I had a lecturer at college who loved running. And I don’t just mean a casual jog. This man would run an easy 10 kilometres every day if time allowed for it. You see, his passion for running went beyond enjoyment: he thrived whenever he ran. It got to the point where his wife learned that if he was grumpy, it was a sign that he needed to go for a run. This lecturer was fit and healthy and always so genuinely happy . . . it was enviable.
So I thought I would take a leaf out of his book. I’d tried running before. It was often the first step in many of my exercise regime attempts. But every time I went to run it felt like such an effort. From simply finding the motivation to go for a run in the first place to persevering even when my heart was pounding or my lungs were screaming for oxygen . . . no part of it was easy. But I was determined to make it work. I thought that surely if I took my lecturer’s approach to running then I too could fall in love.
I didn’t. To this day I hate running. Despite my best efforts, the habit of going for a run never stuck. It wasn’t enjoyable and I didn’t want the benefits of exercise desperately enough to endure the pain.
After giving regular gym memberships and team sports a try, I finally found a form of exercise that stuck. I am now a regular and enthusiastic attendee at my local F45 gym. F45 stands for “Functional 45”—functional fitness in 45-minute classes. The classes are circuit-style High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). You get in, work really hard for 45 minutes, and get out.
Attending F45 has transformed the way I approach exercise. My previous attempts at a regular exercise regime were filled with dread and “shoulds”. And failing to follow through on this dreary regime resulted in feelings of failure and resentment. That all changed when I found a form of exercise I genuinely love. I look forward to my classes every day and miss the chance to attend when I’m on holiday. With each 45-minute session I’m working hard and building muscles and cardiovascular endurance, while also reaping the benefits of exercise on my mental health. And rather than living in guilt and regret for skipping yet another gym session, compounding my sense of failure, I have a sense of accomplishment.
Building good habits
Now I’m not suggesting that everyone goes out and signs up for an F45 membership. But what I am suggesting is that you find a form of exercise that works for you.
According to motivational author James Clear, habits consist of four steps: cue (or the “trigger” to initiate a behaviour); cravings (the motivational force behind every habit); response (the actual habit) and reward (the end goal of the habit). To create a good habit, the “cravings”, or your motivations behind the habit, need to be attractive. If the idea of doing a HIIT class is not attractive to you, that’s OK. It’s just like running is not the right fit for me.
So the first step in creating an exercise regime that you can stick to is finding what works for you, whether that be running, HIIT classes, Pilates, weights, walking, cycling or team sports.
But why is it important to find an exercise regime that works? Why do we need to be moving our bodies?
The human body was not created to sit still. But with modern life and new technologies allowing fewer people to do physical labour, and with more jobs revolving around desk work, a lack of physical activity in our everyday life means we must take on the responsibility of incorporating it somehow.
You may have heard the saying “sitting is the new smoking”, which has been credited to Dr James Levine, a professor of medicine at the US-based Mayo Clinic. And while one bout of exercise every day isn’t enough to combat the amount of sitting that we do, it’s a good place to start.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Physical activity is one of the best things people can do to improve their health. It is vital for healthy ageing and can reduce the burden of chronic diseases and prevent early death.” CDC research suggests that only 21 per cent of adults are meeting physical activity guidelines, and only five per cent are doing 30 minutes of physical activity per day.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, really. Many of us have been hearing this message since we were children, when our parents would tell us to go outside and play.
But being active is not all about the physical benefits. Exercise is a proven way to increase your body’s mental health, too. According to Medical News Today, a moderate-to-vigorous exercise session can result in reduced short-term feelings of anxiety in adults. And in the long run it can help reduce the risk of depression and anxiety and help you sleep better. I can attest to the power exercise has had over my mental health. Just the satisfaction of completing a workout gives me a sense of accomplishment, and that’s before you begin to factor in the release of chemicals like endorphins.
A good place to start
In January I was named Member of the Month for my F45 gym, based on my attendance. Since joining in June 2019, I have been maintaining an average of five days a week. This is the most consistent I have ever been with an exercise regime in my life, and it feels fantastic. I can see and feel my body getting stronger, and for someone who works at a desk, those 45 minutes of hard physical work are exactly what I need.
While exercising won’t solve all of the problems in your life, when it comes to your physical and mental health, it’s a good place to start. The trick is to put the latest fads and trends aside and find what works for you. What will you be able to consistently achieve on an ongoing basis that won’t fill you with dread? Is it taking the dog for its daily walk? Following ’80s aerobics tutorials on YouTube? Signing up to the gym with an accountability partner? Whatever achievable consistency looks like for you, your body will thank you for investing in its health.
Ashley Stanton lives in Sydney, where she works for the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in the communication and marketing team.