The benefits of regular exercise go far beyond simply losing weight and looking better. Being physically active can reduce your risk of heart disease and some cancers, strengthen your bones, help you sleep better, and improve your mental health.
Even though as little as 30 minutes a day can make a significant difference, according to the National Health Survey 2014–15 almost one in three (29.7%) of 18- to 64-year-olds were insufficiently active (less than 150 minutes in the last week), while 14.8% were inactive (no exercise in the last week).
So what are some of the barriers to a fitter us, and how can we get past them?
1. Walk before you run
Once we have made the decision to start exercising, it’s natural to be filled with enthusiasm and want to get straight into it. But it’s important to ensure that you don’t push your body too far, too fast. There is nothing wrong with gradually increasing the intensity or frequency of exercise, especially if you haven’t been physically active before, or for a while.
Aside from the risks of pushing yourself too hard, and causing damage, it can also be discouraging or make exercise less enjoyable. There is no point going from sitting around to running 10 km if you can’t move for the next few days.
2. Crowd sourcing
Like anything, exercise can be a lot more enjoyable if you do it with other people. It could be simply going for a walk at lunch with a group of people you work with, or finding someone to be a gym buddy—but you don't have to do it all on your own. And it’s a lot harder to put off a session if someone else is expecting you to turn up.
3. It’s not a competition
Unless it’s a competitive activity, exercise is not a competition. Every person is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. Measure your success by your personal improvements, not by what someone else can do. If you used to be able to do one push-up and can now do 20, it doesn’t matter that the guy next to you can do 100 without sweating—progress is what matters.
4. Not the centre of attention
Many of us, especially when starting out, may feel self-conscious about our appearance or worry about what others might be thinking. It can lead to us avoiding going to the gym or group exercise. We may dread aerobics classes because of our complete lack of coordination.
But the truth is that people probably aren’t paying much attention—if they are exercising properly they don’t have the energy to watch us. Try to keep in mind that even the most toned person in the gym had to start somewhere.
Don’t let self-consciousness stand between you and getting fit. You can take comfort in knowing it’s a common feeling—as shown by programs like nolightsnolycra.com (exercising in the dark means no-one can see you!).
Wouldn’t it be great if we had a culture where no-one needed to worry about being judged on how they look—whether during exercise or not?