How to Stick with Exercise: Variety, Flexibility, Challenge

Were setting exercise goals more challenging for you this year? It’s been almost two years since the pandemic shut down gyms and exercise studios. Businesses that survived financially reopened but with a decidely different feel. Many required masks, and group class offerings were fewer with smaller class sizes. This deterred some people from renewing their gym memberships. And slippery winter sidewalks with chilly temps clearly didn’t invite outdoor walks/runs! Thankfully warmer weather is around the corner and indoor mask mandates are gradually relaxing. But it seems home exercise regimens remain the preferred choice, for now.

Despite these obstacles, there are three things I believe can help you stick with a consistent exercise regimen for the long haul:

Variety

Although healthy habits are important, which require repetition to establish, our mental health craves change. Without it we’re more likely to feel bored, lose motivation, and even experience burnout. Change can feel hard because the brain settles comfortably into routines, but cognitive health is boosted when the brain is challenged and stimulated. My point is that it’s normal to become bored after doing the same exercise routine week to week, month to month. If your heart isn’t in it, you’ll likely put less energy and effort into the routine. Varying exercise formats is great not just to inject new energy into your workouts, but it ensures that you hit different muscle groups and reduces injury risk.

Consider at least five different types of exercise that you like and write them down. Maybe it’s 1) walking outdoors in a park or on a home treadmill 2) HIIT routine 3) yoga 4) strength with weights and bodyweight 5) Zumba or Body Jam dance. Do you have the equipment needed: yoga mat, dumbbells or resistance bands, good sneakers, private space in your home if it’s indoors? Do you have yoga, HIIT, or dance videos on YouTube saved and ready to go?

Next, include different durations of workouts. I keep YouTube playlists for workouts that are 15-20 minutes, 30-45 minutes, and 60 minutes. I also have 10-minute sessions for a quick morning/night yoga, desk stretches, or ab session in case my day is overloaded! Even that small amount can offer refreshment. I push for some daily movement no matter how short because it’s important for health, but that’s where flexibility is key. If you decide one day that you prefer a 20-minute HIIT workout, chances are you’ll do the routine with more gusto and strength than forcing yourself into a 60-minute walk/jog.

Flexibility

The CDC exercise recommendations are excellent general guidelines, but it’s more important to listen to your body/mind for daily needs. Your mood and energy level can dictate each day’s workout. Some days you’re ready for intense high-impact moves, and others you need the quiet methodical flow and extensions of yoga. Maybe you start out doing one type of workout like kickboxing but feel your body dragging or your mind wandering so you switch to the Peloton. Maybe you start a 45-minute workout, but after 30 minutes you’re done. Or maybe you decide to skip a strutured workout but fit in extra steps or climb the stairs a few times because you’re at the office. Allow yourself permission without guilt to be flexible. Use mindfulness to decide what you need this day and at this moment. The more options you have ready, the more likely you’ll keep moving.

Challenge

Including challenge as part of a workout can be challenging! I’ve talked in other posts about how your muscles become efficient at doing the same movements over and over. The good news is that if it feels easier, you’re likely stronger. The bad news is that you’re using less effort—mentally and physically. When this happens, boredom may set in or you may not feel as amazing after the workout. People exercise for many reasons: to clear the mind and lower stress, reduce aches and pains, control weight, or maybe because their doctor told them to. But in order to reap the benefits of exercise to reduce disease risk, you have to constantly challenge your body’s status quo. This means checking in with your intensity. There are checklists and scales to measure this. If you’ve ever felt like you want to stop a workout, not because of a health risk but because it’s unusually challenging…but you press through it…you know the feeling of achievement and self-confidence that follows. Exercise isn’t meant to not be challenging. And what you consider challenging will be different than the person next to you. But don’t be intimidated; face it head on. This stimulates growth, resiliency, and a can-do attitude that will carry over into other parts of your life. It also breeds persistence, the exact quality you’ll need to be consistent in exercising year-round!

What helps you to stay consistent with your exercise routine throughout the year?

4 thoughts on “How to Stick with Exercise: Variety, Flexibility, Challenge

  1. Cassandra Troughton says:

    Love this post! Thanks for sharing your wisdom. I agree with all 3 of these points. In addition to these, I would say that a community (whether at the gym or an online community like through the Peleton app) helps me to stay consistent with my exercise routines. Accountability is an important factor for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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