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Learning to love exercise

Date

Lavinia Rodriguez

Gradual change ... celebrate incremental improvements.

Gradual change ... celebrate incremental improvements.

It may be hard to believe that someone can go from dreading exercise to dreading a day that passes without it. But that's just what happened to me.

Learning to love exercise wasn't a miraculous conversion, but a gradual evolution that could happen for anyone. I'm proof.

In younger years, I avoided gym classes, team sports and the outdoors. Like a lot of my friends, I just didn't want to exert myself.

But by the time I was in graduate school, I was having problems controlling my asthma. All that sitting and studying was having an impact on my weight, too. I knew the trend wasn't good.

I started to realise that I wanted not only to be lean, but also fit for the rest of my life. I wanted to be stronger and have more endurance.

One of the good things about studying psychology was that I knew none of this would happen if I didn't change my attitude and the way I thought about physical activity. But that didn't mean I instantly knew how to do it.

Sure, you can grit your teeth and make yourself do something you don't want to do. But that's not the route to permanent change. I wanted to learn to actually like activity.

Looking back, I realised that the reason I learned to love activity is because I didn't go looking for a magical solution. Instead, I systematically incorporated gradual changes that I knew I could handle. As I succeeded at each one, I found that I was eager for new challenges.

Here are the specific steps I took:

1. Embrace the process: Understanding that change takes time is important. I wanted to get into jogging and had noticed plenty of runners seemingly floating around a one-mile (1.6-kilometre) course on campus. But could I do the same with no exercise history whatsoever? I decided that running a mile without stopping would be a goal I would reach gradually. I alternated between jogging and walking based on my comfort level, increasing the jogging by as little as a few seconds at a time until I was able to jog nonstop for 1 mile.

2. Accept the difficulty: It takes at least some effort to make changes. But the effort shouldn't be excessive. Pace yourself based on your condition and gently coax yourself to the next level. It's not about "No pain, no gain". It's more like, "Comfort and vigour (minus pain) leads to steady gain".

3. Pay attention to thoughts: Does any of this sound familiar? "This is going to be so hard!" "The end of the course is so far away!" "I hate exercise".

That's what I was thinking. But I decided to catch those self-defeating statements and turn them around - even if I didn't really believe the new version yet.

"Focus on the present moment, slow down if you need to, but just keep moving forward", I would tell myself. "You'll get better and better." With time, the new positive statements replace the old negative thoughts.

4. Don't impose strict deadlines: It took me a year to jog a full mile without stopping. But that was back in the mid-1970s, and I've been exercising regularly ever since, so who cares how long it took?

If I had put strict expectations on myself, I would probably still be where I started. It was slow, but it worked.

It's better to focus on taking one step at a time instead of setting deadlines when making major lifestyle changes. You don't need to keep up with or compete with anyone.

I've tried different activities through the years, but I've never wanted to stop exercising. My asthma - my main inspiration to get fit - has disappeared.

Walking is my activity of choice because it's inexpensive, it's meditative and I can do it anywhere. I enjoy my daily hour of time alone to think, watch nature and greet my neighbours.

Exercising is one of the best pleasures in my life, and I hope that it can become just as much of a joy for you, too.

SHNS

47 comments

  • interim goals - not weight loss, but exercise goals. training for organised events is a great motivator for me (i compete, but it can just be a fun event).

    grinding on your own, trying to convince yourself that it's good for you will break anyone's spirit.

    Commenter
    jules
    Location
    melbourne
    Date and time
    April 19, 2012, 11:15AM
    • Great article! That's how I did it too. Previously I had always done too much too soon, so it was too painful and I would be unmotivated and give up. A year of steady buildup and now the sky's the limit!

      Commenter
      so true
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 11:31AM
      • A year ago I joined a gym. I was 45, 193cm tall and 135kg with a desk job. I could'nt even walk on the treadmill for 10 min @ 4km/hr without stopping. I bagan by going twice a week and watched what I ate. I minimising my calorie intake using the Myfitnesspal app. I progressively increased my attendances and the duration and speed at which I worked out. I use cardio machines (bike, orbitrek, rower and treadmill) and also do light weight for resistence training. My goal was to lose weight and increase my fitness. I only started running once I had dropped 15kg.

