By Chris Freytag
“Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.” — Jim Rohn
Sometimes a new thought or a new idea is all you need to make a lasting change. You can wake up one day and decide to make your entire life change. If you are new to exercise or you dropped it for a while and you want to get back to doing it, the best way to begin is with small steps.
You don’t have to become an athlete overnight to make exercise a part of your lifestyle. It’s actually better if you commit to making small changes in your daily routine instead of reinventing yourself overnight, because you are more likely to stick with it. Small changes in habits can lead to lasting, permanent change. So think baby steps and incorporate exercise into your life with these tips.
1. Develop a “move more” mindset.
Carving out a specific hour of a day for a workout is great (and we will get to that in a little bit) but first, start each day with the mindset to move more. By reminding your body to get more movement throughout the day, you will be more likely to do it. So sit less and stand more. Take more steps and stairs. Walk to talk with a coworker instead of emailing them.
Stretch in your chair, squat to pick something up, park far away from stores so you will walk more, stand up when you talk on the phone and do some exercises while you watch TV. There are numerous ways you can sneak more movement into your day. Begin each day with a move more mindset and you will find them.
2. Commit to regular activity.
You may not be the type of person who wants to train for a triathlon and that’s perfectly okay. You don’t have to become a fitness buff to benefit from exercise and movement. Start by committing to getting activity regularly. Schedule exercise like any other appointment on your calendar and treat it as a commitment rather than something you squeeze in if you have time. Even if you can only allot 15 minutes at a time, schedule it.
Take a short walk. Walk at a leisurely pace at first if exercise is new to you. You can build up to a power walk. If that’s not your thing, take a fitness class, swim laps or sign up for dance classes. Whatever exercise you start, build up slowly so you don’t overwhelm yourself and give up. If your body isn’t accustomed to regular exercise, build up slowly day by day so you don’t get too sore and throw in the towel altogether.
3. Find your favorite exercise.
I know people who commit to a form of exercise and hate it. How long do you think they will keep that up? We aren’t inclined to dive in or stick to things we despise. Out of all the forms of exercise out there, find one you just love. Get really specific. Don’t just say, “yoga” discover what form of yoga is your favorite. If swimming is your thing, do you prefer swimming laps or water aerobics? Or maybe you’d dread a step class but you can’t get enough of Pilates.
A good way to identify what type of exercise is right for you is to first figure out if you like to exercise alone, with a partner or in a group setting. You may have to experiment a little bit before you know. Try different forms of exercise until you find one that energizes you physically and mentally. Find your favorite exercise—one where excuses won’t even enter the equation when it’s time to exercise.
4. Focus on health and strength and what it means to you, and not on numbers on a scale.
Many people can get easily discouraged and give up when there’s too much emphasis on weight loss. Rather than an exclusive focus on weight loss, focus on the joys of exercise and movement instead. Take pride in your body getting stronger or your new ability to able to exercise longer, even if it’s just in baby steps. Think about the great way your body feels after exercise and the exhilaration you feel. Taking the time to consider what really connects you to exercise on an emotional level, is powerful because you can use those thoughts to motivate you.
Most likely what motivates you runs much deeper than getting skinnier or being a specific set of three numbers on a scale. Identify what it is for you. Maybe you want to have more energy for your children or grandchildren or you want to be in more control of your health—whatever is your core motivation—connect to it.
5. Add strength training to your weekly routine.
Exercise isn’t just cardio alone. Strength training is critically important to retain muscle as you age, have a strong body and an effective metabolism. Even if you focus on just one muscle group a day and do three different exercises with three sets of 15 each for that muscle group you will benefit. You can divide strength training up throughout the week. Try two days a week to start and work up to three. Strength training will change how you feel, help you conquer your workouts with all that new muscle you are developing, and it’s the secret to a revved up metabolism.
6. Put yourself first.
Stressful situations can take your focus away from properly caring for yourself. If you neglect yourself for the sake of external problems, you will be creating more problems than you are solving. Make sure you consider what you need and do something—however small—for yourself each day. Even if you only have 15 minutes, just commit to 15 minutes. It all goes back to the oxygen philosophy you hear about on planes flight attendants advice: “Put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.” Put the mask on you first and then your children. You aren’t able to effectively take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first. Keep that in mind.
7. Exercise with a group.
Exercise doesn’t have to be a solo sport. Make it an outing with friends and family. When you join up with others to exercise, not only do you get the immediate benefits of exercise, you also get time spent with friends—a double deposit into your well-being. When you discover physical activities and forms of exercise you love, you develop a sense of camaraderie and community with others. Accountability works.
8. Think of how exercise boosts your sense of well-being.
You probably know exercise can help you live longer and go a long way to disease prevention, but what you might find more rewarding is to think about all the immediate benefits exercise provides to your well-being. While the long-term benefits are numerous, let’s face it, many of us aren’t motivated by what we can prevent decades down the road. Think short-term instead. All of us can use exercise today to get more energy, alleviate stress, increase productivity, improve our outlook, sleep better and feel happier—today! Think about what you stand to gain if you work out today. Maybe it’s a sunnier disposition or the satisfaction in knowing you pushed your body. Just give it some thought or better yet, make a list.
9. Look to the future
Don’t get caught up in guilt or regret because you haven’t worked out or don’t beat yourself up if it has been a while. Guilt and regret only make you feel badly, they don’t get you where you are headed. With a simple decision in your mind, you can let go of what you did or didn’t do and just start again. Look forward. If you are feeling badly about yourself, you are less likely to make positive change. Start over with a clear plan of what you will commit to doing each day for your health.
10. Avoid stop and start and stop again syndrome
One great way to kill your confidence is to constantly start and stop your exercise routine. It’s common for people to get psyched up and dive in to working out and then drop it altogether when the craziness of life intervenes. But if you start and stop all the time, you are setting yourself up for a never-ending cycle, where you won’t see any progress. Don’t tackle the world in a day. Think baby steps. Think of what you can do and schedule today even if it’s small increments of time that you eventually build upon. Commit to what you can achieve, at least at first.
11. Remind yourself daily of your why.
It’s easy to get off track if you aren’t reminding yourself of why working out and eating healthy is important to you. This goes back to your core motivation that we addressed earlier. If you make it automatic to wake up and remind yourself of why exercise is important to you, you will be more likely to keep your commitments to yourself. You also will be putting exercise front and center on your day instead of treating it as an afterthought that you skip at day’s end. Wake up thinking of what exercise you will do today and it becomes a priority.
12. Stretch post workouts.
An effective exercise regimen involves cardio, strength training and stretching. Stretching after exercise can help relax and balance tension caused by the workout itself. Post-workout, when your body is warm is the ideal time to stretch. The risk of muscle injury is much lower, and you will save yourself from tight, sore muscles the following day. Plus, the calm, relaxing feeling of a good stretch is a great way to end a workout.
Try some of these steps to make exercise a part of your life. Remember, a great way to avoid skipping workouts is to ask yourself how you will feel afterward. You can feel proud of your dedication and gain the exhilaration of accomplishment, or you can be disappointed and defeated that you skipped, again.
About the Author
Chris Freytag is a health and fitness expert, blogger, author and motivational speaker. She has been teaching fitness classes and personal training for over 20 years. She is a contributing editor for Prevention Magazine; the fitness contributor for the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis; and sits on the Board of Directors for the American Council on Exercise.