Want to stay active but find that your exercise plans fall by the wayside? Here’s how to develop some healthy habits that will boost your motivation.
Establish firm habits early on
Developing new habits can take time, so the sooner you start on a new routine the better. ‘Research suggests it can take up to 66 days to create healthy habits,’ explains health & exercise coach, Bernadette Nancy (bernadettedancy.co.uk). ‘This is because habits arise from routines that are consistentlycarried out at the same time, or in the same sequence of events. So, to have the best chance of sticking to an exercise plan, make sure you have well-established routines long before then, so you’re more likely to act habitually even when life gets busy.
Plan the week ahead
Want to make it to that fitness class after work? Don’t leave it to chance, as your willpower is likely to have decreased after a busy, hectic day – especially if the offer of a few after-work drinks gets thrown into the mix! ‘I have the best weeks when I’ve actively booked myself into classes a few days beforehand,’ says yoga teacher Hannah Presence (hannahpresenceyoga.com). ‘If I have no plans and simply leave it down to self-motivation, not an awful lot would get done! So, on a Sunday evening, start to plan your week. Once you make space in your diary for your training or practice, you will find yourself sticking to a better routine. Get your classes booked up and courses paid for in advanced.’
Choose exercise you enjoy
‘Even the most motivated among us might struggle to get out and exercise when there’s so much good TV to watch and boxes of chocolates to tempt us!’ says Bernadette. ‘So, to increase your chances of sticking with it, do exercise that you enjoy and look forward to.’ Think outside the box when it comes to exercise. Don’t fancy running or the gym? Why not try boxercise or dance class, or book a session at a climbing wall? If you make it fun and appealing, you’ll be far more likely to stick with it.
Variety is key
Adding a little variety into your exercise routine will help keep you interested and your motivation high. ‘Don’t be scared to try something new!’ encourages Hannah. ‘Maybe a Monday circuits class, Tuesday yoga class, Wednesday swim, Thursday PT session, Friday rest, Saturday borrow a dog and go on a nice walk with family, and on Sunday stretch it out with yoga!’
Book a personal trainer
Making sure you’re accountable is one of the best ways of sticking to your exercise routine when temptations to give it a miss come calling. ‘A lot of the time, we have more accountability for others than ourselves,’ says Hannah. ‘If we know we’ll be letting someone else down if we don’t train, it makes us think twice about cancelling. Having a PT, private yoga teacher or 1-2-1 boxing session is great for keeping you motivated, and helps you become accountable to yourself and your goals. Can’t afford it? Start planning sessions with friends. Before I became a yoga teacher, I went to yoga classes twice a week with a friend. We took it in turns to drive and pick each other up – and we never let each other down.’
Making time to get outside in the fresh air will help relieve any stress you may be feeling, with the added bonus of burning a few calories. ‘Arrange walks outside in nature, with family and friends,’ suggests Bernadette.
Book a race
Even if running isn’t usually your thing, there are often loads of 5K runs on offer now of year, with the emphasis firmly on fun and taking part, rather than on being super speedy.
Keep it brief
Remember, you don’t need to find the time to commit to an hour-long class or session if you’re struggling to juggle work, fitness, family life and socialising. ‘You’ll be less inclined to cancel or pull out of doing exercise if you shorten the amount of time you’re going to do it for,’ says Bernadette. ‘High intensity interval training (HIIT) is one way of achieving this, where you exercise for maximal or near maximal efforts for short periods of time followed by a rest period, then repeat for a particular number of sets. By doing this, you can burn a significant number of calories by working for just 15 to 20 minutes. However, HIIT isn’t for everyone. Even if you don’t work at a high intensity, simply walking or working out at a lower intensity will help you maintain your exercise routine /and/ increase your energy expenditure more so than if you sat in front of the TV.’
Try visualisation techniques
Having a clear image in your head of how you want to feel and look in the New Year can be great motivation to stick with your fitness routine in the present moment. So, take a few moments each week to sit quietly with your eyes closed and really visualise yourself in a month’s time – from your mind to your body. What emotions will you be feeling? What will your energy levels be like? How will your clothes feel when you put them on in the morning? Creating a positive self-image in your mind will make you more likely to take the steps you need to now in order to achieve it.
Remember, it all counts!
You might be racing around more than usual at this time of year… so make every moment count! ‘Park your car further from the shops than you normally would, so you get extra steps in while shopping, dance a lot at parties, and if all else fails, just try to have even the shortest walk after every meal (breakfast, lunch and dinner), to help burn off some calories and lift your mood. By remembering that all movement counts, it means you won’t have an “all or nothing” approach to exercise. Sometimes we can embrace the sofa far too quickly when we feel we’ve sabotaged our structured exercise for the day.’