The benefits of regular exercise are well document and broadly understood. Among other things it can reduce your risk of illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, reduce the possibility of conditions such as stress, poor sleep, and depression, not to mention helping to maintain a healthy weight and boost energy.
According to the World Health Organisation, physical inactivity has been identified as the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality. It’s therefore, clear that we should be exercising regularly to help to maintain ongoing good health. However, something I hear time and time again from many of my health coaching clients is that they struggle to fit exercise into their lives. They don’t have the time, they can’t motivate themselves and they are unable to develop a regular exercise routine despite feeling like they need to.
This is something I have definitely struggled with throughout my adult life. Over the years I have dabbled with pilates, yoga and dance classes off and on. Sometimes I’d go through a bit of a phase and go to a weekly class for a few weeks and then life would get busy or stressful and I’d stop going… for months. I’d be out of the habit until I had more time or I remembered that it was something I should be doing. At other times, maybe I’d sign up for a challenge – a 10k run, Tough Mudder, Moonwalk – and maybe I’d even take up a gym membership and train for it. And then when that challenge was over, I’d stop going… because I fundamentally hate the gym and find it boring and tedious. I couldn’t make exercise stick, and like many of my clients, “Doing Some Exercise” was permanently on my to-do list.
However, for the past 3 years, I have done at least one class a week most weeks in the year. This year, I’ve upped it to two. I’m generally less sedentary, and I walk and move around much more than I used to. I feel fitter and more flexible in my everyday life (I get up with more of a bounce now than a struggle and a groan when I take something out of the bottom drawer of the freezer), and I feel a little edgy, like I need to release some energy on the odd occasion I’ve had to miss a class. So what has changed?
Well, these 4 steps have been key to me permanently changing my approach to exercise.
1. Find a form of exercise you enjoy
I have always loved music and dancing. Clubs were a huge part of my life for many years and although dancing to brilliant music all night was actually exercise when you come to think about it, it went hand in hand with lots of booze and no sleep so any health benefits were probably levelled out.
As I’ve gone to clubs less and less over the years, there has been a gap where dancing and music once was and I’ve dabbled with dance classes here and there in an attempt to continue moving in a way I enjoy. These were always phases though and I was always conscious that I wasn’t doing regular cardio. Until I discovered Fight Klub.
This high-intensity class (a combination of boxing, kick boxing, and Thai boxing) has grown in popularity over the past year, primarily due to videos that have been shared on Facebook that showcase what has been key to my enjoyment – the music
It’s the perfect mix of music and movement and is the perfect class for me.
Now, loud drum’n’bass and an MCing instructor might not be your thing but it’s about finding something that is and it seems like there are so many new classes popping up all the time. I noticed Rabble the other day which is an hour of games you might have played at a school like British Bulldog, Stuck in the Mud or Dodgeball. Then there was Pound, a fitness class inspired by drumming where you use weighted drumsticks to drum as you work out. But perhaps there’s a hobby you love, like sailing, swimming or hiking. Or maybe you like more traditional exercise methods like gym workouts or circuit training. Whatever it is, try things out, identify exercise you love and then…
2. Make a commitment to yourself
NHS guidelines on how much exercise we should be doing are specific but not particularly simple (150 mins of moderate aerobic exercise and 2 sessions of strength exercises per week vs 75 mins of vigorous aerobic exercise and 2 sessions of strength exercises per week vs 30 mins of moderate exercise 5 days a week vs a number of other permutations).
For me, and considering that many people are starting from a place of either doing exercise (e.g. January detox or preparing for a holiday where you might be going to the gym 3 times a week) and then not doing exercise at all (e.g. November/ December when it’s party season and all good intentions go out of the window), it would be beneficial to build an ongoing regular exercise habit by committing to one non-negotiable activity that you enjoy every week without fail and building from there.
I started when I found a fantastic yoga teacher who did classes round the corner from my work. I did those classes most Tuesday evenings for 18 months until I changed jobs and found another convenient yoga teacher (that’s key too – if your exercise is miles away from your home or work, you’re not going to do it regularly so find something you can slip into your day to day life without too much effort).
So, find one fun activity, put it in your diary each week and make sure it becomes something you schedule your life around, not the other way round.
3. Take a friend along for the ride
This was great for me in building my regular yoga practice. I had a friend that would come to the classes with me and we’d go for dinner afterwards. It was a brilliant opportunity to catch up and another way to socialise that wasn’t just boozing. It was also further motivation to attend the class as I felt like I would be letting my friend down if I didn’t go.
Chat to your friends and see if there are any activities you can do together. It’s more fun to share experiences and fitness goals with other people too.
4. Build up exercise frequency step by step
After over a year of my regular yoga class, I decided I also wanted to include a more cardio-based workout so tried out various dance classes before I found Fight Klub. I have now committed to one Fight Klub class a week, and one yoga or pilates class per week. If I fit something else in too, it’s a bonus, however, my two classes a week are non-negotiable and part of my weekly routine, like food shopping or putting a wash on. I have a little more flexibility now in terms of when I do my yoga / pilates class because my work routine is less rigid than it has been before. This means that when I’m looking at my diary for the week ahead on Sunday, I put in where I will do my two classes and stick to them.
Start with your one activity a week and then re-evaluate after 9 months – 1 year and see if you can add something else in (and get closer to those NHS guidelines). Permanent change doesn’t happen overnight so build up your exercise routine step by step. This has worked for me and I see it as a real achievement that I have consistently exercised for the past 3 years using this approach.