You already know there are many great reasons to exercise—from improving energy, mood, sleep, and health to reducing anxiety, stress, and depression.
Detailed exercise instructions and workout plans are just a click away but if knowing how and why to exercise was enough, we’d all be in shape. Making exercise a habit takes more: namely, the right mindset and a smart approach. Whatever your age or fitness level – even if you’ve never exercised a day in your life before – there are steps you can take to make exercise less intimidating and painful and more fun and automatic.
What’s keeping you from exercising?
If you’re having trouble beginning an exercise plan or following through, you’re not alone. Many of us struggle getting out of the sedentary rut, despite our best intentions.
While practical concerns like a busy schedule or poor health can make exercise more challenging, for most people, the biggest barriers are mental. Lack of self-confidence that keeps you from taking positive steps, motivation that quickly flames out, getting easily discouraged and giving up are some.
Here’s what you can do to break through mental barriers:
Ditch the all-or-nothing attitude. You don’t have to spend hours in a gym or force yourself into monotonous or painful activities you hate to experience the physical and emotional benefits of exercise. A little exercise is better than nothing. In fact, adding just modest amounts of physical activity to your weekly routine can have a profound effect on your mental and emotional health.
Be kind to yourself. Research shows that self-compassion increases the likelihood that you’ll succeed in any given endeavour. So don’t beat yourself up about your body, your current fitness level, or your supposed lack of willpower. All that will do is demotivate you. Instead, look at your past mistakes and unhealthy choices as opportunities to learn and grow.
Check your expectations. You didn’t get out of shape overnight, and you’re not going to instantly transform your body either. Expecting too much, too soon only leads to frustration. Try not to be discouraged by what you can’t do or how far you have to go to reach your fitness goals. Instead of obsessing over results, focus on consistency. The payoff will come in time.
How to make exercise a habit that sticks
There’s a reason so many New Year’s resolutions to get in shape crash and burn before February rolls around. And it’s not that you simply don’t have what it takes. Science shows us that there’s a right way to build lasting habits. Follow these steps to make exercise one of them:
Choose activities that make you feel happy and confident. If your workout is unpleasant or makes you feel clumsy or inept, you’re unlikely to stick with it. Don’t choose activities like running or lifting weights at the gym just because you think that’s what you should do. Instead, pick activities that fit your lifestyle, abilities, and taste.
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Start small and build momentum. A goal of exercising for 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week may sound good. But how likely are you to follow through? The more ambitious your goal, the more likely you are to fail, feel bad about it, and give up. It’s better to start with easy exercise goals you know you can achieve. As you meet them, you’ll build self-confidence and momentum. Then you can move on to more challenging goals.
Make it automatic with triggers. Triggers are one of the secrets to success when it comes to forming an exercise habit. In fact, research shows that the most consistent exercises rely on them. Triggers are simply reminders – a time of day, place, or cue – that kick off an automatic reaction. They put your routine on autopilot, so there’s nothing to think about or decide on. The alarm clock goes off and you’re out the door for your walk. You leave work for the day and head straight to the gym. You spot your sneakers right by the bed and you’re up and running. Find ways to build them into your day to make exercise a no-brainer.
Reward yourself. Rewards are powerful behaviour re-enforcers, so immediately reward yourself when you successfully complete a workout, reach a new fitness goal, or simply show up on a day when you were tempted to ditch your exercise plans. Rewards are most effective when they’re something you look forward to, but don’t allow yourself to do until after exercise. It can be something as simple as checking Facebook or having a cup of coffee.
Set yourself up for success
Schedule it. You don’t go to important meetings and appointments spontaneously, you schedule them. If you’re having trouble fitting exercise into your schedule, consider it an important appointment with yourself and mark it on your daily agenda.
Make it easy on yourself. Plan your workouts for the time of day when you’re most awake and energetic. If you’re not a morning person, for example, don’t undermine yourself by planning to exercise before work.
Remove obstacles. Plan ahead for anything that might get in the way of exercising. Do you tend to run out of time in the morning? Get your workout clothes out the night before so you’re ready to go as soon as you get up. Do you skip your evening workout if you go home first? Keep a gym bag in the car, so you can head out straight from work.
Hold yourself accountable. Commit to another person. If you’ve got a workout partner waiting, you’re less likely to skip out. Or ask a friend or family member to check in on your progress. Announcing your goals to your social group (either online or in person) can also help keep you on track.
Tips for making exercise more enjoyable
As previously mentioned, you are much more likely to stick with an exercise program that’s fun and rewarding. No amount of willpower is going to keep you going long-term – day in and day out – with a workout you hate.
Think outside the gym. Does the thought of going to the gym fill you with dread? If you find the gym inconvenient, expensive, intimidating, or simply boring, that’s okay. There are many exercise alternatives to weight rooms and cardio equipment. For many, simply getting outside makes all the difference. You may enjoy running outdoors, where you can enjoy alone time and nature, even if you hate treadmills. Just about everyone can find a physical activity they enjoy. But you may need to think beyond the standard running, swimming, biking options. Some activities you may find fun, are horseback riding, ballroom dancing, rollerblading, hiking, paddle boarding, kayaking, gymnastics, martial arts, rock climbing, zumba, ultimate frisbee and fencing.
Make it a game. Activity-based video games such as those from Wii and Kinect can be a fun way to start moving. So-called “exergames” that are played standing up and moving around—simulating dancing, skateboarding, soccer, bowling, or tennis, for example—can burn at least as many calories as walking on a treadmill; some substantially more. Once you build up your confidence, try getting away from the TV screen and playing the real thing outside. Or use a smartphone app to keep your workouts fun and interesting—some immerse you in interactive stories to keep you motivated, such as running from hordes of zombies!
Make it social. Exercise can be a fun time to socialize with friends and working out with others can help keep you motivated. For those who enjoy company but dislike competition, a running club, water aerobics, or dance class may be the perfect thing. Others may find that a little healthy competition keeps the workout fun and exciting. You might seek out tennis partners, join an adult soccer league, find a regular pickup basketball game, or join a volleyball team.
Getting the whole family involved. If you have a family, there are many ways to exercise together. What’s more, kids learn by example, and if you exercise as a family you are setting a great example for their future. Family activities might include evening walks (infants can ride in a stroller), seasonal activities like skiing or ice skating in winter and hiking, swimming or bicycling in summer.
How to stay motivated to exercise
No matter how much you enjoy an exercise routine, you may find that you eventually lose interest in it. That’s the time to shake things up and try something new or alter the way you pursue the exercises that have worked so far.
Tips for staying motivated:
Pair your workout with a treat. For example, you can listen to an audio book or watch your favorite TV show while on the treadmill or stationary bike.
Log your activity. Keep a record of your workouts and fitness progress. Writing things down increases commitment and holds you accountable to your routine. Later on, it will also be encouraging to look back at where you began.
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Harness the power of the community. Having others rooting for us and supporting us through exercise ups and downs will help keep motivation strong. There are numerous online fitness communities you can join. You can also try working out with friends either in person or remotely using fitness apps that let you track and compare your progress with each other..
Get inspired. Read a health and fitness magazine or visit an exercise website and get inspired with photos of people being active. Sometimes reading about and looking at images of people who are healthy and fit can motivate you to move your body.
Extracts from an article by Lawrence Robinson, Jeanne Segal & Melinda Smith, which originally appeared on www.helpguide.org
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