I hope you are all making ths most of your summer! For July, let's focus on strategies and approaches to create exercise routines and programs that you can actually stick with for the long term. When it comes to lifelong health, fitness, and well-being, consistency with exercise is key. Beyond whole-body health, in the context of physiotherapy, being able to consistently stick to your home exercise routine is critical to making a full and sustainable recovery. However, in either circumstance, building lasting habits and remaining motivated while we wait for the results to come is challenging and something we all struggle with. To make things that much more complicated, the health, fitness, and rehab industry is often designed to set you up for failure rather than sustainable success. Quick fixes, fad workouts, or hard-to-follow regimens often dominate the conversation but aren't often grounded in reality. Instead of chasing what's been sold to us by counterfeit experts, let's instead take an evidence-based, level-headed approach to exercise that will actually translate to long-term success. When it comes to making lasting changes, and before we get caught up in the often-complicated science of what form of exercise is most effective for you and your goals, it is most important that we first find a form of exercise that we can come to enjoy for the long term. Having a positive attitude towards what you’re doing and being able to enjoy a particular routine irrespective of the outcome is most often the biggest predictor of whether you can follow through with maintaining a regular exercise routine. Don't miss the forest for the trees by forcing yourself to do what's considered 'best' by some over what brings you joy and fulfillment. Does it really matter if another form of exercise is more effective if you aren’t doing it consistently? The form of exercise that is really the most effective is the one you can look the most forward to doing. From dancing and cycling to yoga and strength training, there is bound to be something out there that works for you, especially once you start to experience all the mental and physical benefits that come with it. Try different things, and don't feel obligated to do any specific form of exercise just because it's the ‘in’ thing to do. On the other hand, there is a lot to be said for embracing grit-- a sense of perseverance when faced with challenge. Fostering a sense of mental toughness, no matter where you are starting from, can act as rocket fuel for growth and success, and keep you consistent during the periods when life throws extra challenges your way. Although healthy and sustainable change requires self-compassion and the ability to go easy on ourselves, it must be balanced with a willingness to sometimes get our hands dirty and expose ourselves to adversity. Don’t be afraid to push toward activities that might challenge you or bring on a sense of mental or emotional discomfort. Anticipate some failure along the way, but move on quickly from experiences that don't work out. Remember that all of us struggle in the early days of trying something new, and although things might not work in our favour every single time, the work we do while feeling friction and discomfort is usually where the most positive and profound changes happen. One helpful means of rewiring our brains to crave exercise and movement, rather than feel deterred or exasperated by it, is to take some time to sit with yourself just after you finish your workout or training session. One of my patients, who recently made some profound changes to their fitness level, told me that this practice was actually the biggest key to her success. After you finish any training or exercise session, take some dedicated time to reflect on how you’re feeling now that it's done. How does your body feel? What’s your emotional state, and where are your stress levels? How does this all compare to a few hours ago, and how will the rest of the day feel from here? To make this exercise even more effective, write all of your answers down on paper. Maybe fit this practice in as a regular part of your cool-down, or make it a part of your exercise log. In doing so, we can promote neuroplastic change in our brains and create new neural pathways that make exercise come easy, developing a strong sense of motivation towards pursuing fitness and good health. For my patient, this exercise made her begin to naturally crave exercise to feel good, and miss it on the days when she couldn't fit it in. When we first start to take action, it can be exciting to start to think about what we stand to gain from immediately doing as much as we possibly can, but it's also critical that we do not set the bar too high for ourselves, beyond the limits of our own human nature. It is important to know that when it comes to our daily habits, thoughts, and behaviours, everything has been engrained over time has hard-wiring in our nervous system, like deep treads on a well-traveled road. We can't just suddenly turn this programming off like a switch when we decide it doesn't serve us anymore; it takes time and effort to gradually re-wire better habits into our brains. What I most often see are people who set their short-term goals so high that their brain’s own wiring works against them. We may have the best intentions when we decide to suddenly start going to the gym from zero to five days a week, and maybe for a little while we pull it off and feel good about ourselves, but as soon as life gets a little