Exercise can be a daunting topic for those just starting out on their health journeys or getting back into it after a hiatus, but it doesn’t have to be.
I have to admit I use to be very naive when it came to the struggles some people faced in fitting regular exercise into their life. I had the common mentality that you can always wake up earlier or put an hour aside at night and it was more of a motivation problem than an actual lifestyle issue. Then I started working with a 2 hour commute each way and I had to give up my gym membership – that’s when I started struggling to balance exercise, home duties and my social life. There was just too much to do and not enough hours in the day.
In this period I did take time off exercising, I realised I needed time to adjust to my knew work schedule without putting more pressure on myself to get a workout in daily. Exercise should be a part of your daily life, not a chore you dread, and I’ll always stick by that mentality.
In the months since then I’ve found new ways to make my days more active and help me to maintain a level of fitness I’m happy with. Now I’m not training for any sort of event or have a weight loss/gain goal, so exercise is purely for my mental and physical health at this stage, if you’re in the same boat then hopefully some of these tips can help you!
First of all: What are the Department of Health Recommendations?
For most adults between the ages of 18 and 65 years it is recommended that you be active on most, preferably all, days every week and include muscle strengthening activities at least 2 days. It is recommended that your average week incorporates 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity activity (swimming, brisk walking, cycling) or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (running, gymnastics, HIIT). You can also complete the equivalent of the two combined such as 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity as well as 150 minutes of moderate intensity.
These numbers vary slightly for those in different age brackets. Those aged 5-17 should aim for 60 minutes of activity daily with a focus on aerobic activities such as dancing or team sports. Those aged over 65 are advised to aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity daily, on most days of the week.
These numbers may seem daunting but as soon as you break it down to a daily amount of movement it’s much more achievable. 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity can simply mean a 30 minute lunchtime walk 5 days a week.
How do I get started?
- Don’t aim too high when you’re just starting out. No one is expected to run a marathon in 12 weeks if they can’t even run 1km to begin with, it’s just undoable, demoralising and dangerous. So start small with an aim such as cycling a few kilometres every day or moving for half an hour each day after work. It needs to be achievable.
- With that being said it still helps to have set goals. Again, these shouldn’t be massive goals, unless they’re an ‘endpoint’ goal. Small habit-based goals could be to walk 5km 3x a week for the whole month, or take one exercise class a week until your birthday. Performance or aesthetic based goals can include to jog 5km in under half an hour, lose 1kg throughout the month or increase your score in a fitness test.
- The health recommendations involving physical activity emphasise the fact that we should also be breaking up periods of sitting or non-activity. This can definitely be challenging when you work a desk job or come home from work and want to spend your night on the couch in front of the TV. Even something as simple as getting up to refill your water bottle will make the world of difference. Some people like to set reminders to move every hour but it’s really up to what works best for you.
- Stretching is important for any form of exercise, especially once you become older and your body isn’t as nimble as it once was. You can do this any time of the day to help with flexibility and muscle tone and after exercise to help aid muscle recovery and prevent injury. So many people starting out in the gym skip over this important step and get discouraged when they’re sore and struggling the next day. Ten minutes is all it takes.
- Finally, stay hydrated. If you’re not exercising vigorously you might not notice that you’re losing water and becoming dehydrated, especially if you don’t drink a lot of water to begin with. My rule of thumb is 250mls of water for every half hour of moderate exercise.
How do I make it more enjoyable?
- Do things you enjoy. There’s no point playing tennis every week if you dread it every time. You might get fitter and improve your physical health but your mental health will decline, and in wholistic health both are equally as important. If you’re new to exercising then finding activities you enjoy may be a challenge, but that doesn’t mean its impossible. The best way to find what you like is to try a variety of activities. If you have a gym membership try out the classes they offer, everything from yoga to spin to pump, one of them might be the one that gets you excited. If you’re exercising from home or outdoors then get adventurous. Instead of walking/jogging, try out new hiking tracks, do some ocean swimming, play in the park with your kids (or dogs) or try one of the millions of YouTube home workouts online, there’s bound to be something there.
