Although I believe that your diet typically has the biggest impact on your weight loss efforts, exercise is a vital piece of the puzzle too.
In short, I’m a big fan of exercise – at least, in terms of how I define it. The notion of exercise merely for the sake of exercise sends a shiver down my spine, and any use of the word “regime” leaves me cold.
However, I used that word deliberately in the title of this post, as I understand that many people feel that developing a “sustainable exercise regime” is an important part of effecting weight loss. And it is. But I invite you to use less imposing words. Rather than imposing a “sustainable exercise regime” on yourself, find forms of exercise you enjoy to the extent that you don’t have to worry whether you do them or not, because you will as a matter of course. In that sense, you will be following a regime – you just won’t be doing it consciously.
But how do you get to such a place? In the post linked to above, I explain that “exercise” simply means movement. If you’re moving more – no matter how inconsequentially – you’re exercising more. And if you can move a little more week by week, before long, you’ll get to where you need to be.
Taking a step forward from that, I recently published a post in which I offered up a number of ways to exercise and enjoy it. That list was intended as much to serve as an inspiration to think of forms of exercise that you will find enjoyable, as it was a literal list of things to try. So, when it comes to creating a “sustainable exercise regime”, I invite you to look beyond my list. What broad forms of exercise appeal to you? For me it’s typically ball-related – catching a ball, hitting a ball with a stick, running after a ball – it’s all good. But for you it may be different. For example, my girlfriend enjoys rock climbing and cycling, neither of which of course have anything to do with a ball.
Try not to constrain yourself when considering forms of exercise. Remember – anything that involves elevating your resting heart rate should be considered exercise. Don’t be afraid to get creative.
Now, regarding the “key” to exercising sustainably. It has a lot to do with what I’ve already discussed; namely, that you should find exercise you enjoy. If you’re struggling on that front, I advise you take a step back and consider the bigger picture.
The crux is this: exercise should mean something to you. You should find yourself wanting to do it not because you feel you should, but because it gives you something.
To use myself as an example, I play a lot of squash. It’s a sport I’ve played on and off since I was a teenager, but it’s only in the last 18 months or so that I’ve become what you might call an avid player. The catalyst was joining a squash club; something that looked like an obvious move in hindsight, but I wish I’d done 20 years ago. (Perhaps let that be a lesson to you – the exercise you might cherish could be staring you in the face.)
I don’t play squash because it’s good exercise; I play squash because I enjoy it. There are many reasons for this: the simple thrill of hitting a ball with a racket, and the state of mind it puts me in, for example. (When I’m playing squash, I’m not thinking of anything else. It enables me to be present in the moment – something I’ve not historically been great at – with no effort.)
In short, I play squash because it means something to me. It means a lot to me, in fact. The fact that it is good exercise is a bonus, but if squash somehow didn’t offer any health benefits, I’d still do it. And that’s the kind of exercise you need to look for.
You can even go a step further than this, by ‘applying’ meaning to exercise that you might not otherwise enjoy, in order to generate a desire to do it.
For example, running sprints isn’t my idea of fun. However, I’ve recently been taking part in some squash fitness sessions, which involve all sorts of exercises that I wouldn’t normally dream of doing. Because I associate the exercise with improving my squash game, it makes what would otherwise be unbearable worthwhile.
This really opens the floodgates to transforming otherwise unpleasant forms of exercise into positive events. For example, you can join aerobics classes to meet new people, or turn a weekly jog through the park into a social occasion with a friend. Make the exercise a supplementary element of the ‘real’ reason for what you do.
The fundamental point I’m getting down to is this: find forms of exercise that you want to do for at least one other reason besides losing weight and/or getting fitter. Make sure the exercise is meaningful in its own right, and you’ll find yourself wanting to do it – now and for in long-term.