Ready to break up with exercise? Here’s how to keep the relationship going.
|If you asked many Canadians about their relationship with exercise, they’d say ‘it’s complicated.’ It’s ironic that during the month of love, too many people fall out of love with physical activity. According to Scott Leith, a data scientist and behavioural psychologist with GoodLife Fitness, a relationship with fitness follows patterns that mimic being in a romantic relationship – the challenge is that once you move past the honeymoon phase it’s important to find strategies to make exercise a habit and life-long love. Stage 1: Everything is wonderful (attraction/honeymoon phase)As the new year begins, we’re optimistic about exercise and we get to the gym regularly and push ourselves every time. We’re keen to work at all costs, we ignore the flaws and don’t think too far into the future (if we did, we might see the potential for burnout) Stage 2: Get me out of here (reality)By late-January and early-February we’re starting to realize that regular exercise takes more planning and support than we thought. It’s getting difficult to fit regular workouts into our schedule, we haven’t achieved a full transformation as quickly as we hoped we would, it’s cold and dark and our couch beckons. Stage 3: OK, I can make this work (stability)Leith says falling in love with exercise, and making it a habit, requires a mindset shift. Here are his recommendations to establish stability.Don’t think of exercise in terms of a 'quick fix'. Instead of doing the minimum to achieve unrealistic results (lose 20 pounds in just 4 weeks, have the body of your dreams by spring break) try thinking of exercise as something that will better your life. Approach exercise as a way to feel good. It’s not about finding perfection, it’s about finding the best version of yourself.Pursue activities you enjoy and set a goal to be active in some way every day. Mix it up so you have lots of options. Just like pursuing fun activities on a romantic date, exercise should have enough variety to keep you engaged and coming back.Focus on the immediate benefits (stress relief, better sleep, stronger and more confident), and not as much on the longer-term results (losing weight, heart health, increasing stamina etc). Known as operant conditioning, our minds are programmed to reproduce actions that make us feel good right away.Think of yourself as an athlete. A positive mindset and additional confidence will help you ‘walk the walk’, push past obstacles and address the issues that would have stopped you before. Research shows that people with a strong exercise identity are more motivated to keep exercising because it’s linked to their self-image. Stage 4: Together forever (commitment)After enough time in the stability phase, exercise becomes a habit and part of your lifestyle. You start to feel weird when you DON’T exercise. Leith adds the key is to aim for consistency over quantity. Once you’re truly motivated, you can give yourself permission to skip a few workouts and it won’t change your overall habit.
Leith is available to talk more about how we fall in love with exercise and how to push through to the commitment stage. Fitness experts in your region can also suggest ways to switch-up your workouts and find exercises that will keep you healthy and happy over the long term.