It’s that time of year again. The start of a new year, and hopefully change for the better in some areas of life.
When it comes to exercise and physical activity, I can definitely say that most people try to make changes at New Year’s. If you look at the statistics, gyms make more money from membership sales and personal training packages in January than at any other time of the year. I guess as human beings we feel that the first month of a new year means hitting the reset button on something in our lives that we have been neglecting. If physical activity and exercise is what you want to reset this year, here are seven tips that may help you to incorporate more of it into your life.
1. Start slow and steady.
I know this may sound obvious, but I find we all need to learn more about this when it comes to making new habits. If you haven’t been exercising or doing any regular physical activity before now, do you think going to the gym five times a week is an ideal place to start? I like to use the analogy, “We all crawl before we can walk, and walk before we can run.”
Instead of planning to work out at the gym four or five times a week, I recommend starting twice a week for at least two to three weeks. This does not mean putting in two really hard “kill yourself” workouts, it just means “get to the gym and do something.” Most times the hardest part is getting to the gym, not the workout itself. In the exercise world, we call this the frequency part of the FITT principle (Frequency, Intensity, Time, Type). So just get to the gym twice a week until it becomes a habit (frequency). You can get more specific with the intensity, time, and type of workout next month.
2. Pick a time of day when exercise fits best for you.
Another no brainer here. But you would be surprised how many people try to force themselves to do morning workouts when they absolutely hate mornings. If you hate mornings, and you know you won’t go after work because you have kids to take care of or your workday is hectic, try getting something in at lunchtime. The key here is to plan a time that works so you can gain some momentum.
3. Exercise with a friend or a group of people.
We are all human beings, which means we need to socialize and communicate with other people for our overall well-being. So if you know that you will lose focus and motivation as quickly as Usain Bolt can run the 100-metre dash, why not ask a friend, co-worker, or a family member to start exercising or walking with you? And if you know both of you will still have a tough time, join an exercise class. That way, you will surround yourself with motivated people who are all trying to improve the same habits as you.
4. Have as little distraction as possible.
This is probably the hardest thing to incorporate into physical activity and exercise. I love to walk through gyms in January and see all of the new faces on the cardio equipment with headphones on, reading a magazine, and watching their favourite television show, all at the same time! It may feel great to try to multi-task, but all you are really doing is taking your focus away from getting in tune with your body, physically and mentally. And, isn’t that the reason why you are working out in the first place? To get those natural endorphins going that will make you feel better about yourself in the long run?
When it comes to exercise distractions, the analogy I like to use is to think about how you feel after a yoga class. The people I know who are addicted to yoga love the feeling afterwards–physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Why? Because their focus is on their own movement and breathing technique. You cannot get this feeling by distracting yourself with music, reading a book, and watching television all at the same time. If this is a problem for you, read on to my next helpful hint.
5. Change things up.
I agree that getting onto a piece of cardio equipment and breaking a sweat for 30-40 minutes is probably the most boring way to incorporate exercise. I personally could not keep up that routine. That is why variety is important. If you want to start with cardiovascular fitness because you do not feel confident about weight training or stretching, try performing five to ten minutes on every piece of cardio equipment in the gym. That will keep you from getting so bored. And once you have that down, start learning how to do resistance training or foam rolling/stretching. That way your body will get everything it needs.
6. Don’t be so hard on yourself.
This one can be tough to deal with, especially if you have a Type A personality. Treat exercise and physical activity as a lifelong journey. You will have your ups and downs, but you know it has to last ‘til the day you die. So don’t beat yourself up when your workout is not the way you want it to go, or you miss a day here or there.
7. Be consistent. It is the most important thing.
I want to finish off by saying that this is the most important piece of advice I give to my clients: The more consistent you are, the easier it will be to develop your exercise habit, and hence the more successful you will become.
I hope these pointers will help you in some way when it comes to your physical activity and exercise goals. Have fun with it!