So, after what may have been a long mental build, you decide to start your new exercise program. You pull on your running shoes and start jogging. You find you have to stop three minutes later to bend over with hands on knees, trying to catch your breath!
‘Wow, who thought this was a good idea?’ we hear you ask. Starting to exercise, particularly when you haven’t been doing it for a while, can be a real challenge!
Inactivity becomes a very comfortable state over time and breaking the ‘lazy habit’ is possibly the biggest obstacle to achieving long term wellbeing.
Here’s the good news. Our bodies do adapt to challenges very quickly.
The secret is to start slowly and just get through the first six weeks. This is the period when your body adapts to exercise stress most easily. Over the first six weeks your metabolism improves, your muscles get stronger, your cardio system gets more efficient, and after six weeks you will find exercise easier and you can work harder. That’s when discipline is offset by motivation and you will find your body wants to do exercise! So don’t give up! Set six weeks as your first goal.
It’s the mental challenges that are the biggest – so post some wins! Motivation is everything. To stay motivated you need some wins and for wins you need targets to hit. Set targets when you create your fitness strategy. Design a strategy yourself or get assistance from a Personal Trainer – but you definitely need a strategy! Your strategy must be tailored to your current fitness (or lack thereof!) and build gradually. As you hit those targets your motivation will skyrocket!
How often should you exercise? We all have lives to live, time is precious, and there are always unexpected interruptions. So the answer to this question is ‘as often as you can manage’. The idea that exercise requires an all-or-nothing commitment is misleading and it stops a lot of people from participating. Ideally you should exercise three or four times a week to start. If you can’t do it that often, don’t worry. Every bit helps and the benefits will accumulate. Five minutes every couple of days will eventually become a full program if you stay committed. Importantly, you don’t have to be a gym junkie to get great results.
How hard should it be? Exercise is not about pain and discipline! It’s important to choose activities that you can enjoy. In the beginning the frequency and volume of exercise you should do is more about what’s manageable than it is about intensity. For example a 30-minute walk in the park is more viable than a five-minute uphill sprint. Even fit athletes who are training for an event will start with a high volume / low intensity program and work towards low volume / high intensity. You should challenge yourself a little each time – but never to a point where you wish you weren’t doing it. Your exercise program should build with your fitness.
What are the mistakes people make getting started? The most common mistake is to go too hard too soon. It’s not possible to get fit and lose weight in a week! The secret is having realistic goals and a well thought out strategy. As with anything in life, the better the plan the better the outcome. No plan is a plan to fail. Unless you know exactly what you are doing it is always best to get professional help – the return on investment is results!
What exercise should you choose? Think of exercise in terms of ‘cardio’ and ‘resistance’ with a multitude of choices within them. Cardio exercise can be any exercise that elevates your heart rate but typically uses light or no resistance. For example jogging. Resistance exercise requires increased weight or load. Load can refer to your own body weight or a variety of devices – anything from dumbbells to cables and bands. Resistance exercise places more demand on muscle, and the benefits include improved posture, balance, strength and overall function. For the most efficient functional and fitness gains it’s ideal to ensure your exercise program achieves a balance and includes equal measures of both cardio and resistance. Examples of this are rowing and cycling, but there are an almost infinite number of possibilities.
- choose a style of exercise you can enjoy
- establish a flexible routine based on clear goals – get help with this step if you need it
- time is always a problem so exploit the cracks and gaps in your schedule
- incidental exercise really helps – use the stairs, walk instead of driving whenever you can
- don’t make it too hard – set challenges you can achieve and build on them over time
- include both cardio and resistance exercises
- once you’re in the exercise zone you can vary the volume and intensity from session to session
- Go for it!!