The first two months of the year are typically the most popular times for someone to start a health and fitness regime. The ‘new year new you’ mantra is a powerful one, and following hot on the heels of the holiday season it gets compounded with messages about ‘working off’ Christmas excesses.
Now whilst the combination of these two messages gets people through the doors of gyms, (or in the current climate, to their kitchen floors!). It also serves to compound the notion of exercise being some form of punishment – in some way our penance for enjoying the holidays.
As long as we frame exercise and movement as a punishment, we will always be fighting a battle to ‘sell’ it, and to improve consistency – which as we know is the number one factor in success in any health and fitness regime.
Human beings are descended from hunter gatherers, who needed to move in order to eat and survive. So the cue to move was hunger, and our ancestors would have to run, climb, hunt and forage to find their food.
Food therefore was a reward for movement.
In the modern age, food is plentiful (in some cases too much so), and that cue to move in order to survive has been removed. We can now consume food whenever we want, and have created ways to move to ‘burn off’ any excess food that we’ve consumed. The opposite way around to how we have evolved.
Movement is now a punishment for food
This negative framing of exercise in the modern era can even be seen in schools – being given press ups or laps of the field as ‘punishment’ for talking in PE class is a common occurrence – and then as adults we need to pay people to tell us to do press ups and run!
Gyms and studios talk about ‘smashing’ their clients with promotions such as ‘hell week’.
There is nothing in that phrasing that suggests a positive or rewarding experience!
The most effective way of improving consistency in our exercise programs is to always frame exercise as a reward, not as a punishment, this absolutely can and should start at a young age – but it can also be successfully re framed in adults.
Reward yourself with activities that you enjoy, that make you feel strong and healthy, don’t punish yourself with activities that you hate.
5 Reminders that exercise is a privilege, not a punishment
1. Remember to play
‘Children move for fun. As adults we can fall in love with movement again by incorporating activities that involve learning a new skill. Whether it’s dancing, climbing or using a skipping rope, bring an element of play back into movement.’
2. Make movement part of your self-care routine
‘The bare minimum (washing your face and brushing your teeth) are essential parts of your daily hygiene, the same way a minimal level of movement (taking the stairs instead of the lift) are essential parts of your movement hygiene. Something more indulgent like a face mask or a long bath may be a weekly occurrence and the same should be said for more intense workouts like hardcore gym sessions or a long run.’
3. Retrain your brain
Stop seeing exercise as a punishment to be completed after eating. Quantify workouts with how you feel before, during and after, not just in terms of calories burned’.
4. Rest when you’re tired
One missed workout won’t see your fitness levels drop. Changes to health, fitness, wellbeing and the percentage of fat, bone and muscle in the body happen as a result of sustained behaviour over time. ‘Forcing yourself through a workout when you should be resting, or dosing up on caffeine to get you through, reinforces that exercise is something to be endured, rather than enjoyed,’
5. Make your workouts social
‘There is so much more to working out than the workout itself. Making a date to train with friends (online, or in person after lockdown lifts), not only makes you accountable, it makes training part of your social life, something to look forward to rather than dread.’