Exercise is immeasurably good for your health. From curbing anxiety, to boosting your confidence, to even fostering friendships and creating lifelong joyful hobbies that help you age well, exercising can be a transformative ingredient to anyone’s physical, mental, and spiritual health. But you know this already.
No matter how revealing or motivating this scientific knowledge may be, it doesn’t matter one tiny, pathetic squat unless we actually act on it. According to recent statistics, a whopping 80 percent of Americans aren’t acting on it—despite the incredible media frenzy, including Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign.
Why is this? Well, there’s a plethora of reasons. But I think it boils down to simple laziness coupled with the incredible technological innovations of recent history. Up until the automobile, most daily activities required quite a bit more physical exertion. Simply “calling” a friend could mean an hour-long stroll across town, and buying produce could take an entire morning—or even mean harvesting your own in a garden. Tasks that now take us very little energy, such as doing the laundry, used to be exceptionally demanding, laborious aerobic activities.
With all the changes in the past century, exercise has evolved from a natural way of living to a conscious choice we have to make for our health.
If you’re anything like me, your body might go through long stints of “conserving energy,” especially as the seasons get colder, and all you really want to do is hibernate. But if we are to believe all the hype about moderate exercise being the key to everlasting health, it’s time to get ourselves moving. But how?
You should probably start small, unless you’re abnormally competitive.
If you want to motivate yourself to exercise, trying to totally change lifelong habits isn’t going to happen overnight. If you want to achieve success, you’ll want a plan that’s sustainable—something that will last.
Of course this depends on your personality. When I initially wanted to get in better shape after I stopped playing college sports, my father’s advice was to help me plot out an intense schedule of cardiovascular and strength-building exercises. And I mean intense: heart-rate monitor, trainer, and everything. My father just so happens to be one of the most competitive men I know, having been nicknamed “The Beast” as his four-person team actually won the Race Across America in 2010. While his strict approach might have worked with one of my more athletically gifted siblings, it intimidated the heck out of me. Luckily I had my mom to give me a little perspective. She kindly took me aside and said, “Or you can just start by running one mile a day . . .” Thank you, Mom!
I know some people find this leisurely approach to exercise annoying (see: my father), so if you’re an all-or-nothing person, go ahead and start training for your triathlons! For the rest of us, we’ll need to build slowly. Aiming for two and a half hours per week is all we need for now.
Pick an activity you actually like.
Ask yourself: What are your past hobbies? What helps you reconnect with a more active state? What motivates you to move?
“I ask clients what they liked to do as kids,” shares John Jay Austria, fitness director at UFC Gym. “Do they like to go hiking or go to the beach? Do they like playing a particular sport? Dancing?” He suggests that his clients start with these activities because it won’t feel like work, but they’ll be getting great benefits.
Finding the physical activity that clicks with you might take several tries. What you loved as a kid and what you love now might have changed. For instance, I loved to climb as a light, skinny teenager. Now, despite many tries, I absolutely hate it. It makes my hands hurt, and I find it generally tiresome and frustrating. But other activities I enjoyed as a kid, such as dancing and swimming, I’m slowly rediscovering as an adult, along with my deep love of nature.
Make the time. Get in the habit. Force yourself.
There’s no way around this. If you ever want exercise to become second nature, you must move even when you don’t want to. For those of us who played high school sports, this part used to be easy because we had a coach and daily practices that forced us to get out there. As adults, we don’t have the same structure. Our dedication to our health and fitness has to come from ourselves.
One way to do this is by establishing small, achievable goals. Austria agrees: “I don’t make clients do huge drastic changes at once. I help them get to a healthier lifestyle by doing small steps. If I ask them to do huge changes, they often fall back or give up. So I ask them to change little things here or there that slowly create a bigger adjustment in the long run, thus breaking bad habits they’ve been doing for a year or a lifetime.”
So start small. Lift weights while watching TV. Take a short stroll after dinner, or walk downtown during your lunchtime. “People often say they don’t have time to exercise,” Austria says. “But there’s a way to make good things for you (such as working out) a natural fit in your schedule.”
Make your source of motivation easily accessible to you.
If you don’t have a Pinterest board filled with motivational sayings, it might not be a bad idea to sit down and start pinning words that align with how you perceive exercise. Especially as you make a transition to a healthier lifestyle, little words can make all the difference, as they connect you with how others might be feeling, too. See if you can find a motivating desktop wallpaper (I’m a huge fan of this site), or follow a prolific motivating Instagram account (or check out Verily’s daily quotes!).
You can also take small steps toward making things easier for yourself. If you exercise in the morning, lay out your gear right before you go to bed—and have a water bottle waiting for yourself in the fridge. Block out time on your calendar for exercise, and hold to it. This is imperative until it becomes a habit you naturally want to do instead of something you must force yourself to do.
Think about what recharges you.
A lot of people suggest that finding an accountability partner and ingraining your workout routine into your social calendar are great ways to stay in shape. That works for some people—and maybe you’re one of them. “Social people tend to have a little bit more fun when they work out because they can interact with other people. Plus, they’re with someone who can understand what they're going through,” Austria says.
Though I’m certainly not antisocial (I love people!), working out with others has never been my preferred route. In a world where I’m constantly interacting with other people, exercising by myself is an escape—a time for me to reflect and recharge. There can be a downside to being by yourself, though. As Austria points out, you’re “less likely to have someone to help you or push you.” If you don’t have a motivating buddy—and you don’t exactly want one, that’s fine. Just know that your own will is going to have to be all the more stronger.
Sure, historically speaking, intentional exercise is an ultimate luxury that we’re able to indulge in—thank you, Industrial Revolution and Henry Ford. But just because exercise is no longer a major byproduct of our daily tasks doesn’t mean that it can be viewed as an indulgence. Having the means and the knowledge to take care of ourselves is an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up simply because we can’t figure out what motivates us to move. “I want others to know it’s possible for the average person to change their life greatly for the better,” Austria says. “I don’t think of the most important changes as being physical or aesthetic but more mental, even spiritual.” Each woman has a responsibility to herself to make moves toward a healthier life.
Photo Credit: Brittni Willie Photography