How Much Exercise? (And the importance of putting it into your schedule!)

I am frequently asked by my clients how often I exercise (Hi Pete!). I think they are probably hoping I will say – not that much and you don’t have to do much either. (Are you having flashbacks to my last post? This one is different, I promise!). My goal is 5 times a week – 3 Pilates sessions and 2 cardio workouts. Plus a 5-10 minute morning stretch before my first client arrives and a walk at lunchtime every day.

One reason to plan to take this much exercise is that it adds to the amount of movement I am getting each day (see my last post – But another main reason is that we need to exercise more frequently if we are going to achieve the goals that lead us to exercise. Those goals can be varied – good long-term health, weight loss, more strength or tone, to improve balance, to build bone density, to get out of pain, better posture. Or all of the above! Whatever your goal, it won’t be easy (possible?) to achieve it if you only address it once a week. Many of us exercise because we know we should, so if we come to class once a week we can tick exercise off our list and feel good about ourselves. Which is a great start. But if you want to make goal-related progress, once a week isn’t really enough. 2 sessions per week as a minimum, 3 even better. Joseph Pilates is famous for saying, “In 10 sessions, you feel better, 20 sessions you look better, 30 sessions you have a completely new body.” Note he didn’t say in 10 weeks you feel better. If you wanted Mr. Pilates to train you, you had to commit to 3 times a week for 10 weeks or he wouldn’t take you on as a client.

This isn’t my way of trying to drum up more business for myself (as it is I have almost no spare time in my teaching schedule!). But research on health and exercise invariably shows that more is merrier. And it is becoming more and more apparent that it doesn’t really matter what form of exercise you choose as long as you do it and do it often. So finding a form of exercise that you LOVE is the key. For me, at the moment, that is Pilates. I love that there is always a further level of depth to the exercises and a further level of difficulty of exercise – there is always more to achieve. I am still learning new things about my body and about the Pilates method every day.

But just because I love Pilates doesn’t mean you should too. You may prefer salsa dancing or wall climbing or hiking or tennis. Or a martial art, fencing, yoga, football, the outdoor gym in Primrose Hill, running, biking. Or a combination – probably the healthiest choice of all!

Whatever form of exercise you decide to try, the most important thing is to schedule it into your diary. However good your intentions, if you don’t put it into your diary ahead of time, it is extremely unlikely to happen. I listed my exercise goals at the beginning of this post: the truth is I rarely achieve it all. The exercise sessions that always happen (as long as I am not away) are my Saturday Pilates private with my teacher Rebecca Convey in Crouch End, my Tuesday evening group skype Pilates class with my American mentor Shari Berkowitz and my Sunday morning cardio + Pilates own practise session. Because they are in my schedule and I have committed financially and emotionally to doing them.

When formulating your exercise goals, make sure you find a way to put actual exercise session times into your schedule and not just think – I’ll fit it in when I can. If it’s not in your diary it is extremely unlikely to happen! If Pilates is your thing, try online Pilates classes at Pilates Anytime. Or find a training buddy to go for runs or to the outdoor gym with. Or google classes in a new sport that you have wondered about trying, or experiment with a bunch of different movement classes through Class Pass –  Whatever kind of exercise you decide to do – SCHEDULE IT!

One more important thing. When you go off and try your new class or sport, don’t forget to take everything you have learnt from me about good alignment with you. Biomechanist Katy Bowman talks about how much of our exercise is ‘junk food exercise’ – exercise that gives limited benefit because it is done with poor alignment. Make sure your exercise is nutritious, not junky!

P.S. I know I am the easy answer to increasing your exercise frequency if you are already working out with me. If you want to add in more sessions, I’m afraid I probably won’t be able to accommodate you. But Tracey might be able to. And after Easter I am adding an extra mat class on Tuesday mornings at 9 as my other two classes are oversubscribed. So I may be able to squeeze you into one of those. But don’t just rely on me – think outside the box!


How Much Movement?

I am frequently asked by my clients how often I exercise. I think they are probably hoping I will say – not that much and you don’t have to do much either! You and they know, however, that I won’t say that. Almost all of us need to exercise more (and I will say more about that in my next post – How Much Exercise?). Even more importantly, almost all of us need to MOVE more.

What’s the difference, you ask? EXERCISE is an activity that is focused on a particular kind of movement with particular goals that you have set aside anything from 10 minutes to an hour to achieve. It is walking, yoga, pilates, tennis, working out at the gym, basketball, rock climbing, hiking, salsa dancing etc etc. MOVEMENT is just not being static. It includes the prescribed exercise that happens once, twice or three times a week in a class. But it is mostly what your body does (or doesn’t do) in the approximately 112 other waking hours in your week.

