I’ll admit, I’m not the best at exercise. Frankly, I’ve been pretty horrible at keeping up any kind of routine throughout my life. I occasionally bike to school and work, but it’s hit and miss. I’m not a fitness professional or a health guru, either.
That’s why I think I’m good at talking about simple exercise habits. I’ve not only been where you are, I’m there right now. We’re side by side in the trenches of exercise frustration. A lack of motivation, boredom, fear, or something else is holding us back from jumping out of bed each morning. I can’t address every possible obstacle to your personal exercise habits, but I do know a better way to stay on track: simplify.
Simplicity can help you stick with it even when things get tough. These are just a few of the ways that we complicate exercise: fancy equipment, expensive memberships, new clothing, complex programs and routines, apps and trackers, fancy diets, pills, powders and supplements, and doing too much too soon too often. Phew, what a list! By the time we actually get to the part where we move our bodies, we are too worn out and stressed out to keep going.
I hope to suggest a number of ways that we can throw out all of the fitness complexities and get back to the basic core of exercise: move your body to feel good; ultimately, that’s the goal of exercising. We want to move our body, pump some blood, strengthen muscles and endurance and feel happy and healthy during the whole process.
Here are just a few ways we can simplify exercise:
- Make Exercise Into Play. Leo of Zen Habits wrote an amazing article about this, so I won’t add too much to what he has already said. In a nutshell, exercise doesn’t have to be about hitting the gym, lifting weights and running marathons. Get outdoors with your kids, family, and/or friends and have a great time. Play some basketball, frisbee or go for a walk. Stay inside and wrestle with your kids. Race around the park. Climb the monkey bars. Be active and have fun! Play exercise gives you the benefit of moving your body to get fit while spending time with your family, smiling and laughing, and being outside for some sunshine (weather permitting). I love Leo’s idea of making exercise into play.
- Ditch all the fancy equipment. Having a treadmill is nice if you like to run but don’t like running in a blizzard. A simple weight set is great if you need more than body weight. The truth is that there are probably thousands of treadmills that become home decor and weight benches that serve as a clothes hanger. Do we really need the treadmill that shows us Google Street View, tells us our heart rate, has a built-in TV, syncs with our phone and has a virtual trainer? Although fancy equipment is nice and fancy, it often gets in the way of the goal: move your body and feel good. Instead, opt for body weight exercise, like yoga or the 7 minute workout, or do a simple exercise like swimming, running, cycling, or a team sport.
The other type of equipment comes in the form of clothes, shoes, bottles, bags, and other sports attire and accessories. To start running you need five things: shirt, shorts, socks, shoes and legs. You want to start biking? You need: shirt, shorts, socks, shoes, helmet and a bike. How about some simple cardio and body weight exercise? For the 7 minute work out you need: 7 minute workout instructions (1 piece of paper or an app), timer, shirt and shorts (optional, but if you opt out please remember to close the curtains!). If you start training for a marathon then you should definitely head to a running store and invest in one good pair of shoes. If you start biking dozens of miles you’ll need some spare tubes and a pump. You don’t need to go buy a whole new wardrobe just to start a new exercise routine. In most cases you already have everything you need and you can slowly upgrade as you become more involved and dedicated.
- Cancel the gym membership. I know, but the gym has “fill in the blank” piece of equipment or there’s a great class there. You can almost always find an alternative to a gym membership. The average monthly cost is somewhere around $41, which comes out to around $500 per year! Look up independent fitness classes if that’s your thing (there’s at least one yoga or Zumba class in every city), check for free or cheap community classes, build a simple home gym or find some friends or neighbors to play sports with in your local park. Rethink your fitness needs and try to cut out the gym membership if you can.
- Make it fun. This goes along with making exercise into play and again I would recommend reading Leo’s article on Zen Habits. Make exercise something fun and enjoyable. Did you try running but hated it? Do something else! When I was in high school I always wanted to be a runner but I would quickly get bored, cramp up quickly and get bad shin splints. Deep down I really just didn’t like running but I wouldn’t admit it to myself. When I finally did, I discovered tons of other activities that I love: tennis, bicycling, basketball, yoga and more. The truth is, if it’s not fun you won’t do it for very long and you’ll be miserable. Do something fun but challenging. This will make exercise more enjoyable and totally worth it.
- Don’t worry about results. This covers a ton of fitness complexities. When we focus on the results we lose sight of the joy of the process. This leads us to pills, powder, scales, fitness trackers, apps, crazy routines, more money spent and ultimately a dislike for our body image. This is not healthy! You will be unhappy if you are constantly focusing on how many steps you take, how much weight you lose (or muscle you gain), what your abs look like or how far you can run/bike/swim. Take pride in the fact that you are up and moving your beautiful body. Don’t worry if you get lapped on a run or can’t lift as much as the other guys. Focus on how you feel, how good your body feels, that post-exercise high. The important results are in your mind. The fact that you’re making progress is simply amazing. Your commitment to this new habit is inspiring.
- Have an attainable goal. Write down something to work for. If you have a goal, your habit will be easier to follow. Commit to running a race with a friend. If you sign up and pay money for something, you’re much more likely to train for it to not waste your money. Challenge your spouse or neighbor to a long bike ride to take place in a month or two. See who in your family can do the most push-ups in the next 2 weeks. Find something that is difficult but not impossible, somewhat short-term, fun, and social if possible. A simple and fun goal can help you shoot for something real, instead of trying for those washboard abs and massive biceps.
Keep it simple
Ultimately, you know your body better than anyone. You know your limitations and where you can improve. The key to making exercise a part of your life instead of just another chore is to keep it simple. Use these ideas as a start. Find other ways to simplify your fitness habit. Remember, the important thing is to move your body and feel great!
Here are some great resources from Zen Habits that can help if you’re having trouble starting the exercise habit or keeping it going:
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