A common belief these days is that the key to a healthy lifestyle is a vigorous training regime, involving many different types of sport and exercise. While this certainly has its benefits, gentler approaches that aid both physical and mental wellbeing have stood the tests of time over hundreds and even thousands of years.
Walking is free, part of everyday life, ideal for all ages and is an easy way to burn up calories. Regular walking can help you to lose weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and some cancers.
You can achieve all of this with little more than a comfortable pair of shoes that give your feet enough support and some loose-fitting clothing. Remember to walk a little faster than usual so that you are slightly out of breath but able to carry on a conversation.
Gradually increasing the amount you walk to around 10,000 steps isn't as difficult as it might seem - at a moderate pace, most people cover around 1,000 steps in 10 minutes.
T'ai chi originated in China around a thousand years ago, and translates as "supreme ultimate fist". Its origins were as a martial art that could help aid physical, mental and spiritual development.
Unlike Pilates, which focuses on stationary and repetitive movements, or yoga which is a system of static postures, t'ai chi is a steady transition between specific postures. It could be viewed as a type of dynamic yoga, where the shift between balance and our centre of gravity is controlled carefully. The result of this should be a graceful flow of movement through a number of different positions.
Given its dynamic nature, t'ai chi has a wide range of benefits, improving aerobic fitness, strength, flexibility, balance, stress and energy levels as well as helping to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Yoga has been around for longer still, and can be traced back roughly 5,000 years. It started in India, and involves a combination of breathing exercises and static postures, which can help improve our wellbeing. Much like Pilates, the link between physical and mental wellbeing is emphasised, while it can also have a spiritual element, although this isn't always the case.
Yoga is well researched and practised all across the world. Much of this research suggests it can help improve muscle tone, strength, flexibility, balance, posture and stress levels. It is also suggested that it can help lower blood pressure, stave off heart disease and also aid sufferers of arthritis and more general aches and pains. It can also be practised at different intensities and levels, meaning it is suitable for a wide range of people of various age groups and abilities.
Pilates, yoga and t'ai chi can be enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels. They are taught either as a class or one-to-one with a personal instructor.
However, if none of these sound appealing there is another easy option for you.
Joseph Pilates was a German 'physical-culturalist' in the mid-1900s, and he passionately believed that physical and mental health were closely inter-related. He developed a system of precise exercises designed to improve muscle tone, improve posture and increase flexibility all of which allow us to move with ease and grace.
This system was initially adopted by dancers in the United States to help when recovering from injury, but it is now practised all around the world. Indeed, it is thought that more than 10 million people take part on a regular basis.
Pilates exercises are very precise, and were originally called 'Contrology'. They are usually carried out on mats or on specific equipment, but the principles are always based on breathing, control, concentration, focus, flow and precision.
It must be stated that more formal research into Pilates is required, but it is suggested that it helps improve muscle tone, posture and flexibility, while it can also alleviate stress and certain types of back pain. However, it is not effective in improving either aerobic fitness or helping to lose weight, but it can help with both of these if it is used alongside more traditional methods.