IN YOUR NEXT LETTER, COULD YOU GIVE ME SOME ADVICE? TELL ME HOW YOU KEEP FIT AND HEALTHY

     
Can you carry on exercising when your motivation slips, the weather gets worse or your schedule becomes overwhelming? Experts & Guardian readers give their best advice



When it comes lớn exercise, we think about how lớn “get” fit. But often, starting out is not the problem. “The big problem is maintaining it,” says Falko Sniehotta, a professor of behavioural medicine and health psychology at Newcastle University. The official UK guidelines say adults should vày strength exercises, as well as 150 minutes of moderate activity, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, every week. According lớn the Health Survey for England in 2016, 34% of men và 42% of women are not hitting the aerobic exercise targets, & even more – 69% & 77% respectively – are not doing enough strengthening activity. A report from the World Health Organization last week found that people in the UK were among the least active in the world, with 32% of men & 40% of women reporting inactivity. Meanwhile, obesity is adding lớn 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.

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We all know we should be doing more, but how bởi we keep moving when our motivation slips, the weather takes a turn for the worse or life gets in the way? Try these 25 pieces of advice from experts and Guardian readers lớn keep you going.


1 Work out why, don’t just work out

Our reasons for beginning to exercise are fundamental to whether we will keep it up, says Michelle Segar, the director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health and Activity Research & Policy Center. Too often “society promotes exercise and fitness by hooking into short-term motivation, guilt và shame”. There is some evidence, she says, that younger people will go khổng lồ the thể hình 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 khổng lồ get fit, I want to chiến bại weight”). Segar, the tác giả 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 & making friends. “The only way we are going to prioritise time to exercise is if it is going to deliver some kind of benefit that is truly compelling & valuable to lớn our daily life,” she says.

2 Get off khổng lồ a slow start

The danger of the typical New Year resolutions approach khổng lồ fitness, says personal trainer Matt Roberts, is that people “jump in và do everything – change their diet, start exercising, stop drinking & smoking – và within a couple of weeks they have lost motivation or got too tired. If you haven’t been in shape, it’s going khổng lồ take time.” He likes the trend towards high-intensity interval training (HIIT) và recommends people include some, “but to do that every day will be too intense for most people”. Bởi 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 lớn love it

It is helpful not to lớn try khổng lồ make yourself vị things you actively dislike, says Segar, who advises thinking about the types of activities – roller-skating? bike riding? – you liked as a child. But don’t feel you have khổng lồ 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 toàn thân and the feeling of getting stronger, & the pleasure that comes with mastering a sport.

“For many people, the obvious choices aren’t necessarily the ones they would enjoy,” says Sniehotta, who is also the director of the National Institute for Health Research’s policy research unit in behavioural science, “so they need khổng lồ look outside them. It might be different sports or simple things, like sharing activities with other people.”

4 Be kind khổng lồ 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 tư vấn around you, you will find it easier to lớn maintain physical activity,” he points out. “If you live in certain parts of the country, you might be more comfortable doing outdoor physical activity than in others. To lớn conclude that people who don’t get enough physical activity are just lacking motivation is problematic.”

Segar suggests being realistic. “Skip the ideal of going to the thể hình five days a week. Be really analytical about work & family-related needs when starting, because if you mix yourself up with goals that are too big, you will fail & you’ll feel lượt thích a failure. At the end of a week, I always ask my clients lớn 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 vì chưng it.”

5 Don’t rely on willpower

“If you need willpower to vị something, you don’t really want to bởi it,” says Segar. Instead, think about exercise “in terms of why we’re doing it & what we want to get from physical activity. How can I benefit today? How vì chưng I feel when I move? How vị I feel after I move?”

6 Find a purpose


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Try to move more at work. Illustration: Mark LongAnything that allows you lớn exercise while ticking off other goals will help, says Sniehotta. “It provides you with more gratification, và the costs of not doing it are higher.” For instance, walking or cycling khổng lồ work, or making friends by joining a sports club, or running with a friend. “Or the goal is khổng lồ spend more time in the countryside, & running helps you bởi vì that.”

