I’m in a pretty blissful place right now, having existed on a diet of panettone and BBC period dramas for the past week, but one thing that’s driving me nuts is the annual deluge of ‘new year, new you’ crap that’s hitting my inbox.
There’s nothing wrong with using the new year as a marker to motivate yourself, but the press releases I get range from the wishy-washy (“Feng shui your way to fitness”) to the downright delusional (oh hi there, detox tea).
I don’t claim to be an expert, but I know there are plenty of more practical routes you can adopt if improved health and fitness is your main goal for 2018. So, without further ado, here is my no-bullshit guide to making exercise a regular thing in your life this year…
STOP DOING STUFF YOU HATE
Exercise: the more horrible it is, the better for us – right?
Well in my opinion, this attitude never works long-term.
Don’t get me wrong – exercise should be sweaty and uncomfortable to a degree, but if you’re just having a shit time (rather than a hard but rewarding workout) then you’ll always be searching for excuses not to work out.
For example, I absolutely hate doing cardio in the gym. I find it incredibly boring, sweaty and soul-destroying. In my early twenties, my routine consisted entirely of gym-based cardio, and as a result I used to DREAD every trip because I found it so awful.
You know what? I just don’t do it anymore. For me, cardio is much more enjoyable if I’m running outside or going to classes rather than slogging it out on the cross-trainer.
Basically, if you’re finding one type of exercise a nightmare, instead of forcing yourself to have a crappy time in the name of fitness, just ditch it from your repertoire – because life really is too short for workout dread.
LEARN HOW TO LIFT WEIGHTS
Without a doubt the change that has made the biggest difference to my body is starting to incorporate more strength training into my routine.
I was a complete cardio freak for years, but although I could run for hours, ask me to lift even the tiniest of dumbbells and my twig arms would be quivering.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly a beefcake (YET!), but there’s definitely more muscle under my cosy layer of Prosecco and chocolate button-created flesh.
For many women, the weights area of the gym can be quite an intimidating place (read about how I overcame this here), but if you start strength training you will soon realise that a) basically everyone in there is only interested in doing their own thing, especially the preening blokes and b) the results totally outdo the initial awkwardness you might feel.
In fact, weightlifting is particularly important for women, especially as we get older, because it helps protect against weakening bones (apparently this is a particular issue for us girls).
If in doubt, book a couple of PT sessions to learn the ropes, or watch videos on bodybuilding.com where you can learn the basic lifts such as squats and deadlifts.
STOP GIVING YOURSELF TIME TO MAKE UP EXCUSES
I’ll be honest, I’m not one of those people who loves exercise so much that they would rather be doing it than lying in bed with a Toblerone. Given the chance, I’ll think of a million excuses to not bother with a workout (“it looks like it might rain”, “That single cough I just did might be a sign of a serious illness”, “It is ESSENTIAL that I stay at home and do a face mask”).
That’s why I’ve found that switching to a morning workout is the key to exercising regularly, because you don’t have a chance to think of excuses before you’re out the front door.
The one thing you should remember with exercising at the crack of dawn is to always, ALWAYS pre-pack your bag the night before if you don’t want to end up sans knickers when you get out of the shower.
However, for me it’s a really effective way to avoid excuses or getting caught up in work, and there’s no better feeling than arriving at your desk knowing your fitness is done for the day.
INTRODUCE SOMETHING NEW
Once upon a time, my exercise regime consisted entirely of running. Having spent my younger days thinking I was completely crap at sport, based mainly on the fact I never learnt how to do a cartwheel at school (too tall – that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), I was quite excited to realise that I could run a fairly long way without having a heart attack, and started to go through the usual ritual of 10ks, followed by half marathons, and then a full marathon in 2013.
I carried on running after that, but gradually, the realisation struck: I was really REALLY bored of running. Where once it had been valuable time alone with my thoughts, now I was pretty fed up of huffing and puffing around Clapham Common every morning, What’s more, I was starting to get injuries, and while I could run for ages, other areas of fitness – such as strength – didn’t get a look in.
Since then, I’ve adopted a much more varied exercise regime. From weights to HIIT classes, spinning to pilates, a more balanced approach to workouts means I never get bored or overdo things physically.
If you are the type of person who finds exercise boring – and plenty of people can sympathise on that one – then adopting a pick n mix approach will help you stay engaged and motivated.
BUY YOURSELF A FITBIT
You know what the most exciting thing is about having a Fitbit? Learning how many calories you burn JUST BY BEING ASLEEP.
Seriously though, I find it very useful to have my Fitbit Ionic attached to my arm. Achieving your daily step count becomes quite addictive, which means you’re motivated to go out at lunch rather than stay at your desk, walk rather than catching the tube and stroll off your Sunday hangover instead of just lying on the sofa all day.
You can also set workout goals and measure your calorie-burn for each exercise sesh; not something I’d advise getting obsessed with, but if you were the type of kid who enjoyed getting stars for good behaviour, then you’ll find this really motivating (although sadly, unlike my childhood star chart, I didn’t receive a paddling pool for reaching 100).
MAKE A WORKOUT SCHEDULE AT THE START OF THE WEEK
“But I’m too busy to exercise” is the excuse about 80% of the nation uses to weedle themselves out of what they see as adult P.E. (side note: I have a friend who claims she was so masterful at excuses she NEVER had to do P.E. throughout the whole of secondary school. Skillz).
Well sure, we’re all busy, but that’s why you have to be organised. I find the best thing is to sit with my diary at the beginning of the week and work out exactly where I’m going to fit each session in between my other commitments.
By doing this, you make exercise a priority rather than “something you’ll get round to if you have time” – because believe me, you will never, ever have time.
BUY NEW WORKOUT GEAR
I’m not suggesting you spend hundreds of pounds on an entire wardrobe of Sweaty Betty (the leggings are great but £95 OHMYGOD) but buying a few nice pieces of fitness gear will definitely make you feel inclined to mosey on down to your local park for a run.
In particularly, I recommend buying a pair of high-waisted leggings that you can pull up around your stomach (no one enjoys seeing their tummy VPL waving back at them in the mirrors during aerobics), a good sports bra and some thin vests in any colour that won’t show up sweat patches (grey marl you are NOBODY’S FRIEND).
OVERCOME THE FEAR
You know what the very hardest thing about exercise is? Overcoming the initial dread when you’ve been out of the game for a while.
There have been certain times in my life when exercise has fallen by the wayside, and getting back into the swing of things is daunting.
The key to a good exercise routine is simply making a habit of it. Once it’s part of your everyday routine you don’t overthink fitness – you just get the hell on with it.
If you are keen to get fitter but feel intimated by the whole thing, I recommend the “10 minute” approach. Basically, tell yourself you will just do 10 minutes of jogging/gymming/a Davina DVD and that if, after 10 minutes, it’s the worst thing in the world, you give yourself permission to do so. The vast majority of the time, you’ll discover you want to carry on; simply crossing that psychological start line is the difficult bit. The number one tip for 2018 is to conquer your doubts and go for it.