Letshego Zulu, Thapelo Mowela
Cementing exercise as a habit can seem impossible. Many of us have tried several times and have failed consistently. It can truly be a discouraging cycle. It doesn’t have to be if you take the right approach. So, I decided to share key tactics, or you can call them tips and tricks, that will help you make exercise an unbreakable habit.
1. Know yourself
Exercise is not all about the gym. You’re unlikely to make exercise a habit if you choose something that doesn’t suit your personality. If the idea of exercise for exercise’s sake doesn’t appeal to you, then give it a function. Cycle to work. On weekends, walk to meet friends, take a walk to the park. Walking is one of the easiest, yet efficient exercises. Have a dance party, it’s cardio and you’ll burn calories.
2. Choose an activity you enjoy
People tend to think that for exercise to work, it has to be tough and unpleasant. Eventually, it will catch up with you and chances are high that you end up stopping. It’s true that to be effective exercise will involve some kind of discomfort. And certain kinds of exercises are more effective than others. But in general, any exercise is better than none and once it becomes a habit, it becomes a great source of pleasure. Putting pressure on yourself by exercising the way some person or some magazine told you to may not always be the solution, find something you enjoy doing. This will take some time and experimentation (which can be fun and a great way to meet people and exchange tips and tricks). If you don’t like road running, try hiking. If you don’t like lifting weights, try a bodyweight programme. If you don’t like working out by yourself, try joining a fitness class. There’s something out there for everyone.
Bottom line: if you want to make exercise a habit, start off by picking an activity you enjoy.
3. Put a training schedule on your calendar
Another thing that keeps people from regularly exercising is not setting aside time for it. For most, exercise is one of those things they’ll get to if or when they have time. But, of course, they never do, because something else always comes up. You have to make time for it. And the best way to do that is to schedule your workouts and treat them like doctor’s appointments or work meetings. As difficult and challenging this may be, you really need to put in the work
and respect the time put aside to get active. These are like meetings with your health.
4. Choose a workout time that best suits you
The time you schedule your work out should work for you. Many people find it’s best to exercise first thing in the morning. However, everybody has different work or life schedules and different rhythms to their daily energy and motivation. Maybe you’ll love working out at lunchtime or at night. You’ll never know unless you try.
5. Have a plan for your workout
If you decide that gym is place you’ll be going for training, know exactly what you’ll be doing once you get there. Many
people make the mistake of just showing up and doing whatever the gym spirits move them to do. Uncertainty is a big motivation killer. You’ll end up doing nothing. And when you do nothing, your body and health don’t change. And when your body and health don’t change, you lose motivation. To avoid this, know exactly which exercises you’re going to do and for how many sets and reps. Write down your plan, bring it with you and refer to it frequently throughout your session so you stick to it. You’d be surprised how much having a plan can keep you motivated to work out.
6. Get moving, even when you don’t feel like it
The hardest part of working out for a lot of people is simply getting started. At times, you just don’t feel like exercising. You don’t feel like getting out of bed or off the comfy couch. You don’t feel like leaving the house. Try making a deal with yourself (this is what I do). Decide that all you have to do is work out for 30 minutes, if after 30 minutes you don’t want to do any more, then you can stop. It’s an easy deal to commit to. Of course, what happens nine times out of 10 is that once you get moving, you get into an exercise-positive mindset and want to continue on and do a full workout.
7. Aim for consistency
When it comes to habit formation, consistency is king. Of course, listen to your body (and be sure you’re doing recovery right), but also don’t take an all-or-nothing approach to your workouts. Repetition and frequency lead to consistency so make sure your programme is varied and that you also have a good recovery plan to ensur you remain consistent.
8. Don’t lose the momentum
Life will sometimes get in the way. Illness, work, holidays are all lying in the wait to ruin your plans and then it’s easy to just fall off the bandwagon and give up. The key is to make a token effort to make up for missed sessions. If you miss a training session because you had to work late, do 10 minutes of functional exercises in the living room when you get home. If you are travelling a lot, pack a pair of tackies or a skipping rope and plan routines for when you are away. Persevering in any small way can help you keep momentum.
Making exercise a habit doesn’t need to be hard. Find something you enjoy, plan for it, prioritise it and point it towards a purpose. Keep adding one link after another to the chain of your new habit and soon you’ll become the kind of person who finds it difficult not to exercise. Exercise then becomes an unbreakable habit. It becomes a lifestyle.
This article was co-written with Thapelo Mowela
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