When it comes to exercise, we think about how to “get” fit. But often, starting out is not the problem. “The big problem is maintaining it,” says Falko Sniehotta, a professor of behavioral medicine and health psychology at Newcastle University. According to the fitness Health Survey for England in 2016, 34% of men and 42% of women are not hitting the aerobic exercise targets, and even more – 69% and 77% respectively – are not doing enough strengthening activity.
Meanwhile, obesity is adding to the chronic long-term diseases cited in Public Health England’s analysis, which shows women in the UK are dying earlier than in most EU countries.
Try these 25 pieces of advice from experts and Guardian readers to keep you going.
Read also: father of Microbiology
1 Work Out Why, Don’t Just Work Out
Too often society promotes exercise and fitness on social media using attractive fitness posters that only lead up to you into short-term motivation.
There is some evidence, she says, that younger people will go to the gym more if their reasons are appearance-based, but past our early 20s that doesn’t fuel motivation much. Nor do vague or future goals help (“I want to get fit, I want to lose weight”).
Segar, the author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness, says we will be more successful if we focus on immediate positive feelings such as stress reduction, increased energy, and making friends. “The only way we are going to prioritize time to exercise is if it is going to deliver some kind of benefit that is truly compelling and valuable to our daily life,” she says.
2 Get off to a slow start
If you haven’t been in shape or your Retro fitness is not good enough then don’t worry, it’s going to take time.” He likes the trend towards high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and recommends people include some.
“but to do that every day will be too intense for most people”. Do it once (or twice, at most) a week, combined with slow jogs, swimming and fast walks – plus two or three rest days, at least for the first month. “That will give someone a chance of having recovery sessions alongside the high-intensity workouts.”
3 You don’t have to love it
But don’t feel you have to really enjoy exercise. “A lot of people who stick with exercise say: ‘I feel better when I do it.
” There are elements that probably will be enjoyable, though, such as the physical response of your body and the feeling of getting stronger, and the pleasure that comes with mastering a sport.
It might be different sports or simple things, like sharing activities with other people.”
4 Be kind to yourself
Individual motivation – or the lack of it – is only part of the bigger picture. Money, parenting demands or even where you live can all be stumbling blocks, says Sniehotta. Tiredness, depression, work stress or ill family members can all have an impact on physical activity.
“If there is a lot of support around you, you will find it easier to maintain physical activity,” he points out.
“If you live in certain parts of the country, you might be more comfortable doing the outdoor physical activity than in others. To conclude that people who don’t get enough physical activity are just lacking motivation is problematic.”
Segar suggests being realistic. “Skip the idea of going to the gym five days a week.
Be really analytical about work and family-related needs when starting, because if you set yourself up with goals that are too big, you will fail and you’ll feel like a failure.
At the end of a week, I always ask my clients to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Maybe fitting in a walk at lunch worked, but you didn’t have the energy after work to do it.”
5 Don’t Rely on Willpower
“If you need the willpower to do something, you don’t really want to do it,” says Segar. Instead, think about exercise “in terms of why we’re doing it and what we want to get from physical activity.
6 Find a Purpose
Anything that allows you to exercise while ticking off other goals will help, says Sniehotta.
It provides you with more gratification, and the costs of not doing it are higher.” For instance, walking or cycling to work, or making friends by joining a sports club, or running with a friend.
“Or the goal is to spend more time in the countryside, and running helps you do that.”
Try to combine physical activity with something else. “For example, in my workplace, I don’t use the lift and I try to reduce email, so when it’s possible I walk over to people,” says Sniehotta.
“Over the course of the day, I walk to work, I move a lot in the building and I actually get about 15,000 steps.
Try to make physical activity hit as many meaningful targets as you can.”
7 Make it a Habit
When you take up running, it can be tiring just getting out of the door – where are your shoes? Your water bottle? What route are you going to take? After a while, points out Sniehottta, “there are no longer costs associated with the activity”. Doing physical activity regularly and planning for it “helps make it a sustainable behavior”. Missing sessions doesn’t.
8 Plan and Prioritise
What if you don’t have time to exercise?
It might be a question of priorities, says Sniehotta. He recommends planning: “
The first is ‘action planning, where you plan where, when and how you are going to do it and you try to stick with it.” The second type is ‘coping planning’: “anticipating things that can get in the way and putting a plan into place for how to get motivated again”. Segar adds: “Most people don’t give themselves permission to prioritize self-care behaviors like exercise.”
9 Keep it Short and Sharp
A workout doesn’t have to take an hour, says Roberts. “A well-structured 15-minute workout can be really effective if you really are pressed for time.”
As for regular, longer sessions, he says: “You tell yourself you’re going to make time and change your schedule accordingly.”