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Ep. 04 – Why You Can’t Stick To Exercise And The Best Way To Fix It

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A photo of James on an orange background with the words Vegetarian Health and Longevity

Here’s the fourth podcast of Vegetarian Health and Longevity from Hurry The Food Up and Sports Nutritionist James LeBaigue.

Listen to the podcast on your favourite provider or click play below.

Finding The Joy In Exercise

We all know that exercise is good for us – we’ve been told it countless times by experts.

It can keep us healthy by reducing our risk of chronic diseases and it can allow us to stay fit and mobile later in life, allowing us to play with our children or even our grandchildren.

But why is it sometimes SO hard to stick to, and how can we create an exercise routine that we can follow over the long term?

By the end of this episode you’ll learn the common problems that are holding you back from a consistent schedule and the one powerful change that you can make that will keep you exercising consistently over time.

Common Roadblocks

I had a friend who was pretty sedentary. She had an office job where she was at a desk all day and she didn’t do any exercise

Initial Enthusiasm

She decided it was time to start getting more active because she felt unfit and unmotivated in life generally, so she hatched a plan to start running.

And wow did she start running. She kept popping up on my Strava with a new run, new location, new personal bests.

She was definitely running and getting fit. Her runs were getting longer and the speed work was clearly showing improvement. She was becoming a true runner at a terrifying pace.

And then it stopped. I didn’t see anything on it for a while, and I wondered what happened.

The Dreaded “Burnout”

A month or two later I caught up with her and asked her all about it. What she said suddenly made so much sense, and it’s something I’ve seen in my own training, as well as patients in general practice and private 1:1 clients.

Her three words were the epitome of the common problem when someone starts exercising.

And there it was. She said she couldn’t maintain running anymore because she was feeling frazzled. She wasn’t enjoying running and it always left her feeling sore and exhausted later in the day.

She didn’t ever really have fun with it, but kept at it because she thought it was good for her and she was getting faster, so it made sense to continue.

But it got to the point where she dreaded her morning run, and one time she decided she wasn’t going… and then she didn’t go out again.

This is all too common a scenario and something which you can stop from happening if you start exercising with the right mindset.

The Vital Importance of Exercise

This so crucial because it’s linked so deeply with your health and longevity.

It’s true what experts say about exercise; it’s so good for us.

Exercise is one of the few proven things that you can do to help you live longer in better health. Regular exercise can reduce the risk of various cancers, it can improve your cholesterol levels and it can improve your mental health.

The Role of Blood Pressure

On top of that, it can help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range, and that is incredibly important because chronic exposure to high blood pressure can damage your heart, your kidneys and lead to a whole host of health problems.

Longevity and Independence

And there’s other benefits to exercise as well, such as keeping you strong and mobile in later life. Staying independent as you age has a profound impact on how long you live for and how happy you feel, which to me seems incredibly important.

But, you probably know this already and you know you should exercise regularly. But if you’re anything like me, or my friend, you’ve tried and failed.

Well, in my opinion, people often start at the wrong place with exercise. They choose the exercise that they feel like they should do and get started. They might find a plan online to follow over the next few months. And they’re off.

They pin their plan on their wall and they read about motivation, willpower and discipline, and how it’s the key to consistent training.

The Importance of Enjoyment

Some days are tough, but they go back to these principles and double down on their effort. This keeps them going for a while longer.

I think that this is a backwards way to look at exercise if you want to do it consistently over time.

Instead of focussing on what you should do, and on finding ways to make exercise routines stick, focus on what you want to do.

This simple switch is one of the most powerful things you can do to create a plan that is going to last.

I think it’s far better to focus on the thing that is going to lead to the best outcome: fun.

Choosing Joy Over Obligation

If you pick exercise that you can enjoy, that makes you look forward to doing it, you are far, far more likely to want to do this regularly and repeatedly.

Picture these two scenarios:

One – you dread getting up in the morning because you know you’ve got a run planned. It’s going to be dark and there’s rain forecast.

Two – you’ve got a spin class booked for the morning and you love it. They play upbeat music and you enjoy the social element of going to the gym.

Which is going to lead to better success? The second, of course.

That’s just an example, and you don’t have to cycle. You don’t have to run. You don’t have to do any specific exercise, and that’s what I’d love you to take away from this. Pick something which you’re excited about. Whether that’s dancing, swimming, zumba, circuit training, and yeah, even running or cycling, if it’s what you want to do then that’s the thing to choose.

Exploring Exercise Definitions

Now you might be thinking well, what actually counts as exercise?