        I'm now 20Kg lighter and can run 1km without stopping at 10km/hr. I plan on losing another 20kg this year, run further and faster and increase my muscle definition.

        I've had my binges along the way but "recovered" to continue my journey.

        The point is to do it slowly and watch what you eat.

        All the best...and keep your body moving.

        Commenter
        Used to be huge
        Location
        melb
        Date and time
        April 19, 2012, 1:47PM
    • I'm desperate to change my lifestyle and embark on a committed fitness program - for my mental health as much as anything.

      The problem, for me, is that at the age of 42 I can't help feeling that it's just too late in the day for me (to start again). I used to frequent the gym, play soccer, cricket and badminton almost daily in my younger years and I've somehow found myself, 10 years later, in a situation where I'm inactive and longing for the (fitness) glory days.

      I can cope with using the treadmill and stationary cycle in the confines of my own home, but when it comes to either lifting weights or walking/cycling in public I'm afraid I'm just to self-conscious and mindful of my age (even embarrassed) to really enjoy it.

      Commenter
      Bobby
      Location
      Brisbane
      Date and time
      April 19, 2012, 11:34AM
      • Bobby ... hmmm 42 and you feel old you really need to exercise more ... might I suggest timing yourself and walking 15 minutes away from home and then returning ... that'll be roughly 30 mins exercise. Honestly get over the old at 42 cos when you're 60 you're gonna really wonder why you put such limits on yourself at such a young age.
        Start at a good pace, increase 10% each week and before you know it you'll be exercising regularly. Also the less you do the less you want to do so just start somewhere and aim for gradual improvement believe me I'm 41 and need to listen to my own advice.

        Commenter
        No way
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        April 19, 2012, 11:44AM
      • hey mate, I was in the same position bout a year ago.. I got out there and love it - in regard to self conscious, if it helps start running/exercising at night or early day and in parks, not around well known running track or in gyms (you dont need gyms to do exercies),, also those people that may see you wont give you a second though, 10sec after seeing you,, they probably too focused on themselves.. it never too late, I lifting heavier weight, and running faster than blokes 10years younger - if you start know by the time the olympics come around I bet you would have dropped a pant size

        Commenter
        jono
        Location
        flemington
        Date and time
        April 19, 2012, 11:48AM
      • Mate can I just offer some advice here. To ramp it up a bit without having to go outdoors, get a skipping rope and look at some HIIT routines on youtube. Worked wonders for me and I don't have to leave the living room to do it and it's over in 15 mins.

        That combined with some diet control and you'll be smiling.

        Commenter
        RIPRexMossop
        Date and time
        April 19, 2012, 11:48AM
      • Whoops I forgot to mention that I'm 45 mate.

        You're just a pup.

        Commenter
        RIPRexMossop
        Date and time
        April 19, 2012, 11:50AM
      • Bobby - Other people out in public are going to notice you starting out, but if you think they're snickering behind your back, you're wrong. I thought the same thing when I started out, but some time later, I noticed that when I was out running and I'd see others walking or starting to dip their toes into jogging - some of them really struggling, just like I did - the only thing I can think is "Good for you!" Lots of other runners I talk to (gym people too) feel the same way, but I think we'd feel self conscious if we said it out loud.

        All joggers, walkers, sprinters and long distance folks are running the same race (at different paces, perhaps), but some of us started a bit earlier, and so we're a bit further along. But never look at another runner and think, "I don't belong here." It's your race too.

        Commenter
        Bryn
        Location
        Brunswick
        Date and time
        April 19, 2012, 12:01PM
      • Pete, if you can move, you can exercise. It's that simple. And age is never a barrier if you are physically capable, which it sounds like you are.
        And honestly, please don't worry about what others are thinking or be embarrassed about how you'll look. Some of the fittest guys look like complete dunces in a body pump class!
        Set little goals for yourself to get started. Things like a good walk everyday. Build it up to jogging in sperts.
        With further exercise, get to a stage where you're having a good sweat. Try 20 push-ups (with breaks) before breakfast. It will hurt, but soon it will be 30, and 40.
        Once you notice some differences in yourself, and it will happen!, you'll have that old feeling back. Forget everyone else, go hard for yourself, and you'll be right!

        Commenter
        Pete
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        April 19, 2012, 12:01PM

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