While working in Australia for a professional football club in 2007, my father suffered a massive stroke, was pronounced dead, and somehow miraculously came back to life and pulled through after months in the Intensive Care Unit . He came out the other side with no use of his left side, but retained his memory, speech, language, and sense of humour. These days he enjoys life to the fullest in his electric wheelchair that he named Michael Collins (because it gives him a measure of independence, and serves as a stepping stone to the ultimate freedom). Today he appreciates every minute he spends with friends and family, and is very thankful for pulling through the hard times. One can only wonder would could his stroke, and the anguish of our family at the thought of loosing a loved one, been avoided had he been more active and looked after himself a bit better in the days of bipedalism long ago. Maybe if the national plan on physical activity that was released last week was in place back then things could have been different. One way or another, its sure to prolong the lives of many Irish people in the near and distant future if we make the decision now to lead healthier and more active lives. The national plan on physical activity is a huge step in the right direction for Ireland. Here are 5 ways that you can really make a physically active lifestyle stick, and make it more than the flurry of exercise that comes at the beginning of a new year, leading up to an important family get-together, or after a few stern words from the GP.

1. Have a reason to be active

Give your physical activity a purpose by taking the stairs when you can, parking your car a bit further away from the door of the supermarket, make a list of physical ‘to-do’s’ that need to be done around the house (such as mending that fence, painting the living room, clearing out the garage, or setting up that home-office). Attaching a distinct purpose to your physical activity makes you active without knowing it, and lets you hit two birds with the one stone! Cycling to work makes you healthier, gets you to work, and you avoid the traffic and parking costs. Walking the dog makes your bestie happy, and keeps you fit!

2. Do it with Friends

Join a walking group, create a social circle of friends who want to be active, go to the gym with a friend, start helping out at your local allotment, or get in with a club. Having a social circle around you that supports a physical lifestyle is another way of helping you build your new lifestyle and make it stick. Your group can organise a specific time to meet up, give each other a bit of accountability and encouragement, and make the whole experience a fun and enriching one.

3. Make it a routine

Routines are one of the main keys to success when it comes to developing new habits in just about any area of your life, If you want to be more physically active, piggy-back your exercise sessions to things that are already solid parts of your daily routine. If you go for coffee on Sunday morning, make it a habit to go for a walk afterwards. If you get the bus to work in the morning, make it a habit to walk halfway or a third of the way to work before catching the bus. If you get a lunch break at 1pm every day, make it a habit to get out of the office and walk to that healthy food joint around the corner.

4. Do what you did before

If you have been inactive for one reason or another in recent years, think of what you used to do the last time you had an active lifestyle, and start getting back into the things that you once enjoyed so much. If you played GAA but became inactive after you hung up the boots, blow the dust of your hurley and get out for a few pucks in Fitzgerald park at the weekend. If you enjoyed tennis, get a partner to have a gentle hit-out with. If hill walking was your thing, then look up the local hiking clubs! You might not be able to get back to the same level you were at, but you are never to old to enjoy the sports you once loved in one shape or form.

5. Get the right guidance

A lot of the people that I deal with on a day to day basis are unsure  of how to get started, what type of exercise to do, what food to eat, and how to keep all great new habits going while maintaining work schedules, family life, and social life. Really, there is no secret. Get active doing something that you enjoy, with people that you enjoy being with. Eat healthy food, and do it consistently, and on a regular basis. ‘Easier said than done’ you might be saying. In that case, seek the guidance of a professional in your local area that can help you. You know you are getting help from the right person when the advice you are getting makes sense, sounds engaging and interesting, and gives you the leg-up you need to lead a long and healthy life. Life is there to be lived, so don’t let it pass you by!

This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.

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