enables us to engage in more activities as we age.

As well as being beneficial for our physical health, regular exercise also helps our mental health. It can alleviate social isolation, anxiety and depression, and boost our mood.

The below article I sourced from Healthline explains the top 10 benefits of regular exercise. You can read the full article here.

1. It Can Make You Feel Happier

Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. It produces changes in the parts of the brain that regulate stress and anxiety. It can also increase brain sensitivity for the hormones serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression.

Additionally, exercise can increase the production of endorphins, which are known to help produce positive feelings and reduce the perception of pain.

2. It Can Help With Weight Loss

While dieting, a reduced calorie intake will lower your metabolic rate, which will delay weight loss. On the contrary, regular exercise has been shown to increase your metabolic rate, which will burn more calories and help you lose weight

3. It Is Good for Your Muscles and Bones

As people age, they tend to lose muscle mass and function, which can lead to injuries and disabilities. Practicing regular physical activity is essential to reducing muscle loss and maintaining strength as you age.

4. It Can Increase Your Energy Levels

Exercise can be a real energy booster for healthy people, as well as those suffering from various medical conditions. One study found that six weeks of regular exercise reduced feelings of fatigue for 36 healthy people who had reported persistent fatigue.

Furthermore, exercise can significantly increase energy levels for people suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and other serious illnesses. In fact, exercise seems to be more effective at combating CFS than other treatments, including passive therapies like relaxation and stretching, or no treatment at all.

Additionally, exercise has been shown to increase energy levels in people suffering from progressive illnesses, such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

5. It Can Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease

Lack of regular physical activity is a primary cause of chronic disease. Regular exercise has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular fitness and body composition, yet decrease blood pressure and blood fat levels.

In contrast, a lack of regular exercise — even in the short term — can lead to significant increases in belly fat, which increases the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and early death.

6. It Can Help Skin Health

Your skin can be affected by the amount of oxidative stress in your body. Oxidative stress occurs when the body’s antioxidant defences cannot completely repair the damage that free radicals cause to cells. This can damage their internal structures and deteriorate your skin.

Even though intense and exhaustive physical activity can contribute to oxidative damage, regular moderate exercise can increase your body’s production of natural antioxidants, which help protect cells.

In the same way, exercise can stimulate blood flow and induce skin cell adaptations that can help delay the appearance of skin aging.

7. It Can Help Your Brain Health and Memory

To begin with, it increases your heart rate, which promotes the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain. It can also stimulate the production of hormones that can enhance the growth of brain cells.

Regular physical activity is especially important in older adults since aging — combined with oxidative stress and inflammation — promotes changes in brain structure and function.

Exercise has been shown to cause the hippocampus, a part of the brain that’s vital for memory and learning, to grow in size. This serves to increase mental function in older adults.

Lastly, exercise has been shown to reduce changes in the brain that can cause Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia.

8. It Can Help With Relaxation and Sleep Quality

Regular exercise can help you relax and sleep better. In regards to sleep quality, the energy depletion that occurs during exercise stimulates recuperative processes during sleep.

One study found that 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week can provide up to a 65% improvement in sleep quality.

I tend to find a lot of my patients turn to sleeping medications not by choice, but because they think it is the only option, blaming the ageing process affecting the quality of their sleep. I have seen some real success through promoting exercise and a sleep hygiene routine.

9. It Can Reduce Pain

Chronic pain can be debilitating, but exercise can actually help reduce it. Several studies show that exercise can help control pain that’s associated with various health conditions, including chronic low back pain, fibromyalgia and chronic soft tissue shoulder disorder, to name a few.

Additionally, physical activity can also raise pain tolerance and decrease pain perception.

10. It Can Promote a Better Sex Life

Exercise has been proven to boost sex drive. I have several patients who will seek advice about their erectile dysfunction or reduced sexual drive which starts to affect their mood. We have to exclude any serious illness which maybe related to cardiovascular disease, but many times a good history of their lifestyle is very important.

Engaging in regular exercise can strengthen the cardiovascular system, improve blood circulation, tone muscles and enhance flexibility, all of which can improve your sex life.

One study found that a simple routine of a six-minute walk around the house helped 41 men reduce their erectile dysfunction symptoms by 71%.

Another study performed in 78 sedentary men revealed how 60 minutes of walking per day (three and a half days per week, on average) improved their sexual behaviour, including frequency, adequate functioning and satisfaction.

What’s more, a study demonstrated that women suffering from polycystic ovary syndrome, which can reduce sex drive, increased their sex drive with regular resistance training for 16 weeks.

With gyms and our usual face-to-face PT sessions or classes being inaccessible, we have been forced to become far more resourceful with ways to keep fit – from online classes and fitness apps, to spending more time getting to know our local outdoors with regular walks. These can also be very frustrating times if you live alone, trying to motivate yourself when you may suffer from aches and pains in your joints, or when it is a gloomy rainy day outside. This is why I always recommend creating a routine, and to consider signing up to an app where you may be part of a group to increase your accountability to exercise.

There are a whole variety of exercises that I recommend to my patients, depending on what we are trying to achieve and obviously what is realistic. As well as being effective, they should also be safe and tailored to an individual’s own ability.

At-home workouts

At-home workouts are an easy way to keep active, as they can be easily fitted into your day in the convenience of your own home.

If you don't currently do any workouts, it's important to start slow and build slowly to avoid injury, so look for beginners classes and always start with a warm up to get your body ready for moving.

There is a huge variety of fitness workouts online for all abilities.

I personally like workouts by Jo Wicks (The Body Coach) who is currently one of the UK's most well-known fitness instructors. You can find various workouts on his YouTube channel, with some only 15-20 minutes long so easy to fit into your day.

Gentle but effective at home exercise classes I would recommend include Tai Chi and yoga.

Tai Chi is a meditative practice that is excellent for seniors. Similar to yoga, using slow, deliberate movements and positions, it is low impact and so can be done everyday. You can find lots of video routines online and on Youtube for yoga and Tai Chi.


Walking is an easy exercise which can be tailored to suit all ages and abilities. Whether you're getting out for a short stroll around your neighbourhood, or venturing out for longer walks in nearby countryside, getting outside in the fresh air can do our physical and mental health a world of good.

Even when it's cold and wet outside, you can still get your steps in by walking around your house or up and down the stairs.

Wearing a fitness tracker, such as a Fitbit, can be beneficial in measuring your step count and enables you to set daily step targets to keep you motivated. I also use apps such as Strava or MapMyWalk on my mobile phone to monitor my step count. Apps can also allow you to compete with friends and family to outdo one another’s daily or weekly step count - it's a great way to keep you engaged with your fitness.


Cycling is a great exercise for aging bodies as it is a low-impact activity which helps work the cardiovascular system whilst having a minimal strain on joints.

Even with limited mobility, cycling is typically gentle enough to be accessible for most older adults. Biking can be enjoyed outdoors on a standard or electric motor-assisted bike, whilst it can also be done indoors with either a bike trainer or a variety of stationary bikes.

What is important with exercise is to do it regularly and build it into your lifestyle. Your more likely to do it if you enjoy it and can feel the benefits.

To read Dr Herdeiro's tips and advice for mental health, read her first article here.


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