- Find an active hobby. Hobbies are a great way to incorporate activity into your daily life without it feeling like a chore. Just as I said above you may have to try a few hobbies to find the one that works for you but there’s nothing wrong with that at all, and it gives you an opportunity to get creative. There’s no cookie cutter fit for everyone but you won’t know until you try. For example, this year I’ve taken up roller skating and burlesque dancing. I hadn’t done either before and never thought I would but I’ve had a ball and am so grateful I decided to give them a go in the first place. My partner loves to rock climb, my middle sister is a gym-junkie, the youngest sister is learning to aerial dance with silks and when we’re all together with family we tend to paddle board, play Twister or Just Dance, and walk on the beach. Which brings me to my next tip….
- Get social. Doing things with friends, family or even colleagues can make it so much more enjoyable than being solo. If you have kids its a great way to get them involved in physical activity too, their recommendations are higher than ours at 60minutes daily. Otherwise invite your friends out for a walk, a game of soccer or even some indoor activities like Just Dance or table tennis. If you can’t get your schedule to work around friends/family then don’t be afraid to join a group activity on your own. It might be daunting but it’s a great way to meet new people who are probably on the same journey you are.
- Get outdoors. As I’m writing this it’s the middle of Winter and I haven’t taken my ugg boots and dressing gown off all day. Safe to say it’s cold (and I’m a wuss). But I still get outside everyday, even if it’s just a walk around the block, because I know that little bit of fresh air is what keeps my spirits up. We spend a lot of our Summer outdoors, it would be a crime not to on the Australian South Coast and it makes it much easier to stay active. You don’t have to go far either, just taking your workout or yoga session into your backyard might make it just a bit more refreshing.
- Fit it in wherever you can. For some people it might be easier to set aside 30-60 minutes a day to focus solely on exercise. For others that might seem unrealistic in their busy schedule, so just slot it in where you can. You would’ve heard people tell you to take the stairs when possible, or park further away at work and the shopping centre. But you can also include quick bursts throughout your day. Race your kids to the car, do a wall sit while you wait for the jug to boil, ride your bike to the corner store instead of driving, you just have to change how you think of exercise.
- Play. This is my favourite tip, and probably the best for mental health as well. Have fun and play like you would when you were a kid. My partner and I often take the volleyball down to the beach after work and race each other home if we’re out for a walk with the pups. It’s fun, gets the blood pumping even if for just a few minutes, and I can’t say it enough, it’s FUN. Play soccer with your kids when they’re outside or take your friends out for a game of Laser Tag, just have fun.
How to Increase Incidental Exercise & Active Multi-Tasking:
- Take the stairs
- Walk while on the phone
- Use a stand up desk
- Wash the car yourself
- Play with your kids, partner, pet
- Sing in the car – 100 calories an hour on average!
- Walk to get a lunchtime coffee with a workmate
- Take the dog for a walk
- Mow the lawn/gardening
- Walk to talk to coworkers rather than sending a message
- Put some music on and move while you’re cooking dinner, folding laundry etc.
Things you can do to up your intentional exercise:
- Exercise in your lunch break – We have a small running group at work that try to go out every Wednesday. We all take our own pace and have fun socialising while we run. It really helps to break up the day and it brings together a few people from different departments
- Walk/ride where you don’t need to drive or get transport – or get off a stop earlier and walk further
- Find an active hobby so that you don’t feel like you have to pick between a hobby or a workout. E.g. Rollerskating, paddle boarding, cycling, dance
- Make it social – If you’re going to meet up with your friends for a coffee on the weekend, make it takeaway and go for a walk. Looking for a fun night out? Take it bowling, rock climbing, even an escape room is going to get you moving around
- Pick an exercise class to do once a week rather than trying to commit to one daily. My choice at the moment is reformer pilates and I’m having a blast getting out of my comfort zone while getting in some movement
Just remember, in everyday life, every small bit counts. If you’re goal isn’t to run a marathon or walk in a bikini competition then you don’t need to be hitting the gym 5 hours a week.
Interested in how movement impacts your mental health? More info coming soon!