Congratulations. You’ve decided to start exercising. A fantastic first step. Exercise is great for your health. Not only does it reduce your chances of getting disease and early death, it also improves your mental wellbeing and even one session will refresh you and make you feel better. But where do you start?
Do you sign up for a gym membership aiming to got 3-5 times per week? What about an aerobics class or entering a fun run a few months down the road? Your motivated, so surely it’s just a case of doing it. However, if it was, then everybody would be doing it and you probably wouldn’t be reading this.
Motivation will help you get started but it will only take you so far. It’s also very fickle. Will you be motivated to exercise when the weather’s bad, when work or home life piles up, or when you’re tired? I would argue that most people who exercise aren’t motivated every time they lace up their shoes. You need more than that.
Planning for Success
Now some might disagree, but I think starting is the easy part. Spend time in any gym, community centre or swimming pool at the start of every year and you will see dozens of people exercising. The same goes for the numerous bike, running and walking paths, which are busier than usual. But a few weeks later and those gyms are much quieter. Why is that? Did they go somewhere else, or did they stop? Are they lazy for stopping? Do they lack motivation?
While each person’s reasons for not keeping up their exercise program is individual, at the root is commonly a failure to plan. Starting to exercise itself may be a simple endeavour, all you have to do is walk out your door. However, the logistics of actually doing it are far more complex. Whether you’re successful in keeping up with your exercise program is based on the work you do before you even start exercising.
It may sound boring, especially when you’re eager to run out the door and start, but being successful in anything requires planning. Whether it’s with exercise, playing a musical instrument, your job or your relationships, success is built on planning. And a failure to plan can translate into planning to fail.
A common trap people get into is having unrealistic expectations. If you’ve never exercised before or haven’t in a while, is it realistic to expect to do it 3-5 times per week for 30-60 minutes each time right away? While that’s what the guidelines recommend, going from zero to everything can be a recipe for disaster.
Now some people may have no problem with starting out big and keeping it up. They’re in the minority. The rest of us are not like this. Don’t get caught up in someone else’s success saying it’s easy. Success is never easy. And the key is for you to be successful with your exercise program and build it into a lifelong habit. Not begin and then stop two weeks later.
Start Small and Focus on the Process
Plan to start small and build up from there. It could be a ten minute walk, going to the gym for 15 minutes or a half hour easy bike ride. Don’t spend too much time focusing on how much you’re doing, instead focus on the fact you’re doing it, the process. Similarly, don’t expect you’re going to be perfect every day. If you want to walk daily, it may not happen the first week, or every week. Don’t go in with an all or nothing perspective. Plenty of those New Year’s exercisers who quit do so because they have an all or nothing attitude. They miss a session and think of themselves a failure. Keep in mind, whatever your reason to exercise is, it’s unlikely to be affected by missing one session.
You also need to plan for the time it takes to exercise. You can’t expect to go for a 30 or even a 10 minute walk and fit in everything you usually do. That time has to come from somewhere. In fact, one of the most common reasons for not exercising is a lack of time.
Make Exercising a Priority
We all have only 24 hours in each day, so ask yourself what are you going to give up to fit in your exercise? If you’re having trouble finding time, spend a week charting out how much time you spend on different activities each day. Be as accurate and as honest as possible. This can be an eye-opening experience. You may find a number of inconsequential things you do. Or perhaps you didn’t realize how much time you spend watching TV or playing on the phone. It may be you can take time away from these activities to exercise.
You may also be able find things you do that you can trade for exercise. Are there times you can run errands by walking or cycling instead of by car? Can you take the bus and walk part of the way? Switching to a mode of active transport may not even take much extra time at all, and in some cases it may save you time.
By finding the time to exercise, you’re making it a priority. That’s how regular exercisers do it. They aren’t any less busy than you, they’ve just made exercise a priority. Something they value to do above certain other activities.
A Few More Things To Consider
Take some time to also consider your environment. If you like swimming, is there a pool nearby? How long will it take to get there or to a gym? If you live a block away, this isn’t a big deal. But if you live in the suburbs, the nearest gym may be 20 minutes away resulting in a 40 minute round-trip even without the time you spend there. You need to take this into consideration when planning.
Also, do you need to buy any equipment or a gym membership to get started? If you’re into walking, do you have comfortable walking shoes? You may not want to buy new shoes at the start, and fair enough. However, getting blisters or joint pain may be a straight path to throwing in the towel. And for some people, the idea of new shoes, a new bike or a new tennis racket, may make it more enjoyable to do the activity. Who wants to ride a bike they don’t like?
Last thing to consider is your current health. If you haven’t exercised before, or it’s been a long time, and you’re 40 or older, having a check-in with your doctor is a good idea. Exercise is an effective treatment for things such as arthritis, diabetes and heart disease. So having any of these, or other conditions, doesn’t mean you can’t exercise, you just may need some particular guidance.
They are so many rewarding benefits of exercise that makes it worth doing for the rest of your life. Setting aside some time to plan your exercise program will help ensure your success now and for years to come.
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