One of the definitions I’ve found for exercise is this: “A type of physical activity that involves planned, structured, and repetitive bodily movement done to maintain or improve one or more components of physical fitness.”

That’s quite vague, but that’s in some ways the beauty of it.

Cardiovascular Exercise

There are 2 types of exercise, and although they overlap, for our purposes I think it’s worth separating them out.

First is cardio, or cardiovascular exercise. This is something that aims to increase your heart rate, your respiratory rate and get blood moving quicker around your body.

Anything that puts your breathing rate above your baseline is enough to qualify for this. You do then have subsets like moderate and vigorous exercise, but that’s not what today’s episode is about.

If you can find exercise, whether that’s by yourself or as a class, that makes you breath a little bit harder then you’re in the right ballpark. Make that your starting point for exercise and build from that

Resistance Training

The other type of exercise is called resistance training, or strength training. As the name implies, this involves using your muscles against resistance to create positive adaptations. Most people associate this with lifting weights, and that definitely qualifies.

But it might also be certain types of yoga, pilates or certain circuit training regimes, and again, this is also where picking the right thing for you is important. Do you want to go to the gym a couple of times a week and lift weights? If you do, awesome! If that really isn’t your thing, think about how you might incorporate some yoga in your routine, or try out a local pilates class.

Balancing Exercise Types

My recommendation for most people is for them to try to do 2 resistance sessions and 3 cardiovascular sessions per week. If you want a gold star then split the cardio sessions into 2 easy sessions and 1 high intensity session.

This gives a great balance of exercise across the week and targets the different components of fitness, and if you do these, you’ll absolutely be on your way to improving your health now and in the future.

But there is a bit of an elephant in the room here.

It’s all well and good to say find exercise that’s fun and then work from there. Even if you find a class or exercise that you enjoy, it’s not realistic to say that you’re going to want to do it every time, so how do you navigate that?

There are 3 main things to say here:

Appropriate Starting Point

First, start with exercise that’s appropriate to your fitness level. One of the most common mistakes is people exercising too hard, too frequently. You shouldn’t be drained after every workout, but instead most of them should be leaving you feeling energized and satisfied that you’ve worked out.

This is why I suggest splitting your cardio into 2 easy sessions and 1 hard session. For your easy exercise, you should be able to fully breath in and out through your nose whilst exercising. If not, you’re going too hard.

Understanding Limits

This will feel totally alien to start with because it’ll feel like you aren’t really doing much, but I promise you you are. This is one of the most important things to get right if you want to exercise consistently over time. Then, on your hard session, you can go hard and give it all your beans.

Utilizing Support Systems

Second, you can and should use things like habit, willpower, discipline and motivation. Once you’ve found the exercise that on the whole you enjoy, schedule it in and create structure. This should help you for those times where you maybe aren’t quite feeling it but can keep yourself accountable.

What I should say here is that if you really aren’t feeling it, don’t do it. Have some time off and allow your body to rest. Most people are bad for pushing themselves when they should take some time off.

This links to the third point, which is to remember to find the fun in exercise. If you decide to skip the session and are feeling motivated and ready to return, then perfect. If not, ask yourself why not. Has something changed? Is there a reason you’re not looking forward to it, and is there anything you can do about it?

Prioritizing Enjoyment

If you do start from a place of fun, then this gives you a metric to monitor over time. If you constantly find the fun is gone, then it might be time for a change. By evaluating your enjoyment rather than things like running pace or distance, you are choosing to monitor something which is much more sensitive to change and something you can act on.

This is something which is incredibly important to me. I want to have fun when I exercise. Sure, it doens’t always feel amazing and I’d be lying if I said it did. But for the most part, I look forward to it. If I don’t, then I know something is wrong.

Usually, it’s that I’m not getting enough sleep or that work is taking up a bit too much of my brain. I try to improve those things and my motivation for exercise gets better again.

The happy news regarding my friend is that she’s back running, and is actually training for an ultramarathon now.

She’s found a way more sustainable running routine by planning genuinely easy runs, by planning a realistic schedule for her life and by focussing on having fun with her running.

You’d be surprised just how much of a difference this can make.

If any of this episode resonated with you then I’d really appreciate it if you could just take a moment to review this podcast on whatever platform you’re listening on.

It will only take you a moment but a quick 5* review and a comment if possible would mean the world to us, because it will help the podcast spread to more people to help them enjoy their exercise too.

Studies used in this podcast and article:

Effectiveness of Physical Activity Interventions

Exercise for Cognitive Brain Health

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