words by Kathleen Fleming

“Balance is beautiful.” –  Miyoko Ohno

In all aspects of our lives finding balance is important. Balancing work with other areas of our lives, balancing our diets and balancing a healthy lifestyle with a social life are some of the balancing acts we are faced with. Doing any one thing too much can adversely affect the delicate equilibrium of our bodies and minds, possibly leading to illness, emotional issues and injury. But finding balance in our busy lives is a challenge and it sometimes requires us to move out of our comfort-zone and change long-standing, unsupportive habits.

Our exercise routine is something a lot of us struggle to balance. Some of us run, some of us love yoga and some of us enjoy lifting heavy weights. We all have our workout preferences but it is important to try to strike a balance. Stamina, strength and flexibility are equally important components of maintaining a healthy, physically fit body. Balancing these three is crucial for avoiding injury, maintaining energy levels and for feeling and looking good.

Stamina is a measure of how long or far you can go in your chosen activity. It is the ability of your muscles to endure an activity over a continuous period of time. Cardiovascular stamina is the strength of your most important muscle, the heart, and how efficiently it can pump blood around your body. The stamina of your other muscles is important too. This refers to how long your other muscles can keep working without tiring. Often we can have a strong cardiovascular system but our other muscles struggle to keep up (ever felt like you have the breath to keep going but your legs are jelly?). Increasing your stamina by moving for a longer period of time or covering a greater distance will strengthen your heart and other muscles and possibly add years to your life. On a more practical level, you will have more energy for your day-to-day activities like climbing stairs and doing household chores. To improve stamina take part in cardiovascular exercise such as running, walking, swimming or cycling for increased periods of time or try doing increasing sets of body weight exercises such as press-ups.

Strength is the amount of force a muscle can exert in a single contraction. Aside from the obvious benefits of stronger muscles such as being able to carry our heavy holiday suitcases, having greater muscle mass can also lead to a trimmer figure as you burn more calories at rest. In addition, adding some strength training into your exercise program will help strengthen your bones reducing the risk of osteoporosis. Although the obvious way of adding strength exercises to your workout is to mingle with the men in the free weights corner of the gym, there are other ways. You can try classes such as Body Pump, circuit training or power yoga, or ask a trainer to show you some exercises using a TRX. Old school exercises such as the press up and the triceps dip can be done at home or at the gym and don’t require much time or any special equipment.

Flexibility is defined as our joints ability to move through their full range of motion and being flexible allows your muscles to remain mobile. The often forgotten flexibility is as important as stamina and strength. We are all guilty of finishing our workout without a stretch. Developing a stretching routine or adding some yoga into your workout is crucial for avoiding injury and keeping your joints healthy in the long term. As we get older we become less flexible. When we become less flexible we become more prone to injuries such as muscle tears, joint aches and pains.

Try to combine these three elements into your life. You can mix up a single session with cardio, strength and stretching or focus on one element in each session. By bringing these three together you will start to feel and look beautifully balanced.

Image: Yoga goddess, Tara Stiles