We’ve all heard it before. Many of us aren’t exercising enough. But with spare time, energy and sometimes motivation in short supply, how do you amp up your activity levels, even just a little?
Here, health experts offer tips to make regular movement a habit.
To exercise well, our bodies need downtime, and this includes quality sleep. Psychologist and CEO of the Sleep Health Foundation Dr Moira Junge says that adequate, good-quality shut-eye has restorative effects. It helps our muscles to heal, our energy to refuel, and is thought to support immune health, brain function, our emotions, and tissue repair, she says.
“As you can imagine, these are the things that make it easier to exercise both from an emotional and physical point of view.”
The bonus is the benefits work both ways, with good sleep making it easier to exercise, and regular exercise potentially improving sleep, says Dr Junge.
Unfortunately, she sees many tired, sleep-deprived women who aren’t fitting in enough exercise. “It’s common and it’s a frustrating, vicious cycle for them.”
If you fall into this category, check out our Rest easy podcast or talk to your GP.
Blisters, foot pain, toenail damage – nothing ruins exercise like ill-fitting footwear. If your workout requires shoes, physiotherapist Catherine Willis says they “should feel comfortable and supportive and be replaced regularly if the soles are looking worn”. She also recommends consulting a podiatrist if you have foot issues.
For additional support, Head of Monash University’s musculoskeletal unit, Prof Flavia Cicuttini says she “often advise[s] people who have limited mobility to consider using some form of walking aid”. This might be walking poles, a walking stick or a walker. She says using these devices can mean you don’t tire as easily, are less likely to fall, and more likely to walk with a healthier posture.
“The result is that the person has a lot more control of what they do, [is] more likely to succeed and do it again rather than get distressed and not do it again,” she adds. “We should consider [the devices] as ‘exercise equipment’ not ‘an aid’.”
“Nutrition is vital for good performance, even if you are just starting out on your fitness journey,” says naturopath and sports nutritionist Kira Sutherland.
To help fuel your body, she recommends a small snack, such as some fruit, 20 to 30 minutes before exercise. Within one hour of finishing training, eating a meal that has a three-to-one ratio of carbohydrates to protein can help “enhance your recovery and support your muscles”, she adds. For carbs, think grainy breads, rice, fruit and vegetables, while protein sources include animal products, legumes (such as beans and chickpeas), nuts and seeds.
Just be mindful not overeat (or under-eat) after exercise. “A walk will burn about half as much as a good jog,” says Ms Sutherland.
Also don’t forget to stay hydrated. Ms Sutherland says water is ideal.
If exercising solo doesn’t appeal, how about working out with a friend, team or class? “When exercising with others, it motivates us and…provides a platform for human connection,” says Dr Mandy Ruddock, a lecturer in the School of Psychology at LaTrobe University, and director of ELEVATE Wellbeing & Performance.
Dr Ruddock says that couples and families who exercise together tend to stay active. “This not only fosters better health, but also closer relationships, which helps to lower stress and enhances wellbeing.”
Making exercise a healthy habit means developing a healthy relationship with it and being kind to yourself along the way.
Dr Ruddock recommends having realistic expectations and embracing exercise in whatever form that looks like for you. Also, don’t underestimate the benefits of taking baby steps. “It’s important to set small, achievable short-term goals…with an overarching long-term goal,” she says.
And, try to focus on what you can do, not what you can’t, she adds. If that means a 10-minute walk around the block is all you can manage today, then take those 10 minutes and leave any guilt or higher expectations at the door.
Finally, “make [exercise] enjoyable”, she says. If it's going to be a habit, it might as well be fun.