The Key to Exercising Sustainably

The US Department of Health & Human Services recommends a bare minimum of two and a half hours of  “moderate-intensity aerobic activity” and two sessions of “muscle-strengthening activities” per week. That’s all very well and good, but trying to adhere to such strict and measured guidelines is not a sustainable means of staying in shape for many of us. In fact, being subject to such perceived pressure can in fact have the opposite effect (i.e. “If I can’t do that I might as well do nothing”). I believe that in order to create sustainable exercise habits, you could benefit from ignoring government recommendations and focusing on something else altogether.

The first thing I’ll say is this: even if you know that you’re not doing enough exercise, don’t worry about it for the moment.

You may be wondering why I advocate such an approach. My reasoning is simple: the healthy enough way is to create habits that last a lifetime. If it takes you six months to get to the point where you’re doing “enough” exercise (as deemed by the authorities), so be it. Trying to go from doing little or no exercise to the prescribed amount instantly will almost certainly end in failure (whether that failure is immediate or weeks or months down the line), so it’s best that you adopt a more gradual approach.

Start by moving more. Don’t put any pressure on yourself by setting quantifiable targets. Exercising sustainably is linked intrinsically to the habits you form, and habits are formed through repetition. It’s far easier to repeat something you enjoy (and thus create a new habit) than impose an exercise regime that fills you with nothing but dread.

The thing with moving more is that it can have an exponential effect. Once you’ve got into the swing of things, you may want to move even more. If you’ve been taking the occasional stroll around your neighborhood, you might be inclined to go further afield and find somewhere scenic to spend an afternoon rambling. That’s the beauty of allowing yourself the time to build sustainable habits: when the pressure’s off and you’re focusing on moving in ways you enjoy, it doesn’t feel like a burden. Quite the opposite.

Of course, if six months pass and you’re doing no more exercise than you did before then you need to give yourself a kick up the ass. However, don’t berate yourself for not going from 0-60mph in an instant. We’re playing the long game here.