I have been a sports physician now for more than 30 years, so I've watched a lot of people gain enormous benefits from exercise.
I've also seen a lot of people struggle to establish an exercise habit, and even more than that, maintain it.
There is enormous benefit to regular exercise - from better sleep and mental concentration, to having more energy and just generally feeling 'better'.
But I'm not here to ramble on about why you should incorporate exercise into your life, I'm here to tell you how you can do it.
- Enjoyment. It's not important what type of exercise you do, just find one you enjoy. If you like to swim, then swim. If you don't enjoy it, you won't stick at it, and are very unlikely to make this a routine.
- Try out different things (walking, yoga, light weight training). Trying different things is crucial to figuring out what you do like, and this will help enormously with step one.
- If you're a social animal, find someone or a group to exercise with. It's harder to not turn up for a session if someone else is expecting you, and relying on you for their own exercise. Group exercise doesn't have to be in a gym, either; there are a number of exercise classes held in parks (especially during this time), as well as online if you don't fancy leaving the house at 6am.
- Remember it doesn't have to be vigorous! Don't think you need to become a marathon runner, a brisk walk is completely fine.
- Go slowly (eg start maybe twice a week and build up your exercise until it simply becomes a habit).
- Aim to slowly build up to 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, or 75 minutes of intense activity. Try doing this by setting little targets for yourself; this could mean on Monday you try for 20 minutes of moderate exercise, then on Tuesday, you do 30 minutes, Wednesday 35 minutes, and so on. Gradually build this up each day until it equals 150 minutes (which is really only 2.5 hours for the entire week).
- Make incidental walking part of your daily routine. Try leaving the car at home if you can, and walking to the shops instead of driving. You could also park some distance from work and take the stairs instead of the lift once you get there. Any chance to get your step count up is going to give you big rewards when it comes to your fitness, because it's the little things that eventually add up and create big change.
- Take the stairs or at least a few flights; whether this be at your apartment building, inside your home, at work, wherever really! I don't expect you to walk up to the 53rd floor, but choosing the stairs where you can instead of taking the lift will again add up and your fitness will be far better off for it.
- Instead of meeting a friend for coffee, suggest a walk. Meeting for a walk is a great way to get some fresh air, catch up on everyone's news and feel energised afterwards. But if you're like me, you'll still want to sneak in that coffee.
- Include some resistance/strength training. This is especially important as you get older in order to maintain muscle strength and balance. This could include some light weight training, bodyweight exercises or some pilates - anything that gets the muscles activated throughout the movement. We have a whole lesson on exercise on the Defeat Diabetes Program, where I take you through some basic (but beneficial) exercises.
- You don't need fancy equipment. Buying all the bells and whistles when you're beginning your exercise journey is unnecessary, not to mention expensive. And if you're hoping some shiny new equipment will keep you motivated, in my experience, that's not how it works. Start out with the basics, for example with some body weight exercises like push ups and sit ups, and when you do feel like progressing, look into getting some equipment, because by that stage it is likely your routine has already become a habit you'll stick to.
- Set goals (eg to walk up the stairs without feeling breathless). Realistic goals help measure success and keep you motivated.
- Celebrate your achievements. When you've reached your goal, celebrate it! Acknowledge how far you've come, and let those around you know you've achieved it too. After all, your support system wants you to succeed.
As a wise (and rich) man once said ... Just do it!
- Dr Peter Brukner, founder of Defeat Diabetes.