Exercise – get more from less

At the start of each new year, many people choose to start an exercise program. Below is some useful information to support you to create a program that matches your interests, fitness level and experience, family situation, budget and health. Sometimes I see people complicate things so much that they end up confused with all the information out there and give up before they have even begun. When you chunk things down, it can be pretty simple – find movement that you love…and do it every day!

Find movement that you love…

and do it every day!

Movement is what it’s all about, any movement, it all helps. It doesn’t have to be hard exercise and it doesn’t have to be boring or a drag.   Your ideal movement may be playing with your kids, gardening, walking along the beach or in nature, riding your bike or scooter, taking the stairs instead of the elevator etc.  Real-life (functional) exercises can strengthen you for the movements you perform on a daily basis and reduce your chance of injury.  The minimum effective dose in this case is the smallest amount of exercise that provides the response in the body that you are aiming for. Finding the minimum effective dose is crucial to getting more out of less exercise and to prevent placing more damaging stress on your body.

Make your movements functional.  That is, movements that look like what we do during the day…or what we used to do before we began to sit for most of the day.  It is important to be strong and stable in all our daily movements and also movements some of us aren’t familiar with such as moving from sitting or laying on the floor to standing.  This helps maintain your joint range of motion into old age. For example, get up off the ground without using your hands, squat butt to calves with heels on the ground, lift something from the floor to above your head.  Go outside the constraints of our standard range of motion throughout the day, because we only use a small portion of our full range of movement…and when it comes down to it – if we don’t use it, we lose it!

Types of training and movement

Resistance training

This means lifting things, moving them around, and putting them down again – just like we do in life. It is ideal to get 2 or more lifting sessions in per week, for 20-40 minutes.  This can be lifting weights at the gym, a group circuit class or performing body weight exercises in a park or at home, lifting at work or while gardening.  If you are lifting weights, use large muscle groups in each exercise and use movements that closely match your day to day activities.  For example do  3-4 sets of 12-15 reps in a circuit of squats, lunges, rows, pushups or chinups etc. If you aren’t at the gym you could chop wood, do some gardening, do relay runs carrying the kids, squat jump down the driveway, and race the kids back up etc.

 Metabolism (the body processes that keep us alive) is boosted by approximately 20% for up to 2 days after weight training & 12 hours after cardio training.

Cardio training

Getting the heart rate up through higher intensity cardiovascular work is also important.  Using intervals is an effective way to improve your fitness, metabolism and trim body fat.  This could be a bike ride with your kids and racing between every second tree or marker, going for a high intensity walk, walking or running hills (run up, walk down) or uneven surfaces or a surf, swim or interval running session.  Tabiata training is a great way to get in a great workout, in minimal time.  It consists of 20 seconds of high intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, for a total of 4 minutes.  You can do 3-4 of these different sets and there is your workout…12-16 minutes.

Flexibility training

This can include pilates, your own personal stretching session or yoga.  The more variety, the greater the benefit.  These sessions can be used to relax, move lactic acid and aid muscle recovery, improve core strength, reduce the chance of injury, increase joint range of motion, improve posture, reduce stress and manage pain.  You can do your own stretching session outside in the sun when you wake up or get home from work or at night before bed as a break from screen time before sleep.  You can use this time to connect with your kids or partner by sharing about your day while stretching.



It is important to consider how Cortisol levels can be influenced by exercise.  Cortisol, commonly referred to as a stress hormone, rises in response to stress that is placed on the body.  Stress isn’t all bad, we need some stress and challenge to continue to grow and evolve. This stress is called eustress – a movement or a stimulus on the body that promotes growth and change in the tissues that is beneficial for the body. However, if we exercise intensely for longer than 45min our tissues can experience distress – a form of stress that can break down tissues and create damage to the body systems.  Therefore, aim to keep sessions shorter than 40-45 minutes, and vary the intensity each session. A very high intensity session could include a Tabata style limited to 10-12min. In states where Cortisol is high at night especially at sleep time, there can difficulty getting to sleep therefore it is advisable to exercise before 4pm so that there is sufficient time for levels to reduce before sleep is initiated.


If you are doing exercise sessions, it is important to ask these 3 questions:

1. When you finish the exercise, do you feel energised physically and mentally?

2. 10 minutes after finishing exercise do you feel like you could do the movements again?

3. The day after exercise do you feel energized, rather than being wiped out?

If you answer no to any of these questions, you may have some adrenal gland function issues which are in need of attention from a health professional.  In this case, light, lower intensity movement is more appropriate, things like walking, gentle swimming, leisurely bike riding, only to your comfort level.  The movement you do shouldn’t be enough to wipe you out.

Movement as a lifestyle

Making movement a daily habit that is just part of your lifestyle is crucial for permanent success and long term wellness. For some people joining a group is effective to maintain motivation and to form a solid habit. The more you can involve your partner, kids, friends or colleagues, the more you will be held accountable.  You are also leading by example, supporting others to lead healthier lives, creating connection, and sharing quality time. If you have trouble starting, then start with small steps. Each day do a little bit more. If you struggle to keep motivated after you have got started then look at the benefits of what you are doing and why you are doing it. The more you can link the benefits of what you are doing with the things that are most important to you in life, ie. Health, family, work etc. the more likely you are to stay with your plan and to love the process.


Choose an environment to move and exercise in that you love and that inspires you. For example, the beach, the bush, the backyard, the pool, within the air con of a gym or home. If you prefer colder movement conditions, head out early morning or late afternoon (before 4pm ideally) when the conditions more suit your preferences. Remember to get out into the sun to exercise.  Sunshine will help with normalising Vitamin D levels and also your circadian rhythms, which will help your body know what time it is and therefore improve your energy levels throughout the day, resulting in better sleep.

You can look at exercise and movement as being as complicated or as simple as you like. When it comes down to it, we need to move, it has kept us alive for millions of years. Before the modern comforts we enjoy today, movement was crucial for our survival, social contact, food collection, protection from weather and from predators – our life depended on it…and still does. So get out there and move, whatever that may look like for you. If you have any questions, or would like specific advice on movement or exercise please contact us on 07) 3208 8308 or book instantly online.

Check out other articles in this series packed with simple and practical ways to improve the 6 foundations of your health, including – clean water, fresh air, sunshine, movement, sleep and fresh food.

Written by Dr. Jess Harvey B.Sc. (Anat, Phys), B.Ap.Sci (Comp. Med.), Ma Osteo., Registered Osteopath and Director of Head 2 Toe Health, a multidisciplinary clinic in Brisbane also providing Acupuncture, Massage, Life Coaching and Counselling – where we aim to get you as well as possible, as fast as possible, permanently. We believe in a thorough approach to restoring and maintaining health and address many aspects of our lifestyles that can contribute to pain, stiffness, dis-ease and disease. For any further information, please contact us on info@head2toehealth.com.au or 07) 3208 8308.

This information is intended as a general guide only and is not specific for any particular condition or situation.  Please seek specific advice from a healthcare practitioner before beginning a new nutrition or exercise program.