Try khổng lồ combine physical activity with something else. “For example, in my workplace I don’t use the lift and I try khổng lồ reduce email, so when it’s possible I walk over lớn people,” says Sniehotta. “Over the course of the day, I walk to lớn work, I move a lot in the building và 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 & planning for it “helps make it a sustainable behaviour”. Missing sessions doesn’t.

8 Plan và prioritise

What if you don’t have time to lớn exercise? For many people, working two jobs or with extensive caring responsibilities, this can undoubtedly be true, but is it genuinely true for you? 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 vì it and you try to stick with it.” The second type is ‘coping planning’: “anticipating things that can get in the way & putting a plan into place for how lớn get motivated again”. Segar adds: “Most people don’t give themselves permission khổng lồ prioritise self-care behaviours lượt thích exercise.”

9 Keep it short & sharp

A workout doesn’t have khổng lồ 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 lớn make time & change your schedule accordingly.”

10 If it doesn’t work, change it

It rains for a week, you don’t go running once và then you feel guilty. “It’s a combination of emotion & lack of confidence that brings us to the point where, if people fail a few times, they think it’s a failure of the entire project,” says Sniehotta. Remember it’s possible to lớn get back on track.

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If previous exercise regimes haven’t worked, don’t beat yourself up or try them again – just try something else, he says. “We tend lớn be in the mindset that if you can’t thua trận weight, you blame it on yourself. However, if you could change that to: ‘This method doesn’t work for me, let’s try something different,’ there is a chance it will be better for you & it prevents you having khổng lồ blame yourself, which is not helpful.”

11 showroom resistance và balance training as you get older

“We start to lose muscle mass over the age of around 30,” says Hollie Grant, a personal training và pilates instructor, and the owner of PilatesPT. Resistance training (using body weight, such as press-ups, or equipment, such as resistance bands) is important, she says: “It is going to lớn help keep muscle mass or at least slow down the loss. There needs to be some size of aerobic exercise, too, and we would also recommend people start adding balance challenges because our balance is affected as we get older.”

12 Up the ante

“If you bởi vì 5k runs và you don’t know if you should push faster or go further, rate your exertion from one to 10,” says Grant. “As you see those numbers go down, that’s when to start pushing yourself a bit faster.” Roberts says that, with regular exercise, you should be seeing progress over a two-week period và pushing yourself if you feel it is getting easier. “You’re looking for a change in your tốc độ or endurance or strength.”

13 Work out from home


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You don’t need complex equipment. Illustration: Mark LongIf you have caring responsibilities, Roberts says you can vì chưng a lot within a small area at home. “In a living room, it is easy to vày a routine where you might alternate between doing a leg exercise & an arm exercise,” he says. “It’s called Peripheral Heart action training. Doing six or eight exercises, this effect of going between the upper & lower toàn thân produces a pretty strong metabolism lift và cardiovascular workout.” Try squats, half press-ups, lunges, tricep dips and glute raises. “You’re raising your heart rate, working your muscles and having a good general workout.” These take no more than 15-20 minutes và only require a chair for the tricep dips – although dumbbells can be helpful, too.

14 Get out of breath

We are often told that housework and gardening can contribute to lớn our weekly exercise targets, but is it that simple? “The measure really is you’re getting generally hot, out of breath, and you’re working at a cấp độ where, if you have a conversation with somebody while you’re doing it, you’re puffing a bit,” says Roberts. “With gardening, you’d have khổng lồ be doing the heavier gardening – digging – not just weeding. If you’re walking the dog, you can make it into a genuine exercise session – run with the dog, or find a route that includes some hills.”

15 Be sensible about illness

Joslyn Thompson Rule, a personal trainer, says: “The general rule is if it’s above the neck – a headache or a cold – while being mindful of how you’re feeling, you are generally OK to vì chưng some sort of exercise. If it’s below the neck – if you’re having trouble breathing – rest. The key thing is khổng lồ be sensible. If you were planning on doing a high-intensity workout, you would take the pace down, but sometimes just moving can make you feel better.” After recovering from an illness, she says, trust your instincts. “You don’t want to lớn go straight back into training four times a week. You might want to bởi the same number of sessions but make them shorter, or vì fewer.”

