The start of a new year is traditionally a time for many to make some new year resolutions and usually includes a commitment to get fitter or losing a few pounds by starting an exercise programme or just increasing your physical activity.
However, as I’m sure you are aware many new year resolutions don’t last long with some studies showing 25% of them fail within the first week, and as little as 8% are achieved. There are many reasons why new year resolutions fail, such as being over-ambitious, trying to change too much too quickly, not setting realistic targets, a lack of motivation, or just being put off by boredom, lack of support or apathy.
Now there are many naysayers and sceptics who mock the tradition of making New Year’s resolutions saying they are a waste of time, but personally, I think anyone making any commitment to improve themselves at any time of the year should be encouraged and supported, even if they may only last a short period of time. Doing ‘something’ is always better than doing nothing in my experience.
Even though many New Years resolutions don’t last long, it has been shown in some research that setting goals at the New Year means you are 10 times more likely to achieve them than setting them at other times of the year. So, with this in mind I want to give you some of my experience and advice to those of you who have made some resolutions to exercise more, that may help keep you on track and avoid some of the common pitfalls.
To do this I thought I would first briefly highlight some of the amazing benefits of increasing your physical activity, as well as give some simple tips on how you can do this with minimal fuss, time, or aggravation that should help reduce setbacks or injuries.
So get ready to strap on those new trainers, squeeze yourself into that neon coloured, lycra sports gear, make sure your new GPS activity tracker is turned on, stick two fingers up to all the haters and naysayers and let’s get going.
So I really can’t stress the benefits of increasing your physical activity strongly enough, even by just a little bit. For example, increasing your physical activity to just 30 minutes a day, by doing something as simple as taking a brisk walk, has been shown to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions, neurological disorders and even some cancers.
In fact, some studies have shown you can get positive health benefits with even less effort! Just 10 minutes of low-intensity exercise 3 times a week, with just 2-3 short bursts of 10-20 secs high-intensity effort, has been found to have significant beneficial health effects.
Increasing your physical activity also improves bone density, muscle strength, and when combined with a healthy diet helps reduce both internal and external deposits of excess body fat, regardless of your age or previous activity levels. It really is never too late to start.
Increasing your physical activity also has a whole host of psychological benefits, such as improving your mood, increasing your memory and concentration, and will, without doubt, make you far more attractive without any clothes on, which is guaranteed to improve your sex life.
Footnote: Results are not actually guaranteed, and it’s unlikely that exercise will help you attract a sexual partner any easier, but it should at least give you a bit more stamina and be a little more energetic when you do!
If anything was an elixir for life then increasing your physical activity would be it. Exercise protects against age-related deterioration and disability and even reduces your chances of an early death (ref ref ref). For example, just take a look at the MRI images below of two 70 year old men’s legs when compared to a 40 year old’s, taken from this study. You can clearly see the difference exercise makes regardless of age!
However, where there are benefits there will also be risks, and this is true for physical activity, and without trying to bring the mood down too much, I do want to ensure that you are aware of the potential issues with exercise and physical activity and stay happy, healthy and on track for the long term.
Any exercise or increase in physical activity can cause an injury, for example, some research has found that as many as 94% of all those who run regularly will experience an injury at some time, newer and less experienced runners being the highest risk group.
It’s important to say that we can never fully avoid or totally prevent injury, as the bumper sticker says ‘shit happens’ from time to time. However, we can look to reduce the risk of sustaining an injury with some simple strategies
Without one of the biggest risks of getting an injury with any exercise or physical activity is by simply doing too much too quickly. This is often called ‘training error’ and covers a wide spectrum of training variables such as duration, frequency, intensity, and volume of the activity. However trying to work out which of these variables is the best to monitor and control for has been very confusing and conflicting, especially in the world of running.
For example, it has been suggested that for a beginner, running more than 3 times a week is a high risk for developing an injury (ref). However other research has questioned this, highlighting total distance run is a greater risk factor than the number of times you run (ref), and other research has shown that running at higher intensities regardless of distance or frequency is a risk factor for an injury (ref).
