Ways to start a workout regimen you can stick with

  • 29 May - 04 Jun, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly

At this time of year, we all have every possible excuse not to exercise. We want to linger around doing nothing because scorching heat just makes us lazy. The struggle is real. Falling out of routine and losing motivation can be especially easy in extreme weather conditions. To stick with exercise, make it a habit instead of relying on motivation. The distinction is that motivation changes over time, but a habit will never let you down. Habits help you push forward even when you have low motivation.

Getting to a point where working out is as mindless as combing your hair can take about two months. The secret is repetition plus consistent timing and cues. Here’s why: The brain creates neuronal connections when you do something, and with each repetition, the connections get stronger and the action takes less effort.

The trick, of course, is making that first step. These ideas should help you break out of your fitness slump and into a feel-good groove.

Lose the guilt – now

Your first habit-forming move: Forgive yourself for a slipup. There’s evidence to suggest that if we can be kind and compassionate to ourselves when we fall off the wagon, we’re more likely to get back on the wagon faster. Don’t ruminate or self-flagellate; just move on and get back to work. Tell yourself that to change your life, you have to make a change. Today is the day to start because there is never going to be the perfect time.

Build in a reward

The combination of a cue (say, a morning alarm) and a reward (an after-workout bite of chocolate, perhaps) helps exercise become and stay a habit. If science is telling you to celebrate your yoga session with a your favourite snack, who are you to argue? And wait, it gets better: Over time, creating an unbreakable workout habit will become a reward in itself. If exercise is intrinsically rewarding – you like the way it feels or it reduces stress – you will respond automatically to your cue and not have to convince yourself to work out. You’ll want to exercise.

Skew the results in your favour

The hardest part is going from stationary to moving. If you haven’t worked out in weeks (or more), set a goal you’re 90 per cent sure you can achieve. This can be something as doable as parking in the farthest reaches of the lot at the grocery store – get in those steps! Then you can tweak your usual goal by reducing the frequency (aim to work out once instead of three times this week), intensity (go for a walk and not a run), or length (one lap around the block instead of five). Lower the stakes and you may surprise yourself.

Find your tribe

Workout group really do work. Studies show that having a gym buddy significantly increases time spent exercising. That could be because we’re hardwired to care what other people think of us and don’t want to let down friends we’ve committed to.

Micromanage yourself

You can’t say, ‘Maybe I’ll go for a run tomorrow’ and expect yourself to follow through. Create a plan for how you’ll achieve that goal. Get granular: Check the weather for the morning, then pick your workout clothes. Determine how long it will take you to dress and set your alarm that much earlier. If you usually feed others in your household, figure out whether you’ll do so before or after exercising. Leave nothing to chance – and you’ll set yourself up for success.

Customise your playlist

Music has a way of embedding itself in our memories. A particular tune can take us back to our first dance, a relaxing vacation, or even a challenging but satisfying workout. So says a 2018 study published in Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology: People remembered higher-intensity exercise, such as running on a treadmill, as a more pleasant experience when it was accompanied by music they chose themselves. No wonder we can’t hear Stronger by Kanye West or Lose Yourself by Eminem without wanting to get moving – those songs have been on our exercise playlist for years. We make associations with music, so it brings up certain experiences or states of mind. If you’ve linked particular songs to your workout routine, hearing that music can take you back to the experience of working out, perhaps making it more likely you will engage in it.