When we think of people who exercise every day, we typically think of people who are super motivated and inspired and full of positive thinking. Maybe these people are sipping on a green smoothie or striking a yoga pose on the beach with their hands in prayer position.
Look, I like green smoothies. I really do. But I’m getting a little tired of seeing clichéd ‘fitspiration’ images on the Internet.
You know the images I’m talking about. The ones that leave you with a sinking feeling that you’re not quite up to scratch. If only you were a little less lazy, you would look toned and fabulous too.
These pictures can have a toxic effect on our lives. They are unhelpful to most of us, let alone inspiring.
In fact, research has found these ‘fitspiration’ images leave many of feeling depressed. And when you’re depressed, the last thing you want to do is exercise.
Famous artist, Chuck Close says, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work”.
In a similar vein, I think ‘Fitspiration’ is for amateurs too.
So it’s time to replace ‘fitspiration’ with something else. Something that actually works.
Doing what works (even if you’re busy)
“But I’m busy. I don’t have time to exercise!” I hear a lot of people say.
The thing is we’re all busy. So what’s the difference between busy people who exercise and those who don’t?
Busy people who exercise make time to exercise. Other people make excuses.
No matter how busy your life is you can always find some time to move your body. And if you do, you’ll feel better.
Below I list some of my favourite strategies that help me get moving every day. These aren’t my original ideas. I stole them from other people. Now you can steal them from me.
1. Move first thing before you do anything else
I find exercising first thing in the morning gives me the biggest bang for my buck. As neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki says, when you exercise first thing:
“This gets the positive hormones, neurotransmitters, growth factors and endorphins flowing, preparing me for the work day”.
But it’s not just about feeling good first thing in the day. For many of us, we know that if we don’t exercise first thing, it just won’t happen.
In her book ‘Letters to a young artist: Straight-up advice on making a life in the arts for actors, performers, writers, and artists of every kind’, Anna Deavere Smith shares about an encounter with a filmmaker at a film screening she hosted. She states:
“He must be in his mid-sixties, and he is in perfect physical shape. He was standing by the bar, and I asked him not about the film but about his physique.
“You look like you work out,” I said.
“Every day,” he said.
People who actually work out every single day have no problem talking about it. He and I agreed that we have to get up and go immediately to the gym, the pool, wherever our workout is, without doing anything before.
“If I get up and think, ‘Let me have a cup of coffee first,’ it ain’t happ’nin,” he said.
Not even a cup of coffee. I’m the same way. If I go to the computer or take a newspaper before heading to the gym, there’s a chance I won’t get there”.
Now I get that moving first thing in the day may not work for you. If that’s the case, search for pockets of time in your day where you can exercise. Trust me, they are there. You just need to look for them.
2. Set yourself up the night before
A number of people who exercise daily (e.g. Sarah Wilson, Michelle Bridges and Lorna Jayne Clarkson) recommend putting out your exercise clothes and shoes the night before.
What this does is the clothes act as an instant reminder that you have to exercise. There is also no need to faff around hunting for your shoes, socks and gym towel. Everything you need is organised and easily accessible all the time.
Sarah Wilson has an exercise kit that contains her clothes, shoes, and drink bottle. Whenever an opportunity arises to move, all she has to do is grab her exercise kit, get changed, and she’s moving.
3. Dress in a way that makes it easy for you to exercise at any time
For some people the idea of getting changed from their everyday clothing into exercise clothes is too much of a mental barrier to overcome. If this is the case for you, consider dressing in a way that makes it super easy for you to exercise at any time of the day. Lorna Jayne explains a clever strategy she uses:
“My philosophy is to always be ready to move in whatever I’m wearing. If I plan on doing exercise after work, I wear a crop top and singlet in the office with a tailored jacket. At 5pm, all I need to do is change my pants and pop on a pair of sneakers and I’m ready to go. I do the same on weekends if I want to go shopping or meet friends for lunch followed by a gym workout”.
If you’re not wearing your gym pants, don’t use that as an excuse not to exercise. Go for a walk in your jeans or work pants.
4. Set up your environment to help you move more
Last year I wheeled my office chair into the storage room and purchased a standing desk. I also made myself a treadmill work desk (you can read more about that here). Why would I do such a thing?
I wanted to create an environment that would propel me to move more throughout the day while I was writing up my PhD thesis.
Well, it worked.
I went from doing approximately 3,000 steps a day to well over 10,000 steps each day (measured on a fitbit). I now average between 10,000 – 15,000 steps each day.
As Lorna Jayne Clarkson states in her book ‘Move, Nourish, Believe’:
“If your treadmill is packed away under the bed, you’re less likely to spontaneously jump on it when you have a spare moment, so set it up in your bedroom or lounge. Stack your yoga and fitness DVDs somewhere visible and easy to reach, rather than jammed at the back of your entertainment unit…even doing 15 minutes of exercise is better than nothing, so work to create an environment that supports active living”.
Other ways you can re-engineer your environment so you move more include having a whiteboard in your office to brainstorm on your feet and placing a stretch band by your computer so you can stretch while programs load up.
5. Find your everyday ‘exercise’ heroes
In her book, ‘Use your words’, writer and comedian Catherine Deveny talks about finding your ‘everyday heroes’ in the context of writing. You can do the same for exercise.
In moments when I don’t feel like exercising, I like to think of my ‘everyday exercise heroes’. As Deveny says these are “ordinary people pulling their finger out, overcoming obstacles and fear and getting on with it”.
Here are a few of my everyday exercise heroes:
Terry: the 58-year-old man at the gym who puts on his little footy shorts and hits the treadmill every morning because he doesn’t want to end up like his dad who died of diabetes.
Nancy: the 60-year-old police officer who shows up at boxing class because it keeps her “sane”.
Mel: my 37-year-old friend who signed up for a 28-day exercise challenge, started lifting weights and built some serious guns. She knew if she didn’t build muscle now, it would be harder when she hit 40.
Charlie: my dad, 70-years-old. Runs up Jacobs ladder 10 times three times every week. He was never allowed to run as a child as my nonno (grandpa) said it would wear out the soles of his shoes. He only started running at the age of 60, despite people telling him not to (“You’re too old for that sort of thing Charlie! You’ll have a heart attack!”).
Despite their busy schedules, these ordinary people keep showing up for their exercise sessions. Now I don’t know about you but I find that inspiring. And thinking of my exercise heroes can help me to put my shoes on and lift weights at the gym when I rather stay in bed.
6. Commit to exercising every day
All of us have a finite amount of willpower/self-control. When you commit to exercising every day (rather than two or three days a week), this helps you to not deplete your willpower reserves. This means you can use your willpower on other things that really matter.
As Sarah Wilson says:
“Something weird happens when you say you’ll do it [exercise] three days a week: you spend every morning deliberating whether today is one of those days instead of just doing it”.
When you know you need to exercise first thing every day, no extra thought or deliberation is required. You just get on with it.
To sum up
By creating an environment that pulls you to move, having your exercise gear always at the ready and committing to exercise every day (first thing), you can build a lifetime of movement. With extra movement comes extra energy for the things that are most important to you.
Go ahead and experiment with these strategies. Some of these strategies may work for you. Some may not. If you don’t like something I’ve suggested, don’t do it. You see, when it comes to exercise there is no one size fits all approach. Find what works for you and just keep moving.