Yesterday, I met a friend at the park and we spent the afternoon together. As the afternoon wore on, our conversation turned to exercise. What my friend said during that conversation struck a chord with me. She told me that she doesn’t exercise and that she feels guilty because she knows exercise is good for her.
This caught my attention because I used to feel the same way. I would start an exercise program only to quit after a week or two. It didn’t matter how much I liked the form of exercise, or how easy the program was to follow, I just couldn’t seem to make it stick for more than a couple of weeks. I got stuck in this pattern: decide I need to exercise, pick something I knew was good for me, make a schedule for myself, stick to that schedule for one week, start to miss days by the second week, give up altogether by the third week. Even structured fitness classes couldn’t keep me on track — as much as I loved them, my attendance would be sporadic at best.
But why? Why is enjoying an activity or knowing that exercise is healthy not enough motivation to stick with it?
It all comes down to what motivates you personally. For some people, having a healthy body as they age is enough motivation. However, the ore people I talk to, the more I notice that this abstract idea of “being healthy” sounds nice, but just isn’t a concrete enough goal to make it feel attainable. And of course, if a goal doesn’t feel attainable, most people aren’t going to stick with it.
So, you know exercise is healthy, b ut you aren’t motivated by that knowledge alone. Now what? Figure out what motivates you. Do you have children or grandchildren you want to be able to pick up without hurting yourself? Or maybe you want to be able to play with them. Do you like to dance and want to build more stamina so you can dance faster and longer? Or maybe you want to become more flexible so that you can learn the more advanced dance moves. Or maybe you love gardening and want to be able to lift heavy bags of soil or mulch more easily.
Figure out what you already love to do, then choose an exercise program that will support that activity.
Now, this is going to take some experimentation. You might not find the right workout program right away, but when you do, you’ll know it. My own workout routine has changed over the years to reflect where I am in my life and what I need most at any given time. All through college, I did yoga, pilates, lots of walking, and the occasional intense group fitness class. At the time, I didn’t have much in the way of fitness goals — exercising was more of a way to get a break from doing homework that was more justifiable than playing on Facebook. Physical health is just as important as academic health, after all, so this is a completely legitimate form of procrastination. At least, that’s what I told myself. And it got me to the gym, so it worked.
When I started practicing Capoeira, I stopped all other forms of exercise except walking. About a year into it, I added yoga back into my routine and noticed a huge leap in my flexibility and balance. Suddenly, movements that involved back bends were much easier, and kicks that took my foot up to the level of my partner’s head became more consistent.
This year, I realized that building strength would help my Capoeira practice as well. Now, I do have to admit, there was a good bit of ego involved in this decision as well. I noticed that I’m not quite as strong as my classmates and I didn’t like that. After a few weeks of weight training, I noticed a difference in both my Capoeira practice and in my yoga practice. I gained more control over my movements, poses became more fluid, and daily tasks became easier. Once I noticed that the activities I love were made easier by the workout program I chose, sticking with the program became much easier.
There’s one more factor to consider when trying to stick with a workout program. Be kind to yourself. If you miss a day, don’t berate yourself for it, or try and punish yourself — I had a habit of making myself start back at day one every time I missed a day of a given program, which eventually caused me to give up altogether. Instead, if you miss a day, just resume the program the next day. Learn to take breaks when you need them. I’m not saying not to push though tough portions of your workout, but rather to learn to listen to your body and give it rest when it needs it. Learning to be kind to yourself will help you stick with whatever type of exercise or program you choose long-term.
My routine is far from perfect, and I still have days where I don’t do more than take my dog for a walk, but by choosing an exercise program that supports the activities I already love makes it much easier to stick with it.