6 simple ways to start - and stick to - a new fitness regime
Our physical health is tied to our mental health, and vice versa. Research has shown that our relationship with exercise and having a body that feels strong, capable, energetic, and mobile can have a direct effect on our mental state, with a fit and healthy body tied to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression to name a few, and vice versa. And this doesn’t have to involve high-intensity workouts and a perfectly-sculpted physique, either: when it comes to movement, even simpler activities such as walking can already have a considerable effect on our mental health.
The powers of the mind-body connection have been explored through numerous studies, which have shown us that a healthy physical state can help our minds become stronger. There is also truth in the reverse: when our mental state is not in good shape, it can be more challenging for us to maintain our physical health. In order for us to be truly healthy, we must be of sound body, mind, and soul – and it is through taking care of ourselves by nurturing all three aspects that we can truly enjoy a state of well-being.
But whether you’re brand-new to exercise or trying to return to it after a hiatus, getting started on a new fitness regime can be hard. Just remember: although the first steps can often be the hardest, it’s the only way to begin. If you’re looking to start – and stick to – a new fitness regime, these simple and timeless tips that anyone can follow will help you get there.
1. Plan it out: make a schedule, and stick to it
When we want to learn something new, creating a study plan helps us stick to it. When we have goals to accomplish at work, we devise roadmaps on how to get there. And when it comes to our health and fitness, the need for a plan is no different. Having an end-goal in mind makes it a lot easier to get started on the route to get there – even if the goal is to make fitness a regular part of your lifestyle, rather than a one-time challenge. Research has shown that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to establish a new habit, but on average, it takes about 66 days or 2 months for something to really stick as part of your automated behavior. Until that time comes, it can be all too easy to find excuses or talk ourselves out of it. The solution is to plot it into your schedule. Carve out a specific time window for exercise each day, and try to stick to the same timeframe as often as possible. Book it into your calendar, treating it like an important meeting: It is, after all, an appointment with yourself.
2. Curate a program to suit your unique needs
In order to create a workout plan to stick to, you’ll first need to ask yourself what you want to achieve. Why do you want to exercise regularly, or more often? What results do you hope to see, and in what amount of time? Have you set a timespan for achieving them, and is it realistic? Next, think ahead for what life events may come up during that time frame. Do you have a big project due at work soon? Is there a public holiday approaching during which you may need to socialize with family and friends a lot, or when you may travel? What would you do if you came down with a cold and became temporarily unable to work out – where and how will you draw the line between resting and recovering, and getting back at it? Consider all of these factors, and pre-plan a safety net for what you’ll do if they happen. If you need to skip a few of your scheduled workouts due to a busy week, how can you plan your program so that you can still stay on track the following week? It is important that your exercise program suits your unique needs: your routine should fit your lifestyle, not the other way around – especially if you’d like to make it a sustainable one. Just like with most things in life, be that our food tastes and style choices to our preferences in a partner, there is no one-size-fits-all program in what helps people get, and stay, fit. If you are new to exercise, or dissatisfied with your past experiences, take the time to explore different types of workouts so that you can figure out which one you enjoy the most. Perhaps you love boxing and swimming, and dislike HIIT. Maybe you really enjoy weight lifting, or you can’t get on board with spinning classes, but you love going for long walks by the sea or in a park while you listen to a podcast. Ultimately, the exercise you love is the one that you’re most likely to keep on doing regularly.
3. Enlist a workout buddy
There is power in accountability. Having a friend or partner that you exercise with regularly can make sure that you show up to workouts when you’ve said you would; and research has shown that when we put our goals out there into the universe so that others can bear witness to these statements, we are more likely to achieve them. But there’s more to it than that: getting a workout buddy can also work wonders for your motivation. When you start to doubt yourself, they can act as a built-in cheerleader, and vice versa. As you cheer each other on, both of you will wind up feeling more motivated – plus it can turn a simple, functional workout session into an exciting social event, giving you something more to look forward to if you show up and see it through.