More and more research is showing that being static is pretty bad for us. Being static and sedentary adversely affects our health, our joints and soft tissues, even our brains. Sitting is the new smoking, but now that many people are getting standing desks we are realising that standing statically isn’t that much better. We are animals and we are designed to move. In the natural world we would have to use our bodies to find and prepare food (and therefore have physically worked for the calories we are consuming – but that’s another post on why so many of us struggle with our weight) as well as build and maintain our shelter, run away from predators, etc. In our modern world almost no movement is required of us as we move from bed to car/bus to office chair to sofa.

So how do we incorporate more movement into our daily lives when our modern life is designed around sedentary behaviour? We have to consciously make it happen by giving ourselves prompts:

  • Set a timer on your phone to beep every 15 minutes to remind you to do a quick stretch.
  • Every time you send an email get up from your desk, wiggle around, then sit back down in a slightly different position.
  • Walk around when you are talking on the phone.
  • Put your laptop in different places – at a standing desk, on your dining table so you sit on a chair, on your coffee table so you have to sit down cross-legged or kneeling to use it. And change that place every 15 or 20 minutes.
  • Stand and ‘surf’ on the tube or bus rather than sitting.
  • Get up every time the ads come on TV.
  • Get down on the floor to play with your kids/read a book/file your nails.
  • Squat rather than bend over to fold the laundry.
  • Every time you walk through a doorway reach up with both hands and tap the top of the frame.
  • Whenever you walk past your husband/wife/partner/pet, grab them and do a little jig or slow dance together for a moment (they will love it – don’t we all need more attention?!) Or it could be a quick shadow box if they’ve been annoying you…

At this point I am making things up, and so can you.

It’s not that hard to put more movement into practise if you make a decision to do so. Start now! Stand up and wiggle. Or go out for a walk (because soon I will post about more EXERCISE).

Healthy Movement Prescription

I am frequently asked how often people should exercise. The question I would prefer people to ask is how much should they move. Our society has become increasingly sedentary, with both work life and home life being based around a seated position, more often than not a similar position in a chair or sofa repeated from one venue to the next. Recent research is showing that taking exercise a few times a week, whatever the style, is not enough to counteract the ill-effects of the hours and hours of sitting that have become our norm. Our cells nourish themselves through movement, so to stay healthy we need to be far more active than is currently normal. However that activity doesn’t have to be a ‘workout’, it can simply be regularly changing the shape in which we hold our bodies. It’s easy to forget about moving around while caught up in the busy workday, so it can be helpful to tie movement and changing positions into events that happen regularly during the day:

Commuting to work: replace all or a section of your commute with walking.
If taking the tube, walk up the escalator. Stand up in the tube or on the bus – if you are pretty stable, practice standing without holding on to challenge your balance and make your commute a workout.

At your desk: invest in a sitting/standing workstation and alternate between positions.

Sit/stand workstation

If that isn’t possible kick your shoes off and explore how many different seated positions you can find on your chair (cross-legged, one leg tucked under with the other on the floor, kneeling…) and then change position frequently. It can be useful to tie this in to a reminder – for example every time you send or receive an email stand up, look away from your computer screen to rest your eyes, then sit back down in a different position.

On the phone: never sit down to make a phone call. Walk around while you talk. An added bonus – If it’s an ‘important’ call you will automatically sound more authoritative if you are standing up.

Bathroom breaks: if possible use a loo on a different floor of your home or building so you walk up and down the stairs each time

Mealtimes: experiment with changing your mealtime venue. Set your placemats on your coffee table and kneel, Japanese-style, to eat your meal. Take more picnics, even indoor ones. Sit on a blanket, with a few extra cushions for the stiffer members of the family!

japanese dining table

Reading/watching TV: stand up and stretch every time there is an ad break or you come to the end of a chapter. When you sit down again, choose a different position from the one you were in before. Best option – sit on the floor. You won’t be comfortable staying still in the same position for very long, which will make you move around without thinking about it.

Schedule a daily walk. Escape your TV and laptop screens and increase your daily dose of fresh air. Build up to a minimum of 30 minutes daily and try to add one longer walk per week.


Free your feet: as a bonus extra to all of the changes above, ensure you are looking after your feet. Thanks to a lifetime of wearing rigid shoes with heels and narrow toe boxes, our feet are frequently the most immobile and un-innervated parts of our bodies. So slip your shoes off whenever you can – let your feet breathe and move! For walking, start to transition into minimal shoes: vibram five fingers and vivobarefoot are good choices. However your foot needs to adapt to getting less support from your shoe, so start with short amounts of time walking in your minimal shoes and build up gradually. Try to walk on natural ground rather than manmade surfaces as much as possible.
For a fuller analysis of the foot have a look at the Foot section of this blog.