I don’t know about you but I have neither a love or hate relationship with exercise. I’m somewhere in between. All I know is I usually feel better for doing it. I didn’t always feel this way. I once lived and breathed exercise. It was my career. I was an exercise scientist, spruiking the benefits of exercise to all my clients. I loved it and practised what I preached. I felt like it was my calling. Then seven years ago it all changed. I got diagnosed with a lung disease and exercise suddenly became a chore. The shoe was on the other foot. I began to understand some of the obstacles my clients used to talk about in regard to exercise because I was facing some of those same challenges myself. Exercise became a real effort, but I knew it was something I had to continue with because my health depended on it. I learnt how hard it can be to get back the exercise habit when you’ve had a break from it for a while. Dealing with regular chest infections meant I was often falling off the exercise wagon and having to find my way back step by step. You know what they say though, “through adversity comes some of the greatest lessons”. I totally agree with that. If I were to pick out one thing that has helped me the most it’s the realisation that I had to make exercise a “non negotiable” Much like brushing my hair or doing my teeth I treat exercise as something that I automatically do as part of my day. I remember shortly after I was diagnosed rebelling against doing what I should be doing. I went a day without exercise and it was an awful day. My energy levels were terrible and my lungs were so congested I coughed so much more than usual. From this moment onwards exercise was a no brainer.
Exercise is a part of my life. Don’t get me wrong I wake up most mornings and momentarily think I don’t feel like doing it, but I just get on with it. I can’t rely on motivation to get me through because that seems to fluctuate from day to day. So I find having a routine time of the day to exercise helpful. If I can’t exercise at my usual time due to some other commitment then I build it into another part of the day. Today for instance I was all out of whack. I couldn’t exercise at my usual time of 9am so I decided to break my exercise routine into two blocks of 15 minutes instead of one block of 30. There is plenty of evidence to support smaller blocks of exercise anyway. In fact I saw an interesting study done on the benefits of 6 minutes per week. Here’s the link. http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4319131.htm It’s worth a look as it is considered quite a reputable study. However I will say I don’t believe there is one exercise plan to fit all. It’s about what works for you. I do however believe there are a number of key components that make up an ideal exercise program. These include flexibility, strength, and cardiovascular endurance. My plan consists of a combination of walking or an indoor circuit, weights and stretching. If I have a break from exercise, usually caused by a flare up with my health I start small when I resume my plan. I may start with blocks of 5 minutes of exercise and build up from there, until I’m doing 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. I intermittently review what I’m doing so I don’t get bored and I don’t get stuck in an exercise plateau. Sometimes it’s about making one small change that can make all the difference. I’m a bit of a fan of interval training to build fitness. I still do some steady state training which is continuous e.g. walking for 20 minutes at a set pace but on some days I mix it up with some short bursts of high intensity exercise e.g. 1 minute and then recover for a minute before starting another interval. I find it rebuilds my fitness quicker than the continuous steady state training.
Finally, having some kind of accountability is a huge asset. I have a team of allied health professionals that I’m accountable to at least each month and let’s just say they leave no stone unturned when it comes to my health. Having someone to report into helps keep me on track.
So if you’re starting out with exercise or finding it hard to regain the exercise habit I’d say the following.
- Set up a plan that is realistic and adaptable
- Try making exercise a non-negotiable
- Set up some kind of accountability
- Enjoyment is a bonus – as long as it’s sustainable you should be right!
Best wishes with maintaining the exercise habit. Just remember you are not alone. Everyone on the planet has to find some way to exercise.