We all know that being physically active is good for the body and mind, but knowledge alone isn’t enough to deliver the required results. You actually have to get moving in order to feel the benefit. This is obviously no big deal if you’ve built an element of exercise into your daily routine and you love getting out and about. But, what if you’re not used to being active?
Perhaps you have a stressful job that leaves you exhausted and with little free time. Maybe you’re recovering from an illness or injury or are having to deal with a family crisis that takes up all your energy. Or, could it be that you’re so used to your sedentary lifestyle that you don’t actually miss physical activity?
Whether you’re out of the habit of going to the gym and are struggling to get back to exercising or you’ve realised that taking an active interest in your lifestyle is an important investment into your physical and mental long-term health, taking that first step is always the hardest bit. With that in mind, we’ve put together some useful ideas to help you develop and maintain an exercise habit. The good news is that once you have it, it not only becomes automatic, you’ll be looking forward to it!
Show up and take part
“Eighty percent of success is showing up” is a famous quote credited to Woody Allen. Rather than worrying about how unfit you are or how poor your performance might be, the most important thing is to have a go. Make a sustained effort to go for a daily walk or bike ride, practice yoga, take part in a group hike, go to the gym or whatever form of exercise you choose. Whatever it is, just keep doing it.
Take a 30-day challenge
They say it takes 30 days to embed a new habit (or break an old one). You can use this to your advantage. Instead of making a decision based on how you feel each day, take the pressure off and make an upfront commitment to exercise daily for a whole month. Use an app to help you track progress, find new hiking routes or to join a charity fundraising campaign such as this one.
Find the fun
Fun is the magic ingredient that will keep you going once your healthy exercise habit is embedded. Choose an activity you love, from various outdoor walks to booking the tennis break you always dreamt of. Whether you’re joining the gym, taking up a new sport or exploring the great outdoors, if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll have to rely on self-discipline to keep you motivated – which is hard work.
Schedule a convenient time
Make your exercise routine a fixed cornerstone of your day. Schedule your exercise at a time that’s convenient for you and where there is little chance of other commitments getting in the way, jeopardising your progress. Early morning or straight after work could be good options, perhaps with extra or longer times set aside at the weekend.
Do it with a buddy
Exercising together with a friend can really boost your motivation and increase the enjoyment factor. Having a social aspect to your active routine can strengthen your commitment and accountability, making you less likely to fall off the wagon. Find a buddy for fun dog walks along the beach, weight training sessions in the gym or start running together for Couch to 5K.
Don’t splash the cash
While it can be very tempting to invest in aspirational activewear or fancy equipment at the start of your new fitness journey, don’t be hasty to spend too much. It won’t make up for previous inactivity or deliver instant results now. Instead, focus on building your new healthy habit first and, once you’ve reached your first milestone, reward yourself then.
Use exercise to relieve stress
Did you know that physical activity is a great stress reliever, releasing ‘feel good’ endorphins that boost mood? Next time you feel anxious or under pressure, notice what you would normally do and try doing an exercise you love instead. Establishing a positive connection between stress relief and physical activity is a powerful habit that’s hard to break and easy to regain.
Track your fitness metrics
The best way to tell if your exercise routine is making you fitter is to have SMART goals in place that you can track. Weight loss isn’t always the best indicator since building muscle can offset fat loss on the scales. There are lots of ways to measure physical progress, from numbers of sit-ups or kgs bench pressed to steps walked per day.
Do it for the right reasons
It’s important to review your goals periodically and dig deeper. Is it enough to go to the gym to look ‘hotter’? Look beyond the façade and remind yourself of all the incredible benefits exercising brings. Motivations that will sustain you when results are slow include because you love doing it, because it makes you feel good and gives you more energy to live your best life.
Create a ritual
Once your exercise habit has become established, the final step is to protect it fiercely. A daily ritual means setting aside a time, place or cue when your routine happens, no matter what. The ritual can include pre- and post-workout activities such as choosing your exercise gear or having a smoothie afterwards. The idea is to make it sacrosanct and inviolable – something you won’t do without.
Leading an active lifestyle is something everyone can learn; all it takes is a little nudge. Chances are that once you’ve got the bug, there’ll be no stopping you and maintaining your healthy habits won’t feel like you’re making any effort at all. The best way to get back into the saddle is not to fall off the horse in the first place!
If you do stop being active for whatever reason, take stock of where you are and where you want to be and draw a line under the past. Tomorrow is a brand new day.