Feb 2, 2022
I don't claim to be any kind of guru, but after nearly 20 years as a podiatrist, I regularly hear the repeating problems, and I have a list of solutions I provide. I know where I have fallen down in my past fitness kicks, and how I fixed it. Here is the first part of a three-step plan to getting more active, and staying more active.
It's that old saying; failing to prepare is preparing to fail. If fitness and activity aren't already a habit/lifestyle for you, then this is no different than any other endeavour.
a/ Plan your time – WHEN are you going to be active?
We are advised to be active for a minimum of 30 minutes per day, for 5 days per week. So, the first thing to do is to identify, realistically; Where is this going to fit into your day? If you just expect that you are just going to get up and figure it out, put it in any-old-where, you are very likely wrong. Long or changing work hours, small children or shift work can complicate things, so you need to really think ahead and sort out where you can get your time.
Consider when you are most energetic - are you a morning person or a night owl? Do you work long hours, or shifts? Can you put more hours of activity on some days to make up for others that may be more difficult to find time on? You need to SCHEDULE exercise time, each day, each week. If you are someone with a lot of commitments, or a changing work roster, or running around after kids, you may have to spend a few minutes at the start of each week looking at how to fit in this time. These five minutes will pay off in the long run.
Don't forget to schedule rest days to reward yourself and let your body recover - this is also really important!
b/ Plan your activities – WHAT are you going to do?
What sort of exercise are you going to do? A good place to start is, what do you like to do? After all, you are more likely to do it if you enjoy it. Starting easy, especially if you haven't been very active for a long time (or ever), is the best option. You need to have contingency for wet weather, hot weather or short daylight hours, otherwise you may end up losing all momentum.
In my office, I often hear "but I just want to walk''. This is ok for a while, but, especially if you are more than 10-15kg overweight, you really need to have some cardiovascular activity that is NOT weightbearing, as your feet will simply not stand up to it (sorry, bad podiatrist pun). You also need to be aware of your capabilities, and any health issues or previous injuries that may need to be accounted for. You can see your GP, a physio or an exercise physiologist for suggestions for activities or variations on activities that will unload / work around problem areas.
As an example of this, a gentleman was in my office early in 2021, desperate to be more active, but after a plethora of injuries, he was struggling to find some form of exercise that he could do. More than two days of walking? An old fracture in his foot gave him grief. More than two days of swimming? And old shoulder dislocation was a problem. He loved all sorts of things, including cycling, kayaking and martial arts, but repeatedly doing anything resulted in problems. So what did we do? Well, aiming for 4-5 days a week of activity, we scheduled Monday walking, Tuesday doing laps at the pool, Wednesday Martial Arts, Thursday a rest day, Friday out for a paddle, and then one day a weekend off on the bike with his kids. His children – aged 8 and 12 - who accompanied him to the consult were absolutely ECSTATIC that Dad was planning to do this stuff. They were super keen to go with him, and, all of a sudden, he found the motivation that he needed.
You don’t have to do the same workout or walk the same block day in day out – in fact it’s better if you don’t. By mixing it up, you keep yourself interested and you protect your body from overuse injuries.
c/ Get the right gear
Look, yes, I'm a podiatrist, so I'm biased about footwear, but if your shoes are rubbish you are going to struggle. Again and again, I see people's best efforts derailed by foot/leg problems stemming from useless, inappropriate, or worn-out shoes. This is even more important if you are more than 10-15kg overweight; with momentum, you can put twice your bodyweight through each foot with every step, they NEED the right support. If your shoes have been sitting in the cupboard for 3 years since your last fitness push, the midsole is likely perished, and will crush within a few weeks. If they aren't proper trainers, they aren't right for the job. If you've been mowing the yard in them for 6 months, they're stuffed. Budget to buy new ones within the next two months.
You don't need fancy Lorna Jane activewear to get active (I've got heaps of Big W stuff, who cares?) but you do need weather and body shape appropriate. I might be a size eight, but I still get thigh chafe in hot weather when I run in shorts, so tights it is. There is also an effect called "enclothed cognition", where wearing the right clothes helps put you in the right mindset, and there is even some evidence that it improves performance. It's the old "fake it till you make it", from a different angle.
This is super important if you have been unable to stick to a plan previously. If you go at it too hard to start, you'll end up over tired, terribly muscle-sore, and you'll give up. So, your first two to three weeks is just getting into the habit of being active at the time you've set out. Get out for a walk, play ball with the kids, go for a swim, do an easy version of your workout. Your goal for these weeks is to just do something for every day that you have allocated. If your self-discipline is poor, get an exercise buddy to help you be accountable. Once you are used to getting up and getting started, then you can start to actually exercise.
For next month's blog, I will talk about Step 3 - Get into it!
But before then, I have one more thing I want to talk about. Your mindset. I feel that many of us who were in school through the 80s and 90s have come out with a set idea; that we are either "sporty" or not. You won foot races or played team sports, or you read books. That you are either good at sports or uncoordinated, and uncoordinated people shouldn't be active. School made all sports a competition, but - NEWS FLASH - if you are an adult, unless you choose to, it isn't a competition anymore! The only person you need to be better than is you, yesterday. Let go of this "...but I'm no good at it" stuff, and embrace being a better, fitter you. Stop treating your body like something you have been forced to lug around.
Enjoy this absolute physics miracle of bipedal motion that we have been blessed with. Let go of the negative trash in your head.
I PROMISE it's worth it!