4. Commit to certain timeframes and goals - and be realistic
Gamifying our goals is a great way of helping us reach the targets we’d like to see for ourselves, not to mention maximize how much fun (and satisfaction) we have getting there. But when life throws a spanner in the works – or when the going gets tough – that’s when it becomes all too easy to talk ourselves out of it. If this happens, remind yourself that seeing things through is part of your journey to develop more resilience – and that when it comes to fitness, although your mind and body may argue with each other before a workout, it typically feels better after it’s done. Make a firm commitment to your goals: write them down, place reminders where you can see them at key times, and break targets down into smaller, more achievable chunks rather than one big goal. Promise yourself that you will at least stick to your program until you’ve hit your initial goals – then once you’ve accomplished those, move on to the next one.
Plan around your own anticipated slip-ups and other habits, as well – and be brutally honest with yourself. If you know that you have a tendency to flop on the couch as soon as you’re home from work, and there’s no way you’re leaving your house to head to the gym once that happens, then plan to take your gear with you and head straight to your workout before going home, thereby bypassing your “distraction trigger” or go-to excuse. If hitting the snooze button, or fumbling around for your workout clothing in the morning, is what convinces you to say “I’ll do it another day” and just go back to bed, try laying out your outfit the night before – perhaps so it’s even in your line of sight after you wake – and be strict about getting up when your alarm first goes off. You could even assign motivational words to your alarm by renaming the specific alarm, if your device allows it: some smartphones do!
5. Reward yourself for your progress
Rewarding ourselves for positive behavior can help us establish or reinforce certain habits as good things that we want to continue: think of it as a way of conditioning yourself for the better. When we give ourselves some form of reward for having achieved something, we get a little hit of dopamine: a happy hormone. This helps to reinforce the behavior as something worthwhile in your mind, encouraging you to keep doing it. But rewarding yourself when it comes to your fitness habits can be tricky territory: for instance, if you’re striving for fat loss, rewarding yourself by indulging in fattening foods can set back your physical progress, leading to a mental setback as well when you notice stagnant numbers the next time you try to measure your changes. Instead, try to cultivate healthy rewards that reinforce more positive behavior. For instance, purchasing some beautiful new workout gear for yourself when you’ve hit a certain number of workouts (or kept up your regime for a specific amount of time) could encourage you to keep on going, so you’ll have more chances to show off that gear. The key is to make sure that you’re only treating yourself when you’ve accomplished the task in question, and to try and choose treats that bring out more of your healthier habits. If shopping is something you tend to overindulge in, why not book yourself into a massage after you’ve hit one of your fitness goals? It could be anything, from granting yourself a relaxing day at the beach, to a lovely pedicure, or the chance to sign up for a fitness event or active holiday wherein your stronger body will be a boon.
6. Remember your “Why”
Regardless of whether you want to lose fat, gain muscle, be fit enough to run around with your family, go on an active holiday (like a hike to a beautiful location), reduce your risk for other health-related problems (be that mental or physical), or just do everything you can to stay as mobile as possible as you grow older, remembering your reason for choosing a healthier, fitter lifestyle is a powerful motivator. Perhaps it’s all of these reasons: whatever it may be, when you’re feeling sore, tired, or struggling to find the willpower to keep going, remembering why you began this journey in the first place can help you stay on track with your goals, and not give up on what you hoped to achieve by getting there.
All of the content on our website is thoroughly researched to ensure that the information shared is evidence-based. For more information, please visit the academic journals that influenced this article: Megastudies Improve The Impact Of Applied Behavioural Science; What Makes Individuals Stick To Their Exercise Regime? A One-Year Follow-Up Study Among Novice Exercisers In A Fitness Club Setting; A New Exercise Partner Is The Key To Exercising More; How Are Habits Formed: Modelling Habit Formation In The Real World†; The Contribution Of Physical Exercise To Brain Resilience; Research Paper: The Power Of Accountability.
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