Your doctor uttered the words that you had hoped she would never say: “You need to exercise!” The doctor has spoken. You have known the very fact that you should indeed exercise, but no one had actually verbalized this thought out loud to you. Your whole body is tightening up as you visualize yourself standing in PE class in 8th grade terrified to be hit by the ball during dodgeball.
The good news is that you are not alone! Many people have only had negative experiences with exercise, whether it was PE in school, a yelling coach at practice or growing up in a family that was sedentary. In fact, the mere word ‘exercise’ causes many to have unpleasant thoughts. It is unfortunate that these situations occur too often and to too many kids, youth and young adults.
The other good news is that exercise doesn’t have to be a negative experience! Let’s start over and give exercise a chance, because it could actually change and even save your life. No matter if you have never exercised, or just don’t exercise anymore, please rethink your choice. I have witnessed it over and over again that it is possible for people to discover a passion for exercise at any age.
More good news: you do not have to buy a gym membership, expensive equipment or fancy outfits. All you need is a good, appropriate pair of workout shoes (unless you prefer to swim) that give you support and a positive attitude!
1. Evaluate. Note down five physical activities that you enjoy or could potentially enjoy. Number them off from one to five. Secondly, make another list outlining exercise equipment you have available to you either at home, at work or in your neighborhood (e.g. walking trail, park, tennis courts, etc.). Now compare your list of activities and resources and connect potential matches (e.g. you own two tennis racquets, you enjoy tennis and there is a tennis court in your neighborhood = a match!). If you cannot come up with a match, think about what you may need to do in order to find a proper match (e.g. if you really enjoy swimming, but you do not have immediate access to a pool, how can you get access?)
2. Plan. Identify three things that you would like to accomplish and write them down. For example: finish a 1-mile walk, swim consecutively for 10 minutes, do one push-up or whatever it may be. It could also be that you may want to lower your blood pressure, lose weight or lower your cholesterol. If so, be specific as to how much. In other words, set three specific goals that could be achieved (realistically!) in four weeks. We refer to this as setting short-term goals. If you do not enjoy running, then do not set goals for running a 5K! Remember, the activities you choose to do must be enjoyable or could potentially be enjoyable to you.
3. Schedule. Review your daily schedule. Some of you might have a very regular schedule; others may have a different one every day or maybe even none at all. Start with finding three days this week that you can schedule 30 minutes for your new fitness routine. Based on the evaluation, label each 30-minute block with the actual activity you will be doing (e.g. walking, biking, swimming). This process should be repeated each week and if possible, increased by one day (week 1 & 2 = 3 days; week 3 = 4 days; week 4 = 5 days and then keep at 5 days).
4. Prepare. Now that you have decided on three different days and the activity, plan what you will need (clothing, equipment) and what you may want, to make the activity more enjoyable (music, a workout partner, etc.). If you have chosen an activity outside, plan for the event that the weather may not cooperate. What will you do when it rains? You must have a back-up plan.
5. Do. It is time to put your plan into action! Make it a priority to follow through and do what you planned to. Even if you were unable to complete the whole 30 minutes, do as much as you can during the set time or split it up into two or three blocks. Doing is the key!
6. Track. Use your phone, an app or a manual journal to record what you actually do during the set exercise sessions. If you planned for 30 minutes of biking in your first session, but you just could not go past 20 minutes, then that is absolutely okay; record what you actually did each time you exercise. Be sure to then adjust your plan for the next session for 21 minutes and increase each session by a minute until you get to 30. Be very detailed in your journaling and always write down an adjective that describes how you felt during the workout (e.g. energized, exhausted, upset, happy, etc.).
It is important to realize that this process is something even current exercisers have to do; it may just be more internalized for them at this point, but everyone has to plan, prioritize and do. The main thing to remember is that “anything is better nothing!” Start slowly and build up the length of workouts and number of times you do it during the week. Keep in mind that this new journey of starting to exercise will not be perfect. You will fail. Some days, you will be too tired, too stressed, something will come up or you will get sick. This is a reality, but does not have to cancel your goals and plan. You simply forget that day and move on, sticking with your set goal the next day.
Changing a behavior (going from not exercising to exercising) will be a process that will have its ups and downs. Keep in mind the many positive benefits of physical activity; that it can save your life and significantly improve the quality of your life! Follow the simple six steps outlined above to start, to restart or to get organized again. Ready? Set? Go! You can do it!