16 Seek advice after injury

Clearly, how quickly you start exercising again depends on the type of injury, và you should seek advice from your doctor. Psychologically, though, says Thompson Rule: “Even when we’re doing everything as we should, there are still dips in the road. It’s not going to be a linear progression of getting better.”

17 Take it slowly after pregnancy

Again, says Thompson Rule, listen khổng lồ your toàn thân – and your doctor’s advice at your six-week postnatal checkup. After a caesarean section, getting back to exercise will be slower, while pregnancy-related back injuries và problems with abdominal muscles all affect how soon you can get back khổng lồ training, & may require physiotherapy. “Once you’re walking and have a bit more energy, depending on where you were before (some women never trained before pregnancy), starting a regime after a baby is quite something to lớn undertake,” says Thompson Rule. “Be patient. I get more emails from women asking when they’re going to lớn get their stomachs flat again than anything. Relax, take care of yourself và take care of your baby. When you’re feeling a bit more energised, slowly get back into your routine.” She recommends starting with “very basic stuff lượt thích walking and carrying your baby ”.

18 Tech can help

For goal-oriented people, Grant says, it can be useful to monitor progress closely, but “allow some flexibility in your goals. You might have had a stressful day at work, go out for a run and not bởi vì it as quickly & then think: ‘I’m just not going to bother any more.’” However, “It can start khổng lồ get a bit addictive, và then you don’t listen khổng lồ your body toàn thân and you’re more at risk of injury.”

19 Winter is not an excuse

“Winter is not necessarily a time to lớn hibernate,” says Thompson Rule. Be decisive, put your trainers by the door and try not khổng lồ think about the cold/drizzle/greyness. “It’s the same with going lớn the thể hình – it’s that voice in our head that make us feel like it’s a hassle, but once you’re there, you think: ‘Why was I procrastinating about that for so long?’”

READERS’ TIPS

20 Keep it bite-size

Alex Tomlin

I’ve tried và failed a few times to establish a consistent running routine, but that was because I kept pushing myself too hard. Just because I can run for an hour doesn’t mean I should. Running two or three times a week for 20-30 minutes each time has improved my fitness hugely và made it easier lớn fit in.

21 Reward yourself

Neil Richardson

I keep a large bag of Midget Gems in my oto to motivate myself to get to the gym, allowing myself a handful before a workout. Sometimes I toss in some wine gums for the element of surprise.

22 call in the reinforcements

Niall O’Brien

I tapped into the vast network of fitness podcasts & online communities. On days I lacked drive, I would listen to a fitness podcast, và by the time I got home, I would be absolutely determined khổng lồ make the right choices. In fact, I would be excited by it. Your brain responds very well lớn repetition và reinforcement, so once you have made the difficult initial change, it becomes much easier over time.

23 Use visual motivation

Siobhan King

I have kept a “star chart” on my calendar for the past two years, after having three years of being chronically unfit. I put a gold star on days that I exercise, and it’s a good visual motivator for when I am feeling slug-like. I run, use our home cross-trainer & do a ski fitness programme from an app. My improved bộ vi xử lý core strength has helped my running and ability lớn carry my disabled child when needed.

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24 Keep alarms out of reach

Sally Crowe

If, lượt thích me, you need lớn get up early lớn exercise or it just doesn’t happen, move your alarm clock away from your bed and next khổng lồ your kit. Once you have got up to lớn turn it off, you might as well keep going!

25 Follow the four-day rule

Joanne Chalmers

I have one simple rule which could apply lớn any fitness activity – I vì chưng not allow more than four days khổng lồ elapse between sessions. So, if I know I have a busy couple of days coming up, I make sure I run before them so that I have “banked” my four days. With the exception of illness, injury or family emergencies, I have stuck to lớn this rule for 10 years.