I’ve been a sports physician now for more than 30 years, and I’ve watched a lot of people gain enormous benefits from exercise. I’ve also seen a lot of people struggle to establish an exercise habit and, even more than that, maintain it.
There is an enormous benefit to regular exercise. From better sleep and mental concentration to having more energy and just generally feeling ‘better’.
But I’m not here to ramble on about why you should incorporate exercise into your life, I’m here to tell you how you can do it.
1. Find something you enjoy
What type of exercise you do is not important; find one you enjoy. If you like to swim, then swim. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick at it and are very unlikely to make this a routine.
2. Try out different things
Trying different things is crucial to figuring out what you like, which will help enormously with step one. Walking, yoga, or lightweight training might be a good place to start.
3. Find a friend or a group exercise class
It’s harder not to turn up for a session if someone else expects you and relies on you for their own exercise. Group exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym, either; there are a number of exercise classes held in parks (especially during this time!), as well as online if you don’t fancy leaving the house at 6 am.
4. Remember, it doesn’t have to be vigorous!
Don’t think you need to become a marathon runner or take HIIT classes; a brisk walk is fine.
5. Go slowly
Start maybe twice a week and build up your exercise until it simply becomes a habit. After you’ve been exercising for a while, you might find you actually want to do it more frequently, and before you know it, you might be exercising every day without even thinking about it.
6. Aim to build up to 150 minutes of moderate activity a week or 75 minutes of intense activity
Try doing this by setting little targets for yourself; this could mean on Monday, you try for 20 minutes of moderate exercise, then on Tuesday, you do 30 minutes; Wednesday, 35 minutes, and so on. Gradually build this up each day until it equals 150 minutes (which is really only 2.5 hours for the entire week).
7. Make incidental walking part of your daily routine
Try leaving the car at home if you can, and walking to the shops instead. You could also park some distance from work and take the stairs instead of the lift once you get there. Any chance to get your step count up will give you big rewards when it comes to your fitness because it’s the little things that eventually add up and create big change.
8. Take the stairs or at least a few flights
Whether this be at your apartment building, inside your home, at work, or wherever, really! I don’t expect you to walk up to the 53rd floor, of course, but choosing the stairs where you can instead of taking the lift again add up, and your fitness will be far better off for it.
9. Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, suggest a walk instead
Meeting for a walk is a great way to get some fresh air, catch up on everyone’s news and feel energised afterwards. But you’ll still want to sneak in that coffee if you’re like me!
10. Include some resistance/strength training
This is especially important as you age to maintain muscle strength and balance. This could include weight training, bodyweight exercises, or some pilates. Anything that gets the muscles activated throughout the movement. We have a whole lesson on exercise in the Defeat Diabetes Program, where I take you through some basic (but beneficial) exercises.
11. You don’t need fancy equipment
Buying all the bells and whistles when you’re beginning your exercise journey is unnecessary, not to mention expensive. And if you’re hoping some shiny new equipment will keep you motivated, in my experience, that’s not how it works. Start out really basic, like with some bodyweight exercises like pushups and situps. When you do feel like progressing, look into getting some equipment because, by that stage, your routine will likely become a habit you’ll stick to.
12. Set goals
Goals are what keep us motivated because we can measure our success. A goal could be to walk up the stairs without feeling breathless. Remember, keep your goals realistic and achievable because setting targets that will never happen can be really demotivating.
13. Celebrate your achievements
When you’ve reached your goal, celebrate it! Acknowledge how far you’ve come, and let those around you know you’ve achieved it too. After all, your support system wants you to succeed!
As a wise (and rich) man once said… Just do it!