The reality is that very few people enjoy exercising but nearly everyone enjoys the benefits of exercise. In 25 years of being a physiotherapist involved with health, fitness and sport from grassroots to Olympic level I can assure you that very few people indeed enjoy exercise. Even the world champions. People like games where they run around after things such as in Football or Tennis but by enlarge people don't enjoy doing exercise. They do however enjoy the feeling of well being that it gives them and intellectually understand for the most part, that we need to be physically active in a modern world that is becoming increasingly sedentary.
Statistics can be manipulated in many ways but one I like to quote every now and again is that it's easier to give up heroin than it is to exercise. On the surface this is quite shocking but not surprising when you understand that this statistic is based on a comparison between those who complete drug rehabilitation for heroin addiction and if they are clean and sober at 3 months post rehab versus those who join the gym and are they still going regularly at three months?
In this case the heroin addicts win. This comparison doesn't look at all those who started drug rehabilitation but didn't finish the course but rather those who were successful in completing rehab. It didn't compare those with multiple failed attempts at rehab, just those who were successful in completing the program. When you consider those who join the gym, typically around Christmas or new year, thinking that a gym membership alone will be enough to inspire them to exercise, you can see how the heroin addicts can be the more successful group. The reason for this will be in part because those who completed rehab were more likely to have truly desired to make a change to their lives. Paying for a gym membership as a new years resolution doesn't mean you are truly committed to exercising. You've got to want it to make it happen.
Over the years I've come to realise there are a dozen things we need to help us succeed with regular exercise.
Have a purpose. Aim for something so far in the future that it will keep you going for years. This might be wanting to be capable of walking 18 holes of golf at 85 years of age or living independently in your 90's.
Short to medium term goal. Something to keep you going in the near future. Maybe you want to look good for your 50th birthday or a University reunion or maybe you want to have a chance in the parents race at the school sports day or make your kids proud that you at least took part.
Have a hero to aspire to. Think of who you'd like to be in the future. Some people will naturally think of a sporting hero to aspire to and that's fair enough, if it works as a motivation, however be careful that it doesn't set you up for failure. These are full time professionals and you're not. Think instead of someone you know who is living well and consider what they do. I recently heard of a 96 year old man who does an exercise routine everyday of touching his toes 100 times, rotating his spine 100 times and 100 push ups off the bar on the Aga plus a 30 second cold shower every morning. He's my inspiration. Not all superheros wear capes!!
Appreciate how fortunate you are. Regularly when I'm running and my brain tells me to stop (see fatigue blog) I think of how the hospital is full of people who'd love the opportunity to feel the way I'm feeling at that moment in time and that helps me to keep on going to the end. It also helps to know that I don't have to run for another 48 hours and that feeling is only temporary.
Link your exercise to an existing task. Don't spend hours of your day thinking about when you're going to fit your exercise in and only a few minutes actually doing it. A simple trick is to link it to an existing part of your day and just do it then. I do my core exercise routine when I hang up the washing. It ads 15 minutes to the task but I waste no time wondering when I'll do it or procrastinating about it.
Give yourself a carrot. It's not easy to go out for a run on a cold wet November night but that's what it takes to stay on track to achieve your goals and purpose. Listening to a really good Podcast while you workout can be a great incentive especially if you set a rule to only listen while you exercise. Have podcasts that last at least the length of 3 runs and that way you'll have another motivator to get you out and on with it plus you might learn a thing or two.
Know who you are and how you think. Your personality will play an enormous part in your exercise success. If you are disciplined, intrinsically motivated and like routine you'll do all of the above and won't find it too challenging to stay on track. If you struggle with that you'll need some support from friends who will help and encourage you to keep going. Joining a group or a class might work better for you or maybe entering a race or charity event is what you need to keep on keeping on. Perhaps you need a personal trainer to take charge and make you get to a certain level of fitness before you are capable of going on your own. Have a think about what type of character you are and how to turn those traits into strengths when it comes to committing to exercise.
Be accountable. If you say you are going to do something and write it down you are 39.5% more likely to succeed. If you say you are going to do something, write it down and give it to someone else you are 76.6% more likely to succeed. Accountability helps. I will regularly tell patients that I am going for a run later that day. I especially do this on the days I'm tired or the weather is bad or I really don't feel like it. I make myself accountable to them and I'm not going to be a hypocrite.
Be careful what you measure. It's easy to get fixated on times and performance and lifting the heavy thing but what matters more is that you're doing it and you're doing it week in, week out come rain or shine. Sure, have an idea of how you are doing so you can see progress and keep motivated but don't let it ruin your day if you are 3 seconds slower than your last run. Exercise isn't all about physical health it's very much a factor in mental health. Having a run and clearing your head is more important sometimes than peak heart rate and split times per kilometer. Understand when it's a day to measure those things and a day when it's not. Learn a lesson from the champion surfer who stopped measuring his performance.
Mix it up. Routine is great but you can get lazy or complacent so every now and again mix it up. Ask your body some different questions and set yourself some new short term goals.
Get real. There are 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week. It really doesn't take that much time to do some exercise and look after yourself. Even if you averaged an hour a day across all types of exercise you'll spend less than 8 hours a week exercising. That's 160 hours you're not doing it.
Don't be a passenger. Look around you. Life doesn't stop for anyone but it can certainly pass you by. Take ownership of your health and well being. You're the one who benefits most and you're the only one who can do something about it. Take the driving seat and don't wait for someone else to take care of it.
A few years ago a good friend of mine was telling me that his older brother had turned 50. This was surprising enough as we had all grown up together and I couldn't quite believe Jimmy was 50. My friend went on to say "He has the same birthday as Daniel Craig you know". I was impressed. Jimmy had always been special and as a kid I thought he was some kind of secret agent. My friend continued. "Yeah, the same birthday as James Bond, but different gyms!!"