Do you want to hold down your exercise habit but just can’t?
Perhaps you even just uttered to yourself ‘what habit?’
Though we know we should exercise, for whatever reason, we either don’t, or do but can’t seem to reach the point of it becoming habitual long-term.
The virtues of exercise need no preacher pitch. First, it’s not my style and secondly, you’d have to have been living under a rock for the past century to not know it’s simply good for our health as human beings.
However, there is a certain illusion surrounding fitness and exercise.
The illusion is that fitness is only for people who are prepared to near-kill themselves in order to achieve it. The illusion is that if you don’t go hard you need to go home. Fitness has almost become a medal of altruistic brilliance achieved by those who are prepared to glisten under the halo of their own sacred sweat.
It. Is. An. Illusion.
The fitness industry profits handsomely from this illusion and our yo-yo habits. It’s all too easy to buy-in to the sell that we need this specific equipment, need to be attending that brand-new class, try the craze, get the gear. And yet every New Year the gyms are full again as those of us that started… stopped.
How do you put a stop to stopping and develop the personal fortitude to create a life-long balanced fitness habit?
Set The Bar Low
The back story on this post really comes from my own fitness journey which began over a decade ago. After failing to remain consistent with exercise in my late teens and early twenties, the exercise habit stuck after the birth of my daughter because I set the bar really low. Twelve years on, exercise is still a part of almost everyday life.
No longer do I have to ‘make’ myself exercise, it is simply in the fabric of life and that’s primarily down to ONE THING: the practice of walking was bearable long enough for it to become a habit.
My low bar was: walking.
In the grip of winter, I walked for an hour at a time, with a heart rate monitor, in my fat burning zone.
Make Your Practice a Habit
The book ‘Younger Next Year’ was really the ignition. Without going into too much detail, it created a fundamental mental shift about why we need to get our bodies moving every day.
Why an hour?
Honestly, because the book said so. In short, it’s about working out at a lower intensity, for longer. It meant I didn’t die, didn’t return home red-faced or exhausted and ultimately, enjoyed the process.
One of the biggest reasons most of us quit is because we’re hard-wired to avoid pain; we simply don’t enjoy it. Reduce the obstacle of pain and you begin to see exercise in a whole other light.
The heart rate monitor
This piece of kit revolutionised my workouts after reading about the benefits in the book. A strap goes just under the chest, a ‘watch’ on the wrist and you’re instantly hooked up to exactly what your heart is doing whilst working out. It let me know when I was in or out of the fat-burning zone.
The fat-burning zone.
FACT: You’d be surprised how low this zone is.
It’s the lowest form of cardio.
I wondered if my earliest sessions were doing any good.
I didn’t even break into a sweat.
It was just a fast walk.
As I got fitter I would need to break into a light trot or run now-and-then to get into the zone but then would revert to walking again.
It’s so not revolutionary is it… and yet it was.
Why It Works
No matter the exercise you choose, finding something you like or can at least tolerate long enough for the tipping point to kick-in, is key. Walking worked because it didn’t feel like a workout, it felt enjoyable rather than a painful endurance.
In the early days, despite your best intentions and strongest desires, there are times when you will absolutely need leverage on yourself.
Vitals for Going the Distance
• Accept that if you’ve been not exercising regularly for years, you’re going to need to commit to swinging the pendulum in the other direction long enough for it to develop into a habit. You’ll know you’ve done that when you can take a break over say, a holiday, and get right back on track afterward.
• Do Not Discount The Small Steps. It’s better to do SOMETHING than nothing. Don’t overlook the validity of ‘a session’ because you can’t exercise either at the intensity or for the duration you’d like. Don’t write off small measures. If you’ve spent all day chalking up thousands of steps walking fast-paced across a city whilst going about your working day, that counts! (update 2020: I’ve written a post on taking Small Steps Over None here.)
• Break It Up. You may just prefer it or have been told that working out in one chunk of time is best. However, an hour/90 minutes can be a sizeable amount of time to allocate on some days. So, if you have cardio, arm weights, resistance, stretching or glutes to do, just get them done when you can. If you’re used to doing all your workout in a gym, it may be worth investing in whatever will help you also meet your goals at home (ie simple weights/resistance bands etc). So long as you get your amount per week in, what matters is it gets DONE.
Our health is always worth investing in. Some of us need outer accountability to meet inner expectations (read more about that here), you’ll know what does or doesn’t work for you but start somewhere small, keep going and remember every effort matters.
Things I Mentioned You May Find Helpful
Book: Younger Next Year
The Heart Rate Monitor: Polar H7 Bluetooth
Fat Burning Zones: These are addressed and explained in the book or Google.
Still Reading? For Context, The Person Writing This:
Is no fitness expert.
Has not always been one of those ‘outdoorsy people who just enjoys exercise’… er no. NO. School sports meant terribly sore thighs and a complexion that always went a striking shade of beetroot meaning any exercise simply felt awkwardly uncomfortable.
Is most definitely not a ‘no pain no gain’ type, being yelled at during boot camp? No thanks.
Has known falling asleep at 3pm on the train and now is rarely tired come bedtime. I have consistent energy morning till night,
Finally, is also a LOVER of food who does not have a natural OFF button and would graze permanently if she could.
Now I appreciate you didn’t need to know any of that last part but just in case you were presenting a case to yourself ‘she’s just one of those fitness types’… she wasn’t.