Starting an exercise program can be exciting, terrifying, exhilarating, and daunting – all in the same minute. I’ve seen many people, excited to start, get so wrapped up in trying to do everything that they quickly end up doing nothing, shut down by trying to change too many things at once.
There are also success stories that we see every day: people who go from sedentary to regularly active, and even become avid exercisers. There’s no real “secret” to making this change – it’s all about figuring out how exercise can work for you, and having the patience to let yourself adapt to the changes and see the results. Different people transition from their holding patterns to sustainable, healthy activity levels in different ways. The trick is using the right strategy.
People often think that to have a healthy lifestyle and exercise routine, wholesale changes need to be made – exercise an hour a day, do something for every muscle, eat only salad, things like that. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Instead, pick one thing to work on. The science behind habit formation is pretty well established, and tells us that we need three to four weeks to make a new action or activity part of our routine. Set yourself up for success by working on one thing at a time.
Don’t: Think you have to exercise for an hour a day and eat only salad and grapefruit.
Do: Start small with some challenging-but-do-able exercise for 10-20 minutes, three to four times a week. You’ll quickly be able to progress from there.
Choose something you enjoy:
It’s so much easier to exercise regularly when it’s something you’re looking forward to. Personally, I hate running, but I love lifting weights. I grin like the Cheshire Cat when I get to lift heavy things. But I know that sometimes I need to work on my cardio, and I know that to do so successfully, I need to do it with some distraction involved. My solution was to play recreational rugby and soccer – plenty of running, but plenty of distraction. It did take me a few tries to figure out exactly what sports I really enjoyed playing, but it was worth the process.
Don’t: Choose something you don’t enjoy, just because you think it’s good for you.
Do: Find something you look forward to!
Remember why you want to change:
It can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day effort of creating a new, long-term exercise program (or creating any new habit). The work required for a lasting change is a little easier when you keep your “big picture” goal in mind, whether it be a health goal, improved ability to keep up with the kids, or wanting to wow old classmates at a high school reunion.
Don’t: Focus on the hard stuff without thinking about the benefits of doing it.
Do: Create reminders of your “big picture” goal to keep it on your mind. Vision boards or reminder notes on the refrigerator, in the car, or on the bathroom mirror can all keep you focused on why you’re working hard – which can make the hard work easier.
Each strategy presented here and in Part 2 of this series can be useful when you’re working on creating a sustainable and hopefully lifelong exercise habit. I say habit – it’s important to note that your interests and reasons for exercising might change throughout life, and so might your routine. Maybe you’ll have to re-strategize, but that’s ok. It gets easier with practice, and the really important thing is to keep moving!
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of this series.
This article is has also been published at our sister site, Fix Fitness & Bodywork – Alexandria’s premier in-home personal training and massage providers. Visit us there if you want to exercise the sustainable way!