We all know that exercise is good for us. We join gyms, start running, buy home workout DVDs, sign up for boot camps, all in the quest for a fitter, slimmer, more toned body and improved health. But after a few weeks our interest wanes, we skip a session or two, life gets in the way and there then comes that week when we don’t go at all. After a while we tell ourselves we really should do some exercise and then the cycle starts all over again. Regular, long term exercise feels like an elusive goal.
If this sounds all too familiar to you, and if you wish you could fit regular exercise into your life without it feeling like a chore, here’s how you do it:
Understand that exercise doesn’t have to be unpleasant
The “no pain, no gain” brigade has a lot to answer for. Many fitness professionals talk about workouts as if they’re of no value unless they leave you gasping for air, covered in sweat and sore for the next few days. The workouts of the moment – Crossfit, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and obstacle races like Tough Mudder – are all about how hard you can work and what you can endure. But any exercise is better than no exercise, and it’s far better if you do something at a moderate or relaxed pace than if you do nothing because the thought of an intense workout has put you off completely.
Also, exercise is not a punishment! If you use exercise to punish yourself for what you’ve eaten, or for being heavier than you’d like, you’re never going to enjoy it, and you’re never going to feel motivated to do it.
Find something you enjoy
A client of mine wanted advice on how she could fit more exercise into her life. She regularly attends a dance club, which she loves, but when I pointed out that this meant she was already doing several hours of exercise a week she said, “But that’s not exercise, because I like that”. She had a pile of home workout DVDs at home which she struggled to motivate herself to use, but thought nothing of doing the regular two hour round trip to her dance club. The obvious lesson here? If you love it, you’ll do it. (My client did fit more exercise into her life: she threw away her home workout DVDs and now attends an extra dance class each week).
What do you enjoy? Do you like exercising with a friend or do you need to exercise alone? Do you like being outdoors, or do you hate being cold and wet? Do you need variety or do you like the familiar? Do you like high energy activities or something more calming?
Keep trying different forms of exercise until you find something which you enjoy – how about hiking, belly dancing, martial arts, ballet, yoga, rowing, boxing, climbing, swimming? Exercise doesn’t have to involve joining a gym or running. There’ll be something out there which you’ll find more fun, more satisfying and more motivating than what you’ve done before.
Ease yourself into it
If you’re new to exercise, or starting again after a long period of inactivity, there’s no need to go all-out straight away. Your body won’t thank you for going too hard too soon, and the pain, struggle and post-workout soreness will just reinforce any belief that exercise is unpleasant.
Take it easy for the first few times – you can always work a bit harder next time, and the next time, and the time after that…
Make it a habit
What do the fittest people you know have in common? They exercise regularly and consistently, and it is a part of their life.
So make it your priority to establish the habit first – you can concentrate on increasing your level of fitness later. If that means getting yourself to a gym but doing only ten minutes’ exercise for the first month, that’s fine. If you get there three or four times each week, you’re establishing a weekly routine which includes regular exercise, and once that’s established, you can turn your attention to improving your performance.
Don’t expect a quick fix
One of the reasons people go so hard and give up so quickly is that they are looking for a quick fix, and when they don’t get one, they become disillusioned. In fact you’re not going to undo months or years of unhealthy living with a month of exercise, nor are you going to dramatically change your body shape in that time. Be patient, give it some time, and remember that exercise has long term, ongoing health benefits beyond body shape.
Pick the right exercise for your goal
If you have a specific goal, and you’re going to invest time and effort in exercising, make sure that time and effort is well spent. You’ll be seriously disappointed if after months of regular exercise you’re not seeing the results you hoped for. What is it you want to achieve? Be honest with yourself, and then if necessary get some advice on what would be most effective. For instance, if you want to tone up your bingo wings, target that area with resistance training rather than go running.
Track your progress
One of the positives of regular exercise is experiencing improvement and progress. If you didn’t see any improvement, you’d eventually get disheartened. From week to week, improvements will be small, but those small improvements will add up to one great big one if you stick at it.
So track those small improvements to keep your motivation levels high. For example, let’s say you do your usual run today, and do it fifteen seconds faster than you did three days ago. If you’d casually glanced at the kitchen clock as you left the house and then casually glanced again when you got back, you probably wouldn’t appreciate that there’d been any improvement. But if you bought yourself a stopwatch, or used an app on your smart phone to time your run accurately, you’d know about those fifteen seconds. And you’d be more likely to go out again in two days’ time to try to knock another fifteen seconds off today’s time.
Exercise does take time and effort, but if you find something you enjoy, establish a habit and track your progress, you’ll find it will get easier to stick with it and your body will reward you. You’ll look better, feel better (mentally and physically) and be better able to live a happy and active life. What once felt like a chore will feel like a pleasure.