Bored of running? Tired of home workouts? Not feeling up to your usual strength training routine? Here are three of the best ways to stay motivated to exercise - and the reasons why your body (and mind) will thank you for it.
Lockdown three earlier this year was different to the previous lockdowns. We were more anxious, less patient, and our motivation was at an all-time low. 40% of people did less exercise in that lockdown than during the first, and 19% watched more TV than in Spring 2020, according to a large study by University College London.
But now, as restrictions have eased and things have re-opened, there’s been a new pressure to spring back to life. Suddenly, after over a year on the sofa we’re supposed to seamlessly transition into making big summer plans, heading to the pub, returning to work and going back to the gym four days a week. Let’s get real for a minute: it’s exhausting just thinking about it.
And that exhaustion can turn to a lack of motivation, especially when it comes to exercise. It’s understandable: getting a workout in right now feels like just another thing to think about, on top of anxieties about returning to the gym, the financial burden of the pandemic and how to ask your housemate to stop playing music so loudly when you’re on a Zoom call. And let’s not forget that for many, exercising when the world is still in chaos might even feel altogether pointless.
But it is that exact reason that makes moving our bodies still just as, if not more, crucial than ever. If you’re someone who has always prioritised exercising, then throwing it out the window now won’t help you feel calmer: studies show that having a daily rhythm helps with low mood and improves our mental health. “During an uncertain time, doing something that’s familiar to you is so important,” says personal trainer Caroline Bragg.
Take this as your reminder that exercise is proven to benefit our mental health. “When you’re just sat at home all day you start to overthink things and you might not be able to control your thoughts,” says trainer and Strong Women ambassador Emma Obayuvana. “When you are exercising you get out of your mind and into your body. It gives your brain some rest and time to reset. You’ll look at situations differently post-workout when your body is full of endorphins.”
The other thing your body will be full of is oxygenated blood, which will help energise you – meaning that the admin you’ve been putting off by staring out of the window might feel slightly easier, and your joints that are tight from months of slouching over your makeshift working desk will loosen.
Speaking of, exercise will actually help with that bad posture you’ve been adopting: “You want to make sure that you are supporting your body by working your glutes and your back,” says Bragg. “Strengthening certain areas of the body will improve your posture and ease muscle and joint pain.”
The message? It’s totally OK if you need some time off working out to reset, but keeping up movement will benefit your mental and physical health. But if you’re still in need of an extra boost to get out of your seat, try these tips…
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3 WAYS TO KEEP MOTIVATED TO EXERCISE
“Let’s reframe exercise to just being movement,” says Obayuvana. Bear in mind that, in the real world, our rest days from the gym could still involve a commute into work, a shopping trip or perhaps a night out dancing with friends. Right now, your basic forms of movement are probably lower than normal, so it’s important to factor in a bit extra. “Whether it’s a simple stretch or a big strength session, understand that your body needs movement to work properly,” Obayuvana adds.
PICK A SKILL
“This time has been perfect to work on improving things that you wouldn’t normally get the chance to,” says Bragg. “Choose an exercise or a skill that you want to really nail, and dedicate a few weeks to it.” Seeing improvements is motivation in itself, especially when it’s something you never thought you’d be able to achieve. The Strong Women team are working on handstands and yoga – things that they usually neglect in the hustle and bustle of regular life.
THINK PAST THE PRESENT
There’s more to life than how much you can squat, but knowing that (when you feel comfortable) you can get back in the gym with similar strength to what you had before is great motivation to keep moving. “Don’t feel pressure to go crazy, jumping right back into where they were rather than building back up slowly. Keeping up your fitness will mean that you don’t get injured when you do go back into exercise,” says Bragg.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).