Tips for people who want to start training — and stick with it

May 27, 2018 - 06:20

Be patient, find an activity you think is fun, don’t start off too hard at the beginning, and remember why you wanted to start exercising in the first place. Those are among researchers’ suggestions for those who want to make exercise a habit.

Remember what motivated you to start exercising in the first place when the going gets a little tough. (Illustration photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock/NTB scanpix)

By now the science is extremely clear: exercise is good for you. Really, really good for you. But that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to turn your occasional jog around the block into an exercise habit.

Nevertheless, it’s possible to drop your couch potato inclinations and become an exercise junkie, researchers who study exercise and fitness say.

The trick is to be patient, find something you think is fun to do, go easy when you first begin training and don’t be afraid to start off with shorter training sessions, they say.

These tips are surprisingly simple. The bottom line is that you don’t need a coach or to be a member of a team to make exercise more of a habit. And you can do it.

Patience is key

People who are in good shape often like to work out to the point of exhaustion.

For a beginner, however, being completely done in by a training session may be really discouraging, says Thomas Losnegard, an associate professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences (NIH).

Thomas Losnegard i an associate professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences. (Photo: NIH).

"Exercise is often tiring at first. You have to be a little patient and not give up right away,” Losnegard says.

Don’t think about the person on the neighbouring bike during your spinning class. Maybe he’s getting ready for a big race. Think about what you need to do when you feel like the spinning class is tough and there are still 40 minutes left in the class.

"It's a good idea to ease off and take a few minutes to get your strength back," says Christina Gjestvang, a PhD candidate at NIH.

Or maybe spinning is not the right type of training for you. Which brings us to the next big tip: find a type of exercise that you like.

If you like it, you’re more likely to stick with it

"Find something that you think is fun," says Gjestvang. "Even if someone tells you about the benefits of interval training, you may think it's absolutely terrible. Forget about it! If you like to kick a ball, play soccer with friends. If you like to ride horses, then go to a stable and ride.”

If you think strength training is boring, try ball games of one form or another. You’re the only one who really knows what you think is fun.

Dorthe Stensvold is an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). (Photo: NTNU)

Dorthe Stensvold, an associate professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) recommends variation. People are really different, she says.

"If you are easily demotivated by the fact that people around you are better or fitter than you are, you might not want to keep training,” she said. “But there are a lot of different options out there.”

Stensvold says that people who participate in exercise studies at NTNU are good at sticking with their training as long as they are under the protective, motivational wings of researchers.

"But when we follow up with them later, we find that many have quit exercising," Stensvold said.

"If you start losing your motivation for one type of exercise, like spinning, it might help to try something else, such as getting a personal trainer for a period or finding another kind of exercise class," says the NTNU researcher.

Go easy at first

If you're not in great shape, you’ll tire out quickly. The researchers say not to let this discourage you.

Christina Gjestvang is a PhD candidate at the Norwegian College of Sports Sciences. (Photo: Private)

"Your brain may trick you in the beginning, when you are most motivated, to go harder than you should," says Christina Gjestvang.

If you start by running four times a week, you will probably get fitter fairly quickly. But you may also find that after a month you get injured.

"Your head may drive you to run four times a week, but muscles, joints and tendons can’t necessarily keep up with the increased stress," Gjestvang says.

“Don’t overdo it — be happy to run twice a week at the beginning,” she says.

Short can be good

The more you exercise, the fitter you will probably be. But if you have never exercised before, you can also make good progress without exercising every day.

"Don’t start with sessions that are too long or too hard," says Truls Raastad, a professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences.

Truls Raastad is a professor at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences. (Photo: NIH)

“Start with shorter and more frequent sessions. That makes it easier to get fit without killing yourself at the very beginning,” Raastad says.

Losnegard says that you can achieve a great deal in just 30-40 minutes. Knowing that you only have to train for 30 minutes may also make it easier to keep motivated, he said.

It’s also better in the beginning to stop exercising when you’re still a little fresh, he said.

Have a plan for your new life

Those who have exercised their whole life will continue to work out, because it is a natural part of their everyday life.

"People who are not used to exercising may find that making it a habit can be difficult and takes time. People should be aware of this,” says Stensvold.

Lifestyles are some of the hardest things to change. Stensvold recommends patience. She says that people who are just starting out should make training a high priority for a period, and stick with their plan.

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Read the Norwegian version of this article at forskning.no.

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