So when it comes to reducing your risk of injury with exercise and physical activity its all a bit confusing and uncertain as to what are the best variables to monitor and control. So the most common advice I give new runners or any other exercise is to start slowly, build gradually., and listen to your body… not exactly rocket science, but it seems to work for most!
A few other things that I have found that can help keep you on track are…
1: Have A Plan
Setting yourself a target or a goal is great but knowing how you are going to achieve it is essential. As the saying goes having a goal without a plan is just a wish. So instead of just setting a target of running 10miles a week, ask yourself how, when, where am I going to do that.
It’s also important that you make goals that are both realistic and achievable. One of the biggest reasons for giving up is when you just can’t see yourself reaching the goal you want. So my advice is to set the goal way lower than you would like. So if you want to run 3 times a week for the next 3 months… start of with a goal of running once a week for the first month. Want to lose 20lbs in 3 months, start off with 1lbs in the first week.
2: Don’t Expect It To Be Easy
Time for some tough but real-world advice. Losing weight, getting fitter, or stronger is tough as fuck. If it was easy everyone would be able to do it. Accept that it’s not going to be a walk in the park and there are going to be times when it feels difficult and you won’t want to do it, and it feels horrible, it and even hurts.
Some discomfort during and after exercise is to be expected and welcomed. This is called D.O.M.S or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean you are injured, broken, or damaged, it just means your body is adapting to the new demands it is being exposed to.
Of course, too much DOMS is fucking unpleasant and will limit you from doing any further strenuous exercise to soon, this is one of our bodies amazing ways to self regulate and protect us from going to much too soon and should be respected and listen to, within reason
Being sore after exercise doesn’t mean you can exercise again, and you don’t have to be completely free of soreness before another session of activity. In fact, if you do wait for this, those adaptions you earned may be lost and you go back back to square one.
So expect some discomfort and crack on!
3: Build It Up Steadily
Your body is remarkably robust and adaptable regardless of its shape, size, or age. It has the ability to withstand a lot of stress and strain without any major issues, and it is able to accommodate more o them as it is exposed to more of them.
However, sudden increases in stresses and strains that occur too often, for too long, without sufficient time for recovery can tend to cause problems. Unfortunately, there are no clear guidelines to follow when it comes to deciding what is the safest amount of exercise to do due to the vast variation in people, types, durations, frequencies, and intensities of the exercises we do.
There are many different programs and plans available to follow that are believed to be best for beginners, and I think some structure and planning is a good thing, but sometimes I see people getting injured because they follow these programs far too religiously. So as mentioned before be guided by your own feelings but again don’t expect it to be completely pain-free.
4: Mix It Up
Regardless of what activity or exercise you have chosen to do, do another one now and then. If you want to run, lift some weights occasionally instead. If you want to lift weights, go for a run now and then. If you want to do yoga, go do play some tennis now and then.
Basically, don’t always do the same thing for your body and mind. As they say, variety is the spice of life relieving boredom, but it’s also good for your body to experience different movements, forces, and strains from time to time.
5: Don’t Be So Serious
Finally, and most importantly relax and enjoy it. If you are super focused, hyper-vigilant, overly anxious about your activity or exercise I can guarantee it won’t last long. Remember the whole point of doing this is to try and do it for the rest of your life, so recognise that you will miss some sessions, runs, targets from time to time and that’s ok.
Also pick something to do that you don’t dread, loathe, or hate doing. Pick something that peaks your interest and curiosity and gets you enthused and excited to do.
But don’t expect it to always be exciting or that you will always enjoy it. There will be many times when it feels boring, dull, and repetitive. However, there will also be times when it feels great, awesome and an achievement. As with all things, there’s always positive and negative, yin and yang, and it’s no different with exercise.
So there you have it, a quick look at some solutions for your resolutions. I hope you found them helpful and that it has given you some ideas and enthusiasm to stick with them.
And so I will finish by wishing you all the best with your new year resolutions whatever they may be, and please don’t let the naysayers or negative knobheads out there put you off, and I hope you all have a happy and healthy New Year!
Thanks again for reading