Being physically active is an extremely daunting prospect for many people. A lot of us have had very negative experiences with exercise over our lifetime. Social pressures, perceived failures, injuries, pain, and being forced into sports and activities that we genuinely don’t enjoy, has tainted exercise for many of us. Now, into our adult life, there are other responsibilities that soak up so much of our time and energy. It can feel almost impossible to carve out enough time to get a workout in.
Unfortunately, our aversion to exercise is really hurting us. The benefits of physical activity are so broad and encompassing, and so extremely meaningful and powerful. If scientists were able to design a pill that provided the same physical, mental and social benefits as exercise, every person on the planet would be taking it.
Although it’s not as easy as taking a pill, physical activity doesn’t need to be hard and complicated either. Physical activity should be as easy and as painless as possible. It can, and should, fit into your life in a way that becomes second nature.
Exercise can become something that anyone can enjoy, it just needs to be reframed and rethought. These tips are here to help you form a positive habit and build exercise into your lifestyle.
1. Start small
Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you’re fairly inactive at the moment, just take the first step. It doesn’t need to be grand. In fact, habits are more likely to stick if they have a low barrier-to-entry and a good chance of immediate success. That means, don’t worry about fancy equipment or expensive gym memberships. What’s the most simple activity that you can think of that involves moving your body? Walk, dance, crawl, roll, sweep, dig, run, jump, swim, ride, play, pilates. Anything. Just move a little bit more than you did yesterday and you’re becoming physically active! Achieving a meaningful goal, no matter how small, will unlock the brain’s neurotransmitters to 1) make you feel good about yourself, and 2) rewire the neural circuitry of the brain to make that habit more permanent.
2. Have fun
In what way could you move your body that will provide you with a feeling of happiness and fun? It’s different for everyone, and it can often take a long time to find the activity that lights you up. So be ready to experiment. And think outside of the box, it doesn’t need to be an organised form of exercise – like running, golf, kayaking, rock climbing, frisbee, etc – it can be any random activity that involves movement; kicking a ball around with your dog, dancing in the kitchen, walking to the supermarket, rearranging furniture in your house… Absolutely anything. Don’t restrict yourself to the schoolyard parameters of beep tests and team sports.
3. Team up
More often than not, you’re not the only person in your social circle who is looking to get more active. Be vulnerable and ask a mate if they’ll start going on a morning walk with you once or twice a week. Having an accountability partner makes it easier to get out of bed when the alarm starts ringing. It’s harder to bail on a buddy than it is to bail on yourself. Plus, the benefits of chatting, laughing and spending time with other people compounds the mental and emotional benefits of exercise!
4. Be forgiving
It’s OK to miss a day, a weekend, a week, a fortnight… Don’t sweat it. We’re all human, fallible and imperfect. Sometimes life gets in the way – you get tired, become distracted, unmotivated or lazy. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. Your self-worth doesn’t depend on you being perfect, or exercising every day, or being kind and calm and caring to every person you interact with! You are allowed to stuff up. You’re allowed to be selfish. You’re allowed to sit on the couch eating ice cream and watching telly. You’re enough, regardless of these behaviours. So when you miss a day, wrap a metaphorical arm around your own metaphorical shoulder and forgive yourself – there’s always tomorrow, and every day thereafter, to go out and exercise. Habits aren’t built in a day, so having one off won’t derail the train. In his book Tiny Habits, leading behavioural expert B.J. Fogg says it best; “people change best by feeling good, not feeling bad”.
The Nuts and Bolts
Adult Australians are recommended to do 2.5-5 hours of moderate intensity exercise per week, or you can halve that time and do your exercise at an intense level for 1.25-2.5 hours.
So what does that look like in practice? Here’s a couple of suggestions to get you up to the baseline requirement for physical activity without breaking a sweat.
- You can briskly walk 15-minutes from your car to your workplace (and vice-versa) 5 days a week, and you’re hitting the low-level guideline. If you haven’t walked much for many months or years, start with a 5-minute walk and build up over a few weeks.
- In the morning before work, put some music on while making breakfast, and dance around like a fool for 15 minutes til you get a little breathless. Do the same when you get home that evening, and bingo, there’s your 30-mins of daily moderate intensity activity.
- Go for a 5 minute walk in the morning sun. Put on your favourite song and dance for 5 minutes. Do 2 push ups. Quickly vacuum the hallway. Throw a ball to your dog 5 times. Park 500m away from work. Do 5 squats on your lunch break. Get home and go for a 5 minute walk in the afternoon sun. Water the garden. Surely that’s 30 minutes all up?
Take Home Message
Don’t make it complex. Don’t make it hard. Make it fun, make it silly and make it likely to succeed. Once you get a few wins on the board you’ll be even more likely to start adding in more, higher intensity, activities.