The exercise routine I follow goes like this: I begin the day thinking I’ll go for a run at lunchtime, and/or a 7 pm yoga class. But as the time draws closer, my mind will resist. The sun is setting, I’ve got to finish some work – a whole list of excuses suddenly comes to mind. It takes an iron will to ignore those resistant voices in my head even though I’ve never regretted going once I’m done. I know that it’s good for me to get moving. A stack of scientific research shows that those who exercise are less susceptible to serious disease. Most importantly, I feel much better when I’m active, so why do I so often choose the easier option – to stay in and watch a box-set instead?
There is an evolutionary explanation for this. Our ‘fight or flight mechanism’ means we are hard wired to do the minimum to survive. Thousands of years ago – when finding food was a life or death situation – we needed to conserve energy in order to fight predators. Now that our lives are sedentary, food is generally on tap, this natural response in our bodies hasn’t changed, therefore we rely on willpower and our minds to stay active.
A great starting point is to stop listening to our inner critic telling us we’re lazy, and focus on the fact that we feel better when we are fit and start doing the sorts of activities which make us happy. Choosing to exercise is simply a decision we can make, then once we’ve made that first step, we can delve deeper in order to keep it up and make it part of our lives.
It wasn’t until I hit my mid-thirties that my age, and life events (including my dad having a triple heart bypass) made me sit up and take notice of my body. I’d never had a weight problem, but was feeling ‘out of shape’, less vital, low in energy. I was an active child, always outside on my bike, roller skates, playing netball. When I hit my teens, went to college and got my first job, exercise wasn’t on the agenda. Even though I was walking everywhere and conscious of eating well, I had lost touch with my physicality, a separation of mind and body which is all too easy to slip into. To get going, I had to overcome the false thinking that I wasn’t the athletic type.
It was when I signed up for yoga classes that I reconnected with my physicality and slowly integrated exercise time into my life, and even began to start running. Still, it’s a challenge, and I’m continually learning – here are some of the ways I’ve learned to keep going:
Take it easy
Often we fall into guilt and fear-of-failure trap which results in us bouncing from one extreme to the other. We launch ourselves into a punishing regime, which we inevitably ‘fail’ at, losing confidence along the way. The trick is to build up slowly – literally – walk before you run and remember running a marathons isn’t for everyone.
Try out the trends
We’re constantly bombarded with new ways to get fit – and while it’s healthy to be cynical about fads – it is good for your body and mind to try something new. For example, spinning is a great one to try because it involves High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) i.e. switching from low intensity to high intensity training and back again, which has been proven scientifically to be a time-efficient way to get fit. Ultimately, variety is the key – we need to include strength, cardio, flexibility and something like yoga to balance the nervous system.
Join a group
The power of the group is a wonderful thing to lift your energy and confidence levels and it gives you accountability. Professional athletes surround themselves with a team so they feel loved and cared for, and going to classes can recreate that kind of feeling. Or consider training with a small group of friends, so you get personalised attention as well as all the advantages of being in a group.
Let go of the superficial
Fitness has become an industry so tied into the diet phenomenon that it influences us to place too much emphasis on how we look. What constitutes a fit and healthy body does not necessarily mean being a size 8 nor does it mean having a six pack. Pay more attention to how you feel when you exercise so you become aware of the psychological boost it gives you as much as the physical.