Before I start on this week's final installment on Exercise and Well-being, I want to give a quick response to a question I received asking "how much exercise is enough and why do I feel a failure or lazy when I don't feel like exercising?"
I have covered part of this with parts 2,3 and 4 of this series, so I wanted to deal with the feeling of failure or laziness when you don't feel like exercising.
What we must understand is that our bodies are incredible creations and have a naturally inbuilt mechanism driving a propensity to preserve energy at all times, harking back to times when we needed energy stores for avoiding dangers of predators, both animal and other man. This inherent energy preservation mechanism is felt all the more acutely when we do not have a consistent, regular routine of nutrition and exercise, as our bodies effectively 'do not know' when the next meal (energy source) is coming and reacts by prioritising the storage of energy in the form of fat and using sugars (glycogen) stored in muscle first which leads to a loss of fast access energy, making us more lethargic.
This creates two problems for us. Firstly we can feel unmotivated to do exercise unless reacting to imminent danger, and in modern day terms we tend to 'translate' this into being too tired or lazy to exercise, and this can often create a feeling of failure. Secondly, because our incredible bodies need this 'certainty' to nudge it out of preservation mode, it can often take a fair while to see the type of results we are looking for, and this causes a large degree of demotivation and is typically why so many give up before the results start to show.
It is therefor important to recognize these issues and be ready for them, acknowledging we will feel lethargic and not want to exercise, as part of our natural physical functioning, but knowing that this is not lazy or failing. Also that even though we don't immediately see results, keeping at it in a consistent manner will allow our bodies to get 'comfortable' enough to release fat stores as the primary energy source, because our meals and exercise are now known and part of a regular schedule. Making it fun, as discussed below, will help to avoid these pitfalls.
The main blog for this week below will now touch on this a little but focus mostly on motivation and how to make exercise part of our everyday, bringing all the benefits to us, so read on and enjoy!
Now that we have covered why exercise is good for your body and for dealing with depression, anxiety, stress, and more, I will talk a little about how much to do, how to stay motivated and how any place can be an exercise location for us.
We are all motivated by different things, and so it is important to work out what it is that works for us individually and align our exercise choices around that, otherwise we have less chance of keeping it up because it will become a chore and not a pleasure.
For me, I have always been motivated by the muscle soreness experienced after heavy resistance training (and yes, before anyone asks, I have had many conversations with my own therapists and coaches about what they jokingly called my 'pain addiction') and find I miss the feeling of having done a heavy workout, if I have too long a break.
My partner on the other hand is motivated by the 'fun' aspect and needs exercise which is made up of lots of short different movements which are executed in a fun environment, so the dynamic nature of the 'bounce' classes (see Part 1 on exercise and stress) tap into that element and now find her missing her classes when we travel.
Many trainers try to use the longer term benefits of visible body change and weight loss (or muscle gain for bodybuilders) to motivate their clients, and end up either losing them or working way too hard to keep them motivated, simply because they have not tapped into the individual personality of each client. It is easy for us to excuse ourselves missing exercise sessions when we look only at the long term trends instead of the short term goals, and thereby we can often miss a fundamental key to success of consistency.
Our bodies are incredibly complex self-preservation machines which will always look to minimise effort and energy expenditure in every situation, and only when we have a regular consistent routine, will our bodies adapt to the effects of it. Ever wondered why constantly skipping the odd meal here and there rarely results in weight loss? Simply because the body needs to 'know' when the next meal (energy source) is coming, otherwise it stores everything it can as a precaution against starvation.
Psychologically, our bodies will not adapt to build muscle or build stamina unless is 'knows' it needs to because of a regular overload of resistance or energy expenditure coming its way.
So, once motivated, how much to do and where can we do it?
A mentioned before, it’s probably not as much as you think, because even a little bit of regular consistent exercise provides benefits.
We can even start with short sessions of 5 to 10 minutes and slowly increase your time, so long as it satisfies our own motivational criteria and it is consistent. As exercising becomes habit, you can slowly add extra minutes or try different types of activities.
One question I hear a lot is "I have a really busy work week, so how can I find the time?"
Not really a surprising question these days, so try being a weekend exerciser. A recent study in the United Kingdom found that people who squeeze their exercise routines into one or two sessions during the weekend experience almost as many health benefits as those who work out more often. So don’t let a busy schedule at work, home, or school be an barrier to your success.
Even when experiencing psychological challenges such as depression or anxiety (see part 2 on this subject), there are ways to get started and discover the benefits which will go on to form a positive habit of exercising in our lives. We know exercise will make us feel better, but often feel we lack the energy and motivation needed to work out, or worry about the thought of being seen at an exercise class or running through the park. These are almost always irrational fears or motivational barriers we place on ourselves, and rarely a reality.
I remember as a skinny (having gone from overweight pre-pubescent to skinny adolescent) young teenager worrying hugely about going into a gym, especially as in those days there were few to no 'health clubs', and it took a friend to drag me along and give me courage to enter into what was a 'hardcore lifting' gym. I never looked back. All the fears were unfounded and I found myself welcomed into a community of people who had ALL started in a similar place and personally understood what I was feeling (see my post on 'No substitute for life experience').
It is said that every journey begins with a first step, and just as the decision to engage a life coach is a fantastic first step, so too can that first class or gym session or run or whatever we choose to try, but it is only by doing this and learning enough about ourselves to understand what OUR motivators are and aligning our choice of exercise with them, that the real transformational journey will begin. Don't expect to choose the right type of exercise the first time. Try a few. I was lucky and found my passion almost immediately but I had a strong understanding of my motivators, but my partner tried gym, cardio, kettlebells and weights and finally found her 'bounce' classes which she loves.
Remember also, it is not necessary to find a class or pay high gym fees, to get benefits from exercise. Here are a few ideas to get started:
- In and around your home. Clean the house, wash the car, work on the garden, mow the lawn with a push mower, sweep the path or patio with a broom.
- At work and on the go. Bike or walk to an appointment rather than drive, try to use every staircase possible even if it means starting by getting off the lift a floor or two before yours and walk the rest, briskly walk to the bus stop then get off one stop early, park further from a shop or your place of work and walk the rest, take a vigorous walk during your coffee or lunch break.
- With the family. Jog around the playing field during your children's practice, ride a bicycle as part of your weekend routine, play active games with your children in the garden or park, explore new places when you walk the dog.
- Just for fun. Go fruit picking, dance to music, go to the beach or take a hike, gently stretch while watching television, take a class in something active like dance, or yoga.
Get moving whenever you can find the time. Your mind and body will thank and reward you!