Exercise is often thought of as a way to “get fit.” Getting started is often not a challenge. Behavioral medicine and health psychology professor Falko Sniehotta says maintaining health is the challenge. Adults are recommended to do strength exercises every week, as well as 75 minutes of vigorous activity or 150 minutes of moderate exercise. Approximately 34% of men and 42% of women in England did not reach their aerobic exercise targets in 2016, and an even greater percentage – 69% and 77%, respectively – did not do enough strengthening activities. People in the UK are among the least active in the world, according to a report released by the World Health Organization last week. 32% of men and 40% of women reported being inactive. The analysis by Public Health England, which shows that UK women are dying earlier than those in most European countries, indicates that obesity is adding to the prevalence of chronic illnesses.
We know we should do more, but how do we stay motivated when our motivation wanes, the weather changes or life takes over? To help you stay motivated, here are 25 expert tips and suggestions from Guardian readers.
Don’t just exercise, figure out why
Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center director Michelle Segar says the reasons for starting to exercise are fundamental to why we continue to do so. Exercise and fitness are too often promoted by society by focusing on short-term motivation, guilt, and shame. Some evidence suggests that younger people will go to the gym more if their motivations are appearance-driven, but as we get older, this is less of a motivator. It does not help to have vague or future goals (“I’d like to get in shape, I’d like to lose weight”). The book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness was written by Segar, who says we will be more successful if we focus on immediate positive feelings like stress reduction, increased energy, and making new friends. If exercising delivers benefits that are meaningful and valuable to our lives, then we will prioritize it,” she says.
Take your time getting started
According to Matt Roberts, personal trainer, the typical New Year’s resolution approach to fitness results in people “jump in and do everything – change their diet, start exercising, stop smoking and drinking – and within a couple of weeks they have lost motivation or have become too tired. He says if you are not in shape, it will take time. He likes the trend towards high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and recommends people include it in their workouts, “but it is too intense to do that every day”. Try to incorporate it once (or twice, at most) a week, along with slow jogging, swimming, and fast walking – plus two or three rest days, at least for the first month. This would allow someone to have recovery sessions alongside high-intensity workouts.
There’s no need to love it
Considering the types of activities – roller-skating? – is helpful, advises Segar, who advises refraining from forcing yourself to do things you actively dislike. Bike riding? It’s something you liked as a child. Exercise does not have to be enjoyable. Exercise is enjoyable for many people, particularly the physical response of your body and the feeling of becoming stronger when you do it. There’s also the enjoyment of mastering a sport.
According to Sniehotta, the obvious choices aren’t always the ones people prefer, so they have to look outside the box. She also directs the NIH’s policy research unit in behavioural science. You might enjoy different sports or simple things, like engaging in activities with others.”
Take care of yourself
Motivating yourself – or not – is just one aspect of a larger picture. Parents’ demands, money, and even where you live can be a stumbling block, says Sniehotta. Physical activity can be affected by fatigue, depression, work stress or ill family members. According to him, staying active is easier if you have a lot of support around you. Depending on where you live in the country, you may feel more comfortable doing outdoor physical activity than in other areas. People who are not physically active are just lacking motivation, an assumption that is problematic.”
According to Segar, you should be realistic. You do not need to go to the gym five days a week. When starting out, you need to be very analytical because setting yourself up with too big goals will make you feel like a failure because you will fail. I always ask my clients to reflect on what worked and did not work for them in the past week. You might have been able to do a walk at lunch, but you didn’t have the energy after work.
Beware of relying on willpower
The more willpower you need for something, the less likely you are to actually do it, says Segar. Think about exercise from the standpoint of why we’re doing it and what we’d like to gain from it instead. Is there something I can gain from it right now? When I move, how does it feel? When I move, how does it feel?
Sniehotta says you should do anything that enables you to exercise while you accomplish other goals. In addition to gratifying you more, it is more expensive not to do it. For example, walking or cycling to work, or joining a sports team, or running with friends. Running can be a great way to spend more time in nature.
Activate your body and do something else at the same time. When possible, I walk over to people at work instead of using the lift or sending email,” says Sniehotta. The average number of steps I take throughout my day is about 15,000 per day since I walk to work, move around a lot in the building, etc. You should make physical activity meet as many meaningful targets as possible.”
You should make it a habit
Just getting out the door can be exhausting when you start running. Where are your shoes? Your water bottle? How will you get there? According to Sniehottta, the costs of an activity cease to exist after a period of time. Planning and doing physical activity regularly are key to making physical activity sustainable. Not doing it doesn’t.
Plan and prioritize your work
Are you unable to exercise due to lack of time? Many people, especially those working two jobs or caring for a number of family members, can relate to this statement. But is that really the case for you? Possibly, it has to do with priorities, says Sniehotta. There are three kinds of planning: “the first is action planning, which involves planning what, when, and how you will accomplish it, and sticking to it.” The second is coping planning: “anticipating obstacles and putting in place a plan for getting motivated again”. Segar says most people don’t recognize the importance of self-care behaviors like exercise.
9 Keep it short and sharp
A workout doesn’t have to take an hour, says Roberts. “A well-structured 15-minute workout can be really effective if you really are pressed for time.” As for regular, longer sessions, he says: “You tell yourself you’re going to make time and change your schedule accordingly.”
It’s time to change if it doesn’t work
You don’t run once during a rainy week, and then you feel guilty. Often, people consider failures to be the failure of the entire project, due to a combination of emotion and lack of confidence, says Sniehotta. However, you can always start over again.
You shouldn’t beat yourself up or try the same exercise routine again if it hasn’t worked before. He suggests trying something else. “We have a tendency to blame ourselves when we can’t lose weight. There is a chance that if you switched it to: “I don’t like this method, let’s try something else,” you will be able to use it and avoid having to point fingers at yourself, which is unhelpful.
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