You definitely know all its benefits, you probably have an optimistic stash of unworn Lycra saved for it and what with 38% of us making the New Year’s Resolution to exercise more, odds are that you’ll be making working out one of your goals for 2019.
But unlike the other resolutions that wain in mid-January, the watercolour set left lonely in a cupboard, the food blog as yet unwritten, the veganism has fallen victim to a half-eaten chocolate Santa, how do you actually go about making exercise a regular and consistent part of your routine? How do you make exercise something you associate more with joy and less so with a monthly direct debit of £39.99 to a gym you’ve only visited twice?
I used to hate exercise. To make up for eating cheesecake or committing the cardinal sin of ‘sitting’, I punished myself by pounding the pavements and spending hours in the gym. Over the past couple of years I’ve worked hard to rebuild my relationship with exercise so that these days it’s something I generally look forward to. Sometimes I don’t, I go with the natural ebb and flow of things, but these days I like it enough to have worked it into a solid part of my routine. And here’s how I did it, and how you can start to like exercise too.
Uncouple weight loss from exercise, and just do it for you.
For me, exercise had to become enjoyable and not instrumental. It couldn’t be attached to burning calories or changing my body or the first step on the ladder to becoming an undiscovered swimwear model who just happened to be living at their mum’s house and working in admin.
It had to stop being a chore or the next stage of the battle against my body. Rather, it had to be reframed something fun, something that would just make me sweat a bit would release some nice, happy hormones. If you use weight loss as an incentive to exercise, it’s likely that you’ll lose motivation once you don’t see results and end up disappointed and demotivated.
But mainly, do it for your brain. Do it for the smile it puts on your face or the time away from your phone or the space to breathe on a hectic day. Exercise is not a punishment for having a duvet day or eating Doritos. And if you think of it as a punishment, you’ll never feel like doing it. I rarely look forward to stuff that makes me feel bad (exclusion applied to all the flavoured shots I had in Vodka Revs every Tuesday night between 2011-2013) so I don’t look at exercise that way either.
Do what you actually want to.
I hate the gym. Funnily enough, I don’t want to be on a treadmill staring at a subtitled re-run of Homes Under The Hammer. But for a long time I forced myself to hit the gym hard because I’d heard it was the ‘most effective’ type of exercise. And, to be honest, it was. It was extremely effective in making me totally loathe and fear exercise. So now, I never go to the gym. I swim, I run, I fling my arms about unconvincingly in classes. If you want to make exercising a regular part of your routine, you have to choose something that you genuinely think you’ll enjoy. So if you love dancing, try a Zumba class, if you’re stressed at work, roll out the yoga mat and stretch, if you’ve got a new podcast to get stuck into, plug in your headphones and take a walk.
Make it achievable.
Don’t promise to immediately run a marathon or go to Legs, Bums and Tums morning, noon and night. If you set the target too high, you’re setting yourself up to fail. And that means that once you have a hungover morning where you don’t make it to the gym, you’ll say ‘oh, screw this’ and never do it again. You’ve got enough pressure in your life as it is, so don’t make working out another pressure on top of that. Take it slow and remember that all types of movement count. Good exercise is just moving your body in a way that feels good to you.
Chill out about it. Take it easy on yourself.
So you were too busy to go on that lunchtime stroll or someone invites you out for espresso martinis when you’d planned a circuits session: big deal. Life’s for living, not lifting weights (unless you’re a weightlifter then, well, yeah it kind of is). You’re no better or worse of a person because you didn’t make it to the gym. So go forth, run, jump, skip, downward-facing-dog your way to a better relationship with exercise in 2019 and start to enjoy just doing it for you.
Caitlin Meredith, @caitmeredith