Exercise when you hate it

By Jessica Tett

How to do a tiny bit of exercise most days, when you don’t really want to.

On 3rd March this year, I decided to do some yoga every day. I've done yoga regularly on and off over the years, but I've been moving around a lot less and have known I've been getting more and more unfit. Every so often I'd tell myself I was going to do something easy - run up and down the stairs 5 times a day, walk round the block, park on the far side of the car park - but after a few days (if that!) I'd always give up. So I have previous of wanting to get fitter, having a good idea for how to do this, but also failing fairly quickly.

But here we are months later, and I am still doing yoga nearly every day. Sometimes literally for just 7 minutes, but more often for 20 minutes or more. And I'm wondering what was different this time.

The main difference was my motivation: On April 7th I was due to fly out to Australia for 3 weeks, seeing my brilliant sister who lives in Sydney and doing some travelling around. I was planning like crazy, and realised that I would enjoy this holiday even more if I was fitter: if I did yoga every day for the next 30 or so days before my flight, I would be a bit fitter and I would enjoy my holiday a bit more. When I started, and realised just how unfit I was - weak, out of breath, no balance! - this actually helped motivate me. I wonder if normally I feel how much I struggle, and I just give up - there's no way I could get actually fit. This year though, I just wanted to get fitTER - any improvement would be a win.

When lockdown happened, and everything was cancelled, I carried on. I knew I wasn't going anywhere, but I decided to continue for another day. And then another day... and then the next one. I had more free time, and I had also started to see minute changes in myself. I was still bright red, puffing and panting and feeling my muscles burning at the earliest opportunity - but not quite as badly as when I started. Noticing these changes encouraged me to keep going. I also noticed how the exercise was supporting my mental health: the routine, the focus on my breathing, the time spent fully in the present moment. And as the days went on, a pride in myself and my body. The things I used to say to myself about exercise: my PE teacher was right, I can’t do this, I’m not a sporty person – none of them helpful – are starting to fade and lose their power. I’m trying to say new things now: look at what I can do today!, I’m doing better at this every day, I love how this stretch feels.

If there is anyone else out there who thinks they’d enjoy their life a little bit more if they were a little bit fitter, maybe doing something like this will work for you as well. I rely on Yoga with Adriene – she’s a really nice yoga woman with loads of free videos on YouTube. If you don’t fancy yoga, there are lots of other short workouts for free – Hasfit is a good one, Couch to 5k is another. Maybe you don’t need an instructor, and you can do 10 sit ups a day, or 10 press ups, or up and down the stairs 10 times (maybe not 10…). Hold in your mind that you just want to get a little bit fitter, and look for tiny changes.

Work out what you need, what’s going to make you start doing it and keep going. You might need to do something with other people: Is there a neighbour who could join you walking/jogging/running round the block? Have you got a colleague who’d do some star jumps with you every tea break? Could you challenge your friends/family/strangers on the internet to a Step Challenge? Is there a gym near you offering outdoor classes?

I have a few mantras – things I say to myself for encouragement – and one of my favourites is something a friend and I found about 10 years ago going through a ‘Make 2009 your best year ever!’ article in a Sunday paper. It’s ‘Motivation Follows Action’ – the idea that of course you don’t actually want to do something before you start doing it, why would you?, it’s only once you start doing it that you will feel any motivation. For me today this means, forget about waiting to want to do some exercise, but start doing it now. As Adriene says about yoga, ‘The hardest part is getting on the mat.’

Good luck! You can do it!

Yoga with Adriene


Couch 2 5k

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