If you find yourself more often than not, starting an exercise program, going really well for two or three weeks then slowly slipping off the perch well then please let me help you. This is a story I hear over and over and over again. People start to search for answers in google. You begin to scour the internet for that magical exercise that will be the answer to all your life questions. The fact is there is no jewel of an exercise you can search in google that is being guarded by the security guards of the internet.
The fact is that for most people, any type of exercise will have a beneficial effect. The key is sticking to the exercise. This is why I want to give you six simple rules you can follow if you want to better stick to exercise in the long run.
1. The Golden Rule - Little and Often
The number one piece of advice I give is to do exercise often and in little amounts. Humans are creatures of habit and doing things more frequently will create stronger habits for the long term. In conjunction, performing little bouts of exercise will reduce the risk of injury or burn out as your body will adapt to the exercise more gradually.
People training for marathons come across this problem all the time and could really benefit from this advice. They watch Forrest Gump, chuck their sneakers on and start their training by running 10 kilometres at a feverish pace. The problem is they get home with a sore Achilles, knee or hip and wonder why the next day they can’t walk. They didn’t give their body enough time to adapt to exercise. They did too much, too soon. They could have still done that 10 kilometres of running in one week by breaking it up into three runs of three or so kilometres. Instead they did too much too soon and now may have to sit out for a couple of weeks.
So let’s just say you have been more or less sedentary without much activity for three months and you want to get back into exercise. Don’t start with two big one hour gym sessions or one big 50km bike ride in the first week. Instead, start with three smaller 30 minute gym sessions and short walks or bicycle rides around the block every other day. Remember, all gold medal athletes follow this golden rule. Little and often!
2. Make certain sessions non-negotiable
When exercise is negotiable, often the negotiations can go horribly wrong. Rather than freeing the hostages you end with even more hostages… around your waistline! But in all seriousness, it is essential that during the week you make certain exercise activities non-negotiable. These are the sessions that will keep you in the game for the long term. So during those really busy weeks or the weeks that you are feeling a bit flat, make sure you at least do the non-negotiable sessions. Consistency is the key!
Now obviously there are priorities like family and work and I am not saying you should ditch them. Just keep in mind that without health we can’t help others out. So I would recommend blocking out at least two times in your week that you engage in sessions which are consistent. Pick it and stick to it!
3. Do exercise you enjoy… but not always.
The enjoyment factor should definitely be a consideration when undertaking exercise. Pick something you enjoy. For me that is bike riding. For you it might be ocean swimming or dance classes. Picking something you enjoy will reduce the need for motivation to get started. On the other hand it is really important to do those sessions that require motivation to get started. You may not enjoy strength training, but doing the one or two sessions per week for 40 minutes can allow you to perform better in your favourite activities and keep you stronger for longer. So do exercise you enjoy but don’t neglect the less glamorous sessions.
4. Don’t do it all alone!
I am a huge proponent of spending time doing exercise by yourself as it can be a time for recharging and gives us much needed space in our ever constricting daily lives. However when it is perhaps a little too cold outside or the couch is looking rather comfy, it can be hard to get up and start your planned exercise. When exercising with others you are more likely to turn up, especially if it a weekly activity that is planned. This is especially true for any sort of team or group activity as you won’t want to let people down.
Exercising with others is great for mental health, as these groups (let’s say a bushwalking group or weekly walks with a friend) can act as an outlet to talk and socialise in ways which can sometimes be hard in other circumstances. So don’t go the journey alone, grab a walking buddy or find a gym class for better adherence to exercise.
5. Mix it up.
If it is working for you then why change? Because variety is the spice of life. This is not to say that if you enjoy walking the same route at the same pace every morning you now have to start swimming or riding a bike. Variation can come in changing the intensity of your walking, so instead of walking at one pace, you could add in some interval training in which you walk flat out for two minutes and then regular pace for two minutes, repeating this throughout the walk. You could also change the route of your morning walk, which will give the brain some new stimulus and let you explore your area more. So maybe next to you are out and about, take the path less trodden.
That’s a wrap!
So there you have it. Five strategies to implement in order to increase your compliance in exercise and stick to it for the long run. Now get out there and start… but remember my tips!