Why is enjoying exercise seen as an uphill, Sisyphean battle, full of quirky torture devices such as ridiculously unscientific diets and military-grade fitness programs? Forget all that. I promise you, it is possible to enjoy exercise! Here are 5 sneaky tips!
1. Stop Measuring Everything
OK, maybe this isn’t a “surprising” suggestion, but let me elaborate. If you’re trying to lose weight/tone up, measuring is the enemy. Whether it’s the scales, your thigh circumference, how many steps you’ve taken, the number of cornflakes you’ve eaten, whatever, just. Stop.
One of the problems with trying to calibrate everything is that it breeds disappointment. The reality is that there are no short-cuts to fitness, and healthy, sustainable weight loss takes months, not a couple of weeks. Exercise should be an act of self-care, time set aside to focus on you and what your body is capable of. It’s incredibly good for mental health, helps balance mood and releases a warm, fuzzy dose of endorphins.
Weighing yourself every day and obsessing over calorie intake will only distort what your true focus should be: looking after yourself. Building a strong, toned body is one thing, trying to force your body to transform at superhuman speed is another. Thinking this way will only make exercise feel like a chore you resent, a painful, sweaty ordeal with “results” that seem endlessly elusive. Stop checking off days in the calendar and focus on enjoying your journey to strength and health.
Also, numbers bores are the worst.
2. Eat Lots Of Food
I know, goddesses such as Beyonce have famously dropped major pounds on magic juice cleanses, but guess what? If you want a hope in hell of enjoying exercise/long-term results, you need to eat properly.
Have you ever been to a supermarket when you’re ravenously hungry? Stupid question, all of us have. And it’s torture. Isles and isles of delicious treats, taunting you with their vacuum-sealed freshness. Trying to exercise with no fuel in the tank is akin, I’d imagine, to performing Hamlet (Shakespeare’s longest play) in the Mojave Desert (one of the world’s hottest deserts). Agony. Painful. Tear-inducing. Desert. Dessert. Mmmmm.
A criminally high number of “diets” (note my sarcasm, please) advocate consuming less than one thousand calories a day whilst exercising for, like, one million hours a week. Who comes up with these insane internet food plans?! An elite cadre of aliens, drifting through space somewhere, bent on destroying humanity. That’s who.
If you want to enjoy exercise and avoid breaking down in your spin class, there’s nothing wrong with filling up on healthy, life-force-giving protein (lean meats, fish, soy), fibre (leafy greens, fruit) and, shock horror, carbs (bread, cereal, pasta) so you have this thing called energy when it’s time to move that bod.
3. Ditch The “All Or Nothing” Mindset
I once had the misfortune of joining a gym and naively accepting the offer to have my own workout regimen created for me. As the man who’d signed up as my personal torturer and I hit the gym, what played out in the middle of the weights area was like Rocky sequel no.9, if Rocky suddenly lost all dignity/muscle mass and moved to England.
I told the trainer I couldn’t do anymore; with a wry smile he told me I could. Keep going, he barked! You know what happened next. For the following few weeks I could only travel down the stairs on my butt, and the most basic of movements were carried out with the agility of Pinocchio. I returned to the gym a couple of times for a listless jog on the treadmill, then never returned again.
The moral of the story is: stop thinking in terms of all or nothing. If you’re not ready to use 4lb weights, use 2lb ones. If you only feel like working out twice during a stressful week, you will not ruin everything. Exercise should be done at your pace, doing what feels good for you, not anyone else.
4. Pretend You’re Starring In Your Own (Dance) Movie
Just not Rocky. I’m talking Step Up, Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D…OK, nothing else, just the Step Up franchise.
It’s surprisingly effective, closing your eyes and imagining you’re part of a super sexy dance crew having a dance off against another super sexy dance crew in an abandoned warehouse. Of course, this requires a killer outfit. Workout wear is better than ever nowadays, designed to be worn whether you’re going to the gym or not. There is nothing less motivating than putting on an old, unintentionally ripped vest then trudging off for a run.
Sports bras and leggings are available in pastel tones, fluoro block colours and a wild array of patterns. There are mesh panels and decorative zips. There are drool-worthy trainers which cost a small fortune but feel so very springy and look so very good.
If, like me, you’re never going to be someone who’s genuinely excited for a workout, dwelling in a fictional dance fantasy world is probably the best way forward.
5. Do Exercise You Actually Enjoy!
Why should you feel like Hercules in reverse, wheezing as you attempt to heft 20kg in the air? We all have our likes and dislikes when it comes to food/hobbies/relationships: the same applies when it comes to exercise.
I’ve already drowned twice in my life (there’s a third time but not sure it counts, long story), so as much as I enjoy being in the water/floating on lilos, I’m not going to be hitting your 50 lengths target in butterfly at the local swimming pool. If you want to exercise regularly and kind of enjoy it, I would suggest you pick an activity you like.
Some people get a kick out of weight-lifting, gradually upping their load as they build muscle. Some people love to put on a little Kanye and go for a lengthy run, ignoring cars as they angrily beep and swerve. Some people like to dance (and imagine they’re part of a midnight hip hop troupe, ahem).
Whatever you think you should be doing, forget it. Yes, you need to get your pulse racing and your blood pumping, but there are many, many ways to achieve that without wondering, mid-sweat, why on earth you’re inflicting such horror upon yourself.