health

Five women share the one exercise habit that completely changed their lives.

Adopting healthy behaviours like eating nutritious foods and exercising can be a serious struggle in 2018 – when our lifestyles are increasingly geared towards being sedentary and consuming quick, easy, nutrient-poor food.

While many of us would like to improve our overall health, it’s far more difficult to do in practice. Especially when we’re routinely confronted with the most extreme representations of what ‘health’ actually is. Exercising seven days a week and eating solely organic, fresh produce just isn’t realistic for the average person, and it’s easy to become disheartened about our ability to stick to the picture-perfect version of health.

But the all-or-nothing approach to health is probably what’s holding a lot of us back. The little things that would make a difference – like getting an extra hour of sleep, or eating more vegetables, or walking more, are hard to maintain.

In particular, living an active lifestyle, with all the other demands of modern life, can seem overwhelming. Even though the World Health Organisation’s recommendations of 150 minutes of “moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity” per week (i.e. 20 minutes per day) seems achievable, it’s estimated that 65 per cent of Australians over the age of 15 are sedentary or have low levels of exercise.

So how can we integrate exercise into our lives in the long term?

We asked six women about how they made an exercise habit actually stick for good.

Polly: “I connected it to my mental health.”

“I had always had a total all-or-nothing approach to exercise until about four years ago,” Polly says. It eventually changed when she “finally connected working out with an improvement to my mental health and completely took trying to make physical changes out of the equation”.

“I feel crap if I don’t work out and I feel OK/good/great if I do. When I broke it down that simply, it clicked and became a habit I could never break.”

Polly also says she read an athlete say once that exercise should be like brushing your teeth – just a regular little task you have to weave into your life. When she started thinking of it this way, it completely changed her mindset.

Amy: “I tell myself I’m going to the gym for fun.”

When most of us think of the gym – we probably picture ourselves sweating and sore.

But a small shift ended up being particularly motivating for Amy.

“I tell myself I’m just going to the gym to watch YouTube and walk on the treadmill,” she says. “Then once I’m there I actually get excited for a full weights workout.”

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A few other women echoed Amy’s sentiment, saying they look forward to running or going to the gym because it means they can listen to a podcast, or listen to music. They also tell themselves they’re only going to do something quick and easy, because they’re aware that another wave of motivation comes once you actually get moving. If they had to gear themselves up for a full-blown workout, however, they’d probably put it off.

Alice: “If I pay to do something, I know I’ll actually do it.”

Alice says that when it comes to exercise, she’s had to work out what her ‘triggers’ are.

“I found out that  paying for classes upfront like a dance course meant I felt like if I didn’t go I was wasting money,” she says.

Unlike being self-motivated to go for a run or do exercise at home, she knows that this extrinsic motivation keeps her accountable. She also genuinely enjoys doing exercise classes, and is willing to put her money towards them.

Alice also says she’s learnt to pair the things she likes (listening to podcasts) with the things she knows she’ll put off (exercise). Doing both at once, she says, “makes me feel like I’m not exercising”.

Talia: “I started taking an incidental approach to exercise.”

When planned workouts aren’t what you’re interested in, perhaps fitting in more incidental exercise (and not beating yourself up for not going to the gym) is the way to go.

Talia’s habit of doing more incidental exercise has kept her moving far more than any other approach in the past. “As an example, I get off the bus 1km away from work and walk the extra 15 minutes in the morning,” she says.

Her Fitbit helps her feel good about how much she’s walking. “Even just the satisfaction of my Fitbit buzzing when I hit 10k is motivating for me,” she says.

Sophie: “Every night, I pack a complete gym bag.”

For Sophie, when it comes to exercise, “getting home after work is my kryptonite”.

“I’ve had days where I wake up with the best of intentions but by lunch time, I know the gym simply isn’t happening.”

So she took up a “stupidly simple” habit.

“Every night, I pack a complete gym bag and carry it with me the next day. After work I will never, ever nip home first. Instead, I go directly from the office to the gym. I did this even when my gym was precisely a four-minute walk from my house, meaning you’d think lugging around a gym bag all day was more of an inconvenience than anything. But I didn’t want to give myself an easy way out.

“Since that realisation, in the last two years, of the 4-5 sessions I do per week the number I’ve skipped has been seriously minimal. And even then, it’ll only be for what I consider to be very valid reasons, like working super late, feeling under the weather or catching up with a mate impromptu.

“With my gym bag on my shoulder, I don’t have time to make up excuses. I’m already out, with my exercise gear. That’s half the challenge already done for me.”

What strategy worked for you when it comes to staying active? Let us know in the comments. 

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