hectic or stressful, our brains’ more longstanding neural pathways activate, and as if putting us on autopilot, steer us right back to where we started from. For many, this cycle repeats itself, over and over again, but ultimately leads us nowhere, except for maybe a few new injuries along the way from doing too much too soon. Worse yet, setting the bar too high and inevitably and repeatedly falling off course only leaves us feeling progressively more defeated, and lowers our sense of self-efficacy: our belief in our own ability to achieve our goals. Many people find their attitudes transformed over time from that of excitement and optimism to feeling hopeless and burnt out. It is important to understand that the stories that we hear of people totally changing their lives overnight are the ones we hear about the most, but unfortunately, they are usually the rarest. These kinds of dramatic changes are also often triggered by major life events, while the boring and most grueling parts in the middle get glossed over, and if you give it enough time, many still eventually fail. Rather than letting things in your life get to such a point, it is much easier to develop routines that stick with ease by cutting ourselves some slack and taking a more measured and realistic approach. So, rather than going from 0 to 100 overnight, what's the most intelligent approach to creating a sustainable exercise routine? We are most likely to change those hard-wired neural pathways and maintain an energized, positive attitude by taking a much more graduated, long-term approach. This means planning much smaller and more incremental measures rather than attempting to take on an aggressive, all-or-nothing fitness regimen. By initially doing less than what we often believe is needed, and compounding smaller, more achievable short-term goals over time, developing an impactful and lasting exercise routine becomes much easier to pull off, putting you ahead of the pack despite requiring much less short-term effort overall. So, start with tiny, easy-to-achieve habits, and build upon them from there, even if it doesn't seem like it's enough when you're starting out. Beyond developing exercise habits in a slow, graduated manner, remember to always keep your intention for exercise and movement aligned with your goals and personal values. Consider what your ideal self looks like, both inside and out, and ask if your plan of action and the lifestyle required to get there is in line with this image. Does your chosen approach to fitness really resonate with who you, or are we allowing ourselves to be motivated by less-than-healthy ideals or the expectations of others? The most meaningful and sustainable changes happen when we create habits that are the product of a growth mindset and a healthy body image and sense of self, rather than one of shame, fear, guilt, or comparison. Think of your approach to developing resilient and impactful exercise habits like a bountiful river that forms a large canyon over many years, rather than an extreme earthquake that forms a large chasm overnight. Create a plan that is both simple and easy to put into action, with short-term challenges and intermittent rewards along the way, but as you begin to celebrate the rewards that come with it, remember to stay mindful; continue to focus on pursuing process that you enjoy, rather than a future outcome, and keep it in line with your best self. Trust that in time, change will come as the natural by-product of showing up, and from the willingness to simply experience the act of putting one foot in front of the other. Let's take a deeper dive into creating a sustainable exercise routine with some inspiring and informative resources:
Something to Watch:
Why It's So Hard to Stick to Your Workout Routine – Thomas Frank
Looking to create a more consistent gym routine that actually gets results? Youtuber and productivity authority Thomas Frank discusses his personal fitness journey and approach to exercise, and covers practical tips and advice when it comes to finding what works and staying on track.
Something to Listen to:
Mind Pump: Raw Fitness Truth – Overcoming Your Fear of Going to the Gym
The Mind Pump podcast features three experienced trainers discussing topics in fitness and health. For many the gym is the best option as an effective long-term fitness regime, but for those who are new to it, there can be a lot of discomfort and resistance when it comes to getting those first few sessions in. In this episode, Sal, Adam & Justin discuss six no-nonsense things someone can do to alleviate the stress and intimidation when it comes to going to the gym.
Something to Read:
The Joy Choice: How to Finally Achieve Lasting Changes in Eating and Exercise by Dr. Michelle Segar
Dr. Michele Segar shares cutting-edge behavioural science and her real-world experience in coaching clients towards success. The Joy Choice drops all-or-nothing thinking and takes a warm and lighthearted approach to making exercise routines and nutrition habits that stick, and outlines an easy, flexible, and three-step joy-infused decision tool that works with the chaos of daily life.
The real reward when you are working to improve your health and fitness is in embracing a growth mindset with each day rather than in achieving an impossible ideal overnight. If you are looking to map out an exercise plan that works for you, as always, feel free to get in touch. Here's to success in your fitness journey. - Mark
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