What’s keeping you from exercising?
If you’re having trouble beginning an exercise plan and following through, you’re not alone. Many of the us struggle getting out of sedentary rut, despite our best intentions.
While practical concerns like a busy schedule or poor health can make exercise more challenging, for most of us, the biggest barriers are mental. Maybe it’s a lack of self-confidence that keeps you from taking positive steps, or your motivation quickly flames out, or you get easily discouraged and give up. We’ve all been there at some point. Here’s what you can do to the break through mental barriers:
Ditch the all-or-nothing attitude. You don’t have to the spend hours in a gym or force yourself into monotonous or painful activities you hate to the experience the physical and emotional benefits of the exercise. A little exercise is better than nothing. In fact, adding just modest amounts of physical activity to your weekly routine can have a profound effect on your mental and emotional health.
Be kind to yourself. Research shows that self-compassion increases the likelihood that you’ll succeed in any given endeavor. So, don’t beat yourself up about your body and your current fitness level, or your supposed lack of the willpower. All that will do is demotivate you. Instead, look at the your past mistakes or unhealthy choices as opportunities to learn and grow.
Check your expectations. You didn’t get out of the shape overnight, and you’re not going to instantly transform your body either. Expecting too much, too soon the only leads to frustration. Try not to be discouraged by what you can’t accomplish or how far you have to go to reach your fitness goals. Instead of obsessing over results, focus on consistency. While the improvements in mood and energy levels may happen quickly, the physical payoff will come in time.
How much exercise do you need?
The key thing to remember about starting an the exercise program is that something is always better than nothing. Going for the quick walk is better than sitting on the couch; one minute of activity will be help you lose more weight than no activity at all. That said, the current recommendations for most adults is to reach at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. You’ll get there by exercising for 30 minutes, 5 times a week. Can’t find 30 minutes in your busy schedule? It’s okay to break things up. Two 15-minute workouts or three 10-minute workouts can be just as effective. And a recent study in UK found that squeezing a week’s worth of the activity into one or two weekend sessions can benefit your health almost as much as spreading it is out over the week.
How hard do I need to exercise?
Whether an activity is low, moderate and high intensity varies according to your personal fitness level. A brisk jog, for example, may be low intensity for an athlete but high intensity for someone who’s never exercised before. As a general guideline:
- Low intensity activity: You can easily talk in full sentences.
- Moderate intensity: You can speak in full sentences, but not sing.
- High intensity: You are too breathless to speak in full sentences.
For most people, aiming for moderate intensity exercise is sufficient to improve your overall health. You should breathe a little heavier than normal, but not be out of breath. Your body should feel warmer as you move, but not overheated or sweating profusely. While everyone is different, don’t assume that training for a marathon is better than training for a 5K or 10K. There’s no need to overdo it.
Getting started safely
If you’ve never exercised before, or it’s been a significant amount of time since you’ve attempted any strenuous physical activity, keep the following health precautions in mind:
Health issues? Get medical clearance first. If you have health concerns such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, talk with your doctor before you start to exercise.
Warm up. Warm up with dynamic stretches—active movements that warm and flex the muscles you’ll be using, such as leg kicks, walking lunges, or arm swings—and by doing a slower, easier version of the upcoming exercise. For example, if you’re going to run, warm up with walking. Or if you’re lifting weights and begin with a few light reps.
Cool down. After your workout, it’s important to take a few minutes to cool down and allow your heart rate to return to its resting rate. A light jog and walk after a run for example and some gentle stretches after strength exercises can also help prevent soreness and injuries.
Drink plenty of water. Your body performs best when it’s properly hydrated. Failing to drink enough water when you are exerting yourself over the prolonged period of time, especially in hot conditions, can be dangerous.
Listen to your body. If you feel pain or discomfort while working out, stop! If you feel better after a brief rest, you can slowly or gently resume your workout. But don’t try to power through pain. That’s a surefire recipe for injury.
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