Starting a fitness regime from scratch
January has arrived… the month of detox, health kicks and change, but how do we make sure it isn’t just a one-month wonder? How do we start something that we can enjoy enough to continue it throughout the year?
Here are four fundamental health and fitness tips to get you started and to keep you going:
1. BE REALISTIC
How often have you said, or heard friends say, ‘I’m going to give up everything in January: it’s a new start for me, new diet, no caffeine, no carbs, no sugar, I’m not going to the pub, I’m going to exercise every day and run a marathon next year’. How often has it actually happened?
For a lucky few, this kind of all out, single-minded approach can work, but for most of us it’s a sure fire route to failure. So, it is important not to change too much at once. First, it is unsustainable – if you give up on one of the challenges that you set yourself, then it becomes more likely that you will give up on them all. Second, if you’ve had a long stint of poor eating and lack of exercise, then the sudden switch ultra-health mode might shock the body and there is a possibility that, for a while, you might not feel too good on your new lifestyle, which, again, doesn’t incentivise you to continue.
So be realistic, cut back on the bad things rather than giving up entirely. If you feel that you have been eating too many sweet things, then cut down to one sweet thing a day for a few weeks, and then down to every other day and then, perhaps, again to just twice a week, until, eventually, you’ll reach your ultimate goal.
Likewise, if you haven’t done much cardio exercise for a while, then don’t expect to start out with a long run followed by a spinning class. Set realistic goals, space the activity out during the week and intersperse the high impact work with some more gentle exercise, such as yoga, Pilates or brisk walks.
Work out what suits you, your body and your schedule. If you’re not a morning person, don’t suddenly expect to be up and in the pool at 6am. And don’t just follow your friends – you may find that you want to achieve different things and we all have varying limits of what makes us succeed and fail in our quests.
2. START GRADUALLY
As mentioned, slow and steady really is the key to success. With your diet, gradually, week-by-week cut down on the foods that you are looking to reduce while gradually increasing some more of the good stuff. And introduce new foods into your diet to make your programme more exciting. It could be worth using your new healthy lifestyle as an opportunity to try out new healthy food restaurants that you haven’t been to, or instead of your daily coffee, see what juices you like from your local juice bar. The important thing is not to change everything all at once and avoid telling yourself that you have ‘given something up’. As soon as you are not allowed something you tend to crave it more!
With your exercise regime, pick one or two sports that you realistically think that you can enjoy and incorporate into your daily routine, even if it is something as simple as hopping off the bus a few stops earlier to walk briskly to work. It might be worth thinking about whether you can use your journey to work as exercise time by cycling or running there, or back.
It is difficult to feel motivated to exercise outside at this time of year with the dark and the cold, which is where a gym can come in handy. A lot of gyms offer free trial months, discounted joining fees or even no contract memberships. Gyms offer variety, which can be good for anyone who finds they get bored easily. Before you sign up, have a look at the classes and see whether the times suit you. It’s also worth checking to see if there are classes for all abilities, just so you aren’t put off in the early stages by being surrounded by super fit people – you’ll be one of them eventually! Many gyms also offer a free personal training session when you sign up and it is worth talking through your goals with your personal trainer so that they can set a realistic programme for you.
3. SET GOALS
As yourself what do I want to achieve? Is it feeling more energised? Tone muscle? Lose weight? Feel happier? Health and fitness can help with all of these things, but it is worth setting yourself some realistic weekly or monthly goals. With weight loss and toning, it is important to remember that results are gradual. Don’t expect immediate change; the more gradual and sustainable the programme you set yourself, the more likely you are to have long-term, positive results.
Here are some examples of realistic goals you could set yourself:
- I am going to exercise three times a week for the next 4 weeks – once you achieve this set a new slightly enhanced challenge; generally if you set a goal, then achieve it, you want to go on.
- I am going to swap my morning coffee every other day with a juice for four weeks – and then go to every day.
- I am going to cycle twice a week to/from work for the whole of January.
- I am going to go to three exercise classes at the gym every week for six weeks.
- I am going to be able to run x miles without walking by the end of January – and then increase the distance each month.
- I am going to stop having bread at lunchtime.
4. KEEP ENJOYING YOURSELF
As with everything in life, one size doesn’t fit all; the only way to really know what suits you best is to try a variety of things; often we don’t like the idea of doing something new, but then get a real kick when we do actually achieve it. It’s worth challenging yourself a little for that feeling.
If you haven’t done much exercise in the past, don’t think it should be a slog. There will be something out there that suits you and that you will enjoy. You definitely have to give it a chance, but if you really don’t enjoy running, then don’t force it. Equally, if you don’t feel confident on your bike and are nervous about cycling in traffic, then perhaps urban cycling isn’t the sport for you, so you might like to try running, swimming or an exercise class instead.
Finally, ask yourself if you prefer to exercise alone or with a companion, as this can be crucial to a successful healthy programme.