How to Start Exercising and Stick to It

Maree O’Connor Lymphoedema Physiotherapist

People who have lymphoedema are encouraged to exercise but it is not uncommon to find it’s hard to get started and then to continue with the program long term. We know the importance of exercise to assist with lymphoedema management. Exercise also improves energy levels, mood, sleep and health to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression

So how do we overcome the obstacles to exercising? A recent article published in HelpGuide provides us with useful insight into this issue. It suggests that for most of us the biggest barriers are mental. Whatever our age or fitness level below are some useful tips to overcome this.

Ditch the all-or-nothing attitude

You don’t have to spend hours in a gym or force yourself into monotonous or painful activities. A little exercise is better than nothing. Adding just modest amounts of physical activity to your weekly routine can have a profound effect on your mental and emotional health.

Research has found…

“The new thinking is that, when it comes to physical activity, everything counts, even short bursts of exercise. The message now is to seek out any and all opportunities to move during the day and add in short bursts of higher-intensity activity. For example, you could walk more briskly to a meeting or take the stairs to add short bursts of exercise into your day.”

Be kind to yourself

Research shows that self-compassion increases the likelihood that you’ll succeed in any given endeavour. So, don’t beat yourself up about your body, your current fitness level, or your supposed lack of willpower. All that will do is demotivate you. Instead, look at your past mistakes and unhealthy choices as opportunities to learn and grow.

Check your expectations

You didn’t get out of shape overnight, and you’re not going to instantly transform your body either. Expecting too much, too soon only leads to frustration. Try not to be discouraged by what you can’t accomplish or how far you have to go to reach your fitness goals. Instead of obsessing over results, focus on consistency. While the improvements in mood and energy levels may happen quickly, the physical payoff will come in time.

HelpGuide also explored excuses for not exercising and the solution to these.

Excuse 1: “I hate exercising.”

Solution: Many of us feel the same. If sweating in a gym or pounding a treadmill isn’t your idea of a great time, try to find an activity that you do enjoy—such as dancing—or pair physical activity with something more enjoyable. Take a walk at lunchtime through a scenic park, for example, walk laps of an air-conditioned mall while window shopping, walk, run, or bike with a friend, or listen to your favourite music while you move.

Excuse 2: “I’m too busy.”

Solution: Even the busiest of us can find free time in our day for important activities. It’s your decision to make exercise a priority. And don’t think you need a full hour for a good workout. Short 5-, 10-, or 15-minute bursts of activity can prove very effective—so, too, can squeezing all your exercise into a couple of sessions over the weekend. If you’re too busy during the week, get up and get moving during the weekend when you have more time.

Excuse 3: ”I’m too tired.”

Solution: It may sound counterintuitive, but physical activity is a powerful pick-me-up that actually reduces fatigue and boosts energy levels in the long run. With regular exercise, you’ll feel much more energized, refreshed, and alert at all times.

Excuse 4: “I’m too fat,” “I’m too old,” or “My health isn’t good enough.”

Solution: It’s never too late to start building your strength and physical fitness, even if you’re a senior or a self-confessed couch potato who has never exercised before. Very few health or weight problems rule exercise out of the question, so talk to your doctor about a safe routine.

Excuse 5: “Exercise is too difficult and painful.”

Solution: “No pain, no gain” is an outdated way of thinking about exercise. Exercise shouldn’t hurt. And you don’t have to push yourself until you’re soaked in sweat or every muscle aches to get results. You can build your strength and fitness by walking, swimming, or even playing golf, gardening, or cleaning the house.

Excuse 6: “I’m not athletic.”

Solution: Still have nightmares from PE? You don’t have to be sporty or ultra-coordinated to get fit. Focus on easy ways to boost your activity level, like walking, swimming, or even working more around the house. Anything that gets you moving will work.

Personal reflection

I have been regularly walking for several years with a friend. Last year I was introduced to STRAVA which is a free tracking app that not only logs how far you have walked but also has free challenges each month that I have found very motivating. There are lots of forms of exercise that can be tracked via STRAVA.

This year I found out about the Conqueror Virtual Challenges. Increase your motivation for running, walking or cycling (or any distance-based exercise) by taking on one of their virtual fitness challenges.

Each challenge can be completed in the timeframe that suits you, either individually or in teams.

Connect your favourite fitness apps or manually log your running, walking, cycling etc distances on their “The Conqueror” mobile app or through their website. It does keep you focused and motivated to achieve your fitness goals.

There are lots of different virtual locations such as the Inca Trail, Romantic Road, Ring of Kerry, Grand Canyon just to name a few. During the journey, you can look at where you are and explore the area. You can even look inside various buildings in some areas such as churches. Along the journey, you receive postcards about the locations you travel through.

I have just completed the St Francis Way which is 503km through an ancient Rome road from Florence to the Vatican. I started on the 21st of August this year and aimed to complete the walk by Christmas day! As I am rather competitive I tried to keep ahead of the set goal which you can keep an eye on via the app. I finished the journey on the 15th November and it was a great experience. You can check out my journey below. It does cost but it’s no more than going to dinner and the benefits are so much more. It’s a great conversation with your clients as it doesn’t matter the level of fitness it’s very achievable and you have 18 months to complete each challenge… not that we want our clients to procrastinate!!

So where to next the Amalfi coastline is my next destination