The ‘enjoyment factor’ can be a major obstacle to starting and maintaining healthy exercise habits. Too often, exercise is perceived as a negative and, although no one doubts the benefits, the barrier to entry is just too great to be overcome.
As with any behaviour change, if there’s a barrier between where you are, and where you want to be (in this case a dislike of exercise), the change of making a long-term change is slim.
Health professionals are taught about six steps that can be taken to ensure that physical activity is a positive experience. So whether you’re a health professional, or just someone desperately trying to find a way to build an exercise habit, these are the factors you should consider.
Listen to your body and work within your comfort zone:
Exercise intensity is important, but sometimes it’s seen as a non-negotiable. Consistent exercise, even at a low intensity, is INFINITELY BETTER THAN no exercise at all. So if the discomfort of exercise, and the need for intensity puts you off, just go easier. Something is better than nothing, and still gives you heaps of benefits.
Work at your own pace, don’t be competitive:
Some people like competition, but if you’re struggling to build exercise habits, this might not be you. Focus on improvement relative to YOU, not anyone else.
Ensure the rate of progression is gradual:
We’re trying to create long term change here, on a time-scale of years and decades, not weeks. We want to make you healthy for years to come. So focus on taking baby steps. Taking 100 tiny steps is better than NOT taking one big one.
Set easily achievable goals:
Every time you achieve a goal, your body delivers you a little hit of dopamine, which makes you feel good and reinforces the behaviour. Set goals you can achieve (but that still challenge you).
Acknowledge all improvements in participation:
Instead of judging your success based on how well you did, judge it based on the fact that you did SOMETHING… ANYTHING! It’s about ticking boxes, not scoring your level of success.
Treat any relapses sympathetically:
You won’t be perfect. There will be ups and downs, peaks and troughs. If you can approach this experience knowing that, and giving yourself permission to not be perfect, there’s more chance you’ll recover from your lapses and come back stronger and more committed than ever.
Sure, exercise can be tough. It pushes us out of our comfort zone. But if you can utilise some of these strategies, you can expand your comfort zone, and make exercise a part of your life.