I’m not proud to admit it, but I’m pretty lazy when it comes to most physical activities. At school, I practically made an art form out of avoiding sports. What is there to like about exercise, I thought? Getting sweaty, out of breath, aching muscles, and blisters? I secretly suspected that the so-called “happy hormones” you’re supposed to get from exercise were a lie designed to trick us into working out.
It was only when I started thinking about preparing my body for pregnancy and child-rearing that I realized how wrong I had been all those years. I may never run a sponsored race (I’ll raise money for charity any other way!) or sign up for my local gym, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take good care of my body. I want to live a long and happy life, and I do want to be healthy and strong.
So I set out to change my habits. I hope these tips and tricks help fellow fitness-haters out there, too.
01. Identify Exactly What’s Holding You Back
For years I told myself that I didn’t “need” to exercise because I’m not overweight. Our culture sends messages perpetuating this lie about fitness: that the biggest benefit of exercise is to lose weight. I actively fear losing weight (as a teenager with a gangly “boyish” figure, I have desperately wished for more curves). But I was focusing on the wrong thing: weight, rather than core strength and flexibility.
Then there was the fact that I hate going to the gym. I have hang ups left over from my teen years about being the “un-sporty” one, prone to dropping things and making a fool of myself. I feel pretty self-conscious about working out in front of other people. Realizing that I didn’t have to do that was liberating. I discovered that I love doing Pilates videos from the comfort and privacy of my home and there are many other free workout videos you can try at home too.
02. Make It Fun, and Tailor It to Your Personality Type
Are you an extravert or an introvert? Going to a weekly class, either as a way to make new friends or regularly connect with existing ones, and then going out for a drink afterwards might sound appealing to you. If so, embrace that. Just because it’s fun and has a social element doesn't mean it can't "count" as exercise. I love dancing, but I never used to think of that as “real” exercise. A huge array of classes available these days (including adult ballet) makes it totally possible for everyone to find a routine that they genuinely enjoy. If you enjoy it, you are more likely to stick with it.
03. Make It a Non-Negotiable Part of Your Life
Whatever you choose, make sure it works for your current lifestyle, routine, and budget. Schedule it into your routine as a non-negotiable, like brushing your teeth or showering, so that it’s almost harder to break from the routine than it is to stick to it. I make myself walk or cycle to shops for essentials or when meeting a friend for dinner by choosing somewhere within walking distance of my home.
04. Start Small
True story: At college, my friend who was prone to over-exercising used to take me with her to the gym (on the rare occasions she could convince me) because she said I always made sure she didn’t stay too long. That sounds about right, given that I considered myself about done as soon as I broke a sweat: “Phew, anyone else feeling the burn? OK, time to go shower!” Jokes aside, if you take an all-or-nothing approach, the likelihood is that even with the best intentions, you won’t stick with it. Even if you’re blessed with more natural motivation than I am, being over-ambitious can set you up for failure: Ten minutes of activity a day is better than nothing.
05. Get an Accountability Buddy
Find a friend who has similar fitness goals to you, and agree to check in regularly. Whether this means setting up a private Facebook group or making a dedicated Whatsapp message thread, it needs to be a place where you specifically talk about your health goals; agree beforehand how regularly you’ll check in with each other, and how. In my experience, it won't happen unless you're clear with each other about the parameters. My best motivation is actually my husband: I’ve asked him to keep me accountable, so that he can celebrate the things I’ve checked off with me and encourage me to make time to do something before the end of the day if I’m still dragging my feet in the evening.
06. Reward Yourself
Making a pleasant little ritual a part of your workout can also be a great motivator. Save an episode of your favorite show for after the gym. Or light a scented candle while you do Pilates, and pour yourself a cup of your favorite drink afterwards. Before I go for a hike, I find a cozy pitstop to have tea or a pub where I can put my feet up and enjoy a drink by a roaring fire; a little bit of prior research and planning can make the whole experience a lot more rewarding and even something that I (gasp) actively look forward to.
07. Set Goals, Keep Your Eye on the Prize, and Revel in Your Achievement
There’s nothing quite as satisfying as checking something off a list. Decide what your daily goals are, whether it’s twenty minutes of Pilates at home, a regular fitness class, going for a run, or thirty minutes at the gym. Then stick your goals somewhere you will see it every day. Enjoy the sense of achievement you’ll get from crossing off each workout. Think about your end-goal in all of this, too: For me, it's to build up my core strength so that I can give birth and carry my kids around more easily and happily.
Maybe you don’t enjoy exercise as much as some other people do, and that’s OK—it takes all sorts to make a world, after all. There are plenty of ways to get and stay fit, you just need to find one that works for you.