How To Make Exercise A Happy Habit
It’s OK to roll your eyes at those early morning joggers. To seethe at the smug Strava-types, posting their mileage on Facebook for all the world to see. It’s even OK to secretly hate that girl who says she just loves exercising; that she can’t wait until the gyms re-open so she can be reunited with her ‘Fit Fam’.
What you mustn’t do is start to think those people have some magic super-power you don’t have. Unless they’re professional athletes, the chances are they don’t have ‘sporty genes’ or boundless natural energy. Chances are; they’ve just stumbled on a secret that lots of new exercisers don’t yet know. The secret itself isn’t groundbreaking. Here it is: Everyone (yes, even you) can grow to love exercise… but only if you prioritise making it a part of your weekly routine.
For exercise to be pleasurable, it needs to become a habit. Easier said than done though eh? How do we make a habit out of something which feels so difficult in the beginning? And how long will it take before it feels less arduous?
Let’s look at some fail-safe tips to start forming your own exercise habits today.
- Start as you mean to go on. Research shows that if we create a model of exercise and repeat it from the very start, we are more likely to form that habit and stick with it. So for instance if you aim to eventually exercise five days a week; do that straight away! Don’t tell yourself you’ll do two or three days and gradually increase. Sure; you won’t be at full intensity or duration right at the beginning, but you are starting to form the final habit, even if you only do 10-15 minutes per day in the early weeks.
- Find something that appeals to you. I have worked as a trainer for almost 15 years now and I never buy it when people say ‘I hate exercise’. You might’ve hated PE at school; you might hate running (that’ll be me then!), but you don’t hate everything. The term exercise encompasses so many activities and I promise you there is one that will float your boat. From boxing to circuits, dance, Pilates, walking, tennis… the list is endless. It is well worth investing some time finding an activity that you enjoy and look forward to, meaning your habit will become something more like a hobby.
- Step away from the scales. Yes, that’s right. And I say this even if you have lots of weight to lose. Get into your exercise groove first, form that habit. Do this in conjunction with eating a balanced diet and you will lose weight as a happy by-product. But making weight loss your singular focus can be demoralising and disheartening if it doesn’t come off as quickly as you’d hoped. To make your exercise habitual, use other markers. Focus on your cardiovascular fitness levels, how far can you run? How many lengths of the pool can you do today? Can you manage to get all the way through that Zumba class without stopping now? Look at your positive progress every day.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. There’s an old adage, which has largely been disproved, which says it takes 21 days to form a habit. If only this were true we’d all be super-fit teetotal vegans wouldn’t we? In truth it’s different for everybody. Some people might get the fitness ‘bug’ very quickly but others might struggle to motivate themselves for a good few months before exercise becomes as much a part of their day as settling down to watch TV or read a book.
- Ditch the ‘I’ll start on Monday’ mentality. We’ve all been there haven’t we? Fish and chips on Friday night, fry-up on Saturday morning and then a bottle of wine while lazing on the sofa on Saturday night. It’s so easy at that stage to say; “Well I’ve ruined it for the weekend now. I’m just going to eat whatever I fancy on Sunday and then start the diet on Monday.” This is where those habitual exercisers; you know, the ones who actually love it, have the upper hand. They know they’ll feel so much better if on Sunday they log on and do a YouTube workout, head to the beach for a brisk walk or get out for a bike ride. So if work or studying gets too hectic, family life too busy or you don’t feel well enough to exercise; that’s fine! You’re only human. Chalk that day up to experience and start again tomorrow (not next Monday!).
- This is my top tip and one that every client I’ve ever worked with will be familiar with: You will always feel better after you finish your workout. Always. Whether you’re already feeling great or if you’re starting out feeling stressed and anxious, exercise will give you some clarity and a sense of achievement. If you struggle to remember how good you feel at the end of your workouts then write the following on a post-it and stick it to your fridge: Regular exercise is an investment in my mental health and general happiness.
For more help and advice on increasing your physical activity levels you might find the following websites helpful: