Getting started with exercise
Most of us are aware of the health risks associated with low physical activity - obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes... we can rattle them off on cue! Despite this, three out of five Aussies don't get enough exercise, and one in five of us do absolutely no exercise at all.
For some of us the problem is lack of motivation, for others it's lack of time. For those of us who are new to exercise it's often lack of knowledge on the right types of exercise to do when starting out. Gyms are intimidating (and expensive), running looks hard (I get out of breath just chasing the bus), and sports, well, let's just say they aren't for everyone.
The good news is that if you're reading this article you've already taken a fantastic first step in the right direction - you've taken an interest. The next step is taking that interest and turning it into action!
It's that simple. Any movement you do today that you didn't do yesterday will provide net gain in terms of your physical health.
Start by ramping up your incidental exercise - those physical activities you do all the time and don't even think about. Then look for new ways to move more every day. Turn up the music and dance when doing the housework. Park further away instead of hunting for the closest possible spot at the grocery store (this has the added benefit of reducing stress).
Inject more energy into the things you already do. Straighten your back and tighten those tummy muscles when vacuuming or sweeping the floor. Think of the muscles being used to perform any movement and actively engage them - even if it’s just standing up from a sitting position or bending down to put something in the dishwasher, every movement is an opportunity to add value. Alternate upstairs and downstairs activities and increase the intensity to get your heart pumping faster. Once your breathing gets heavier and you feel your body heating up it's a good sign that you're doing it right.
Incidental exercise is the first and easiest step toward better physical fitness, but it is also no substitute for planned, deliberate exercise. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare recommends we do at least 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day.
For many people this is where the excuses start to kick in: “It's too hard”; “I’m too busy”; “I wouldn’t know where to begin”.
The trick to overcoming excuses and getting started with exercise is to make it fun!
Make fitness fun
When you're having fun things feel a lot less like work, which means you’re more enticed to make time for them in your daily routine. Think of the types of activities you enjoyed doing as a child.
When we were kids we didn't see riding our bikes to our friend's house as ‘exercise’. We didn't play in a pool to prevent obesity or kick a ball around to lower our risk of developing chronic illnesses. We just did it because it was fun and satisfied our sense of adventure!
Tapping into these emotions is the key to getting motivated and sticking with exercise in the long run.
Make fitness social
Getting friends and family involved is a great way to increase your chances of success. We prioritise the things in life that make us happy, and socialising is one of those things we all make time for.
Training with a friend or group of people also creates a positive and supportive environment. You are less likely to break a commitment to a friend than you are to yourself.
HBF Fitness Coach Max Tamatoa says The most loyal participants we get showing up to our fitness sessions week after week are groups of women who have turned HBF Outdoor Fitness into their ‘night out with the girls’. It’s a great way for them to break from the kids while nutting out some ‘me’ time in their hectic schedules and taking care of their health. For parents who can’t find a babysitter, we have created family fitness sessions where they can make exercise a fun night out for the entire family.”
Group activities like these are also a great way to meet people if you're new in town or your friends are dragging their heels.
Make exercise a habit
Instead of winding down by plonking yourself in front of the television, go for a walk in the evening and make exercise your release. Exercise is a natural remedy for reducing stress and research has shown that being physically active just three days per week can lower your risk of depression by 20%.
In the beginning this lifestyle change might take some getting used to, but stick it out. New behaviours take an average of 66 days to become habit. Give it a red, hot shot for ten weeks. After that, if you still find you’re having to force yourself out the door each evening, try going in the morning instead or doing a different activity altogether.
Shake things up
If you're getting bored with your workout your body probably is too. Trying new activities is a great way to stay interested and excited about exercise - and to keep your body guessing.
Surprise and delight your muscles with new activities that require them work in different ways than they’re used to. Set a goal of trying one new activity every month. If you usually go walking on the beach try cycling a nearby bush trail or even something a little off kilter like rock climbing or stand up paddle boarding. You might surprise yourself and discover a new hobby!
Anything is better than nothing
There will be times when you don't want to do it. These will be most frequent in the beginning and fewer as your workouts start to build momentum. The bed is warm. You're still sore from yesterday. You got home late and have had a stressful day. Strike a deal with yourself:
Agree to go for a shorter/less intense workout today, maybe a brisk walk instead of a jog, or to the top of the street instead of all the way to the park. Doing something, no matter how small, is better than nothing. Chances are that once the blood gets pumping and the endorphins kick in you'll keep going longer than you expected.
Remember that you never regret doing exercise, but you will often feel unhappy with yourself for giving a miss.
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