When we think about changing our health habits, hitting the gym is a classic picture that comes to mind (new year’s resolutions, anyone?). Of course, we all know what happens for most folks that do this, they soon discontinue after a month or so – perhaps you’ve been there and can relate.
Why is that? There are many reasons, I am sure, but a couple come to my mind. First, I think many of us go into exercise too hard, too fast, and we get whammed by the soreness and aches that swiftly follow suit. Does feeling sore, tired, and generally crappy help motivate you to do more? For some people…maybe. For most of us, no. The second reason that comes to mind is we can get overwhelmed with the details/skill needed for a good exercise routine. It is one thing to already carve out time in our schedule to make room for exercise, and then another thing to pile on top of that of figuring out what exercise we want to do and how to do them properly.
What if setting yourself up for success in consistent exercise (or just any form of movement) had nothing to do with exercise? What if it was simpler than that?
In the book “Atomic Habits”, the author James Clear referenced a study in which three groups were tested for results in frequency of exercise. The first group was asked to track their exercise, that’s all. The second group was asked to track, and also to read some material on the benefits of exercise (to help with motivation). The third group was asked to do the same as the first two groups, and also to plan out when and where they would exercise. About 37% of the first and second groups exercised at least once a week. However, 91% of the third group exercised at least once a week.
There are two interesting things to note on this study. First, the motivation/information alone didn’t seem to make a difference between group one and group two. Second, the third group, simply by being clear about where and when they would exercise were more than double as likely to exercise. James Clear goes on to write, “The punchline is clear: people who make a specific plan for when and where they will perform a new habit are more likely to follow through.”
What I find interesting is none of this is talking about the kind of exercise routine the participants are doing. It is all just about the frequency of exercise. Put another way, it is all about whether a person simply shows up at the time and location to just do something.
The takeaway is to simplify your intentions for exercise by being clear and consistent on the following details:
- How many days a week
- What time of day
- Duration (e.g. 10 minutes, 30 minutes, etc)
So, if you jumped into doing a fitness program and got off track and feel stuck getting back into it, perhaps it was too much too fast for you. Maybe, it was too much of a time commitment than you realized was realistic. Instead, as an example, set an intention for yourself by saying (and writing it down!) “I will exercise on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in my living room at 7:30 am for 15 minutes.”
Here’s the magic to this – if you are able to just be consistent with showing up for a set-aside time/space in your day – you have everything you need for success with exercise (and by success, I mean improvement and results over time). Now, you have all the time, freedom, and flexibility to practice and explore the types of exercises you want to do, and can go as quickly or as slowly a pace you want. Personally, I recommend starting with something very easy you know you are more than capable of. It will help you practice the flow of the exercise routine, mitigate the chance of too much soreness (overtraining), and have you itching to up your intensity next time.
The other great benefit to just being consistent on showing up for the time, location, and duration of your exercise intentions is that, if you have an off day or just want a change of pace, you can do something else instead and not think, “Oh I have fallen off the exercise schedule!” As an example, the day I wrote this, I was supposed to go down to my basement before breakfast and do a 30-minute leg workout. However, I woke up feeling tired, had allergies, and just generally felt out of it. I still went downstairs to my basement and did a 10-minute yoga stretch routine, followed by a 4-minute HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) to wake up a bit, and I left it at that. I still showed up, even though the details of what I did were different that day.
So, if this article speaks to you, start small with a plan that is realistic. Maybe it’s just showing up to do stretches for 5 minutes. Anything you do is a start and improvement from where you were. Consistency over time will get you where you want to be.
To you health and wellbeing,
Senior Health Coach, Dan Tribley
EPIC Functional Medicine