The “Five Secrets of Steady Exercisers” is revealed in today’s Wall Street Journal. The article explains exercise and human behavior scientists contend only about 21% of American adults exercise regularly and they’ve endeavored to identify what behaviors these individuals have in common. The belief being, if that code can be cracked, it may help the other 79%, many of whom attempt but fail to convert from couch potato to exercise dynamo year after year. They’ve found five habits most regular exercisers have in common.
Being a convert myself and helping to convert others, I know a thing or two about this evasive phenomenon. Today I’m taking these five secrets and expanding on them, adding context, expertise and personal experience. If you’re among the 79% who’ve tried unsuccessfully to crack the code of conversion, this post’s for you.
Michelle’s Code: Scheduling leads to consistency. If you place work meetings, kid’s extracurricular activities and doctor appointments on an electronic or paper calendar so you won’t double book or forget about it, you should be scheduling your workouts the same way and giving them the same priority.
While the WSJ rule doesn’t specify that regular exercisers schedule their exercise, working out at the same time most days is essentially the same thing. The point is a specific time is carved out most days and given top priority. Exercise dynamos needn’t actually put their workout sessions on a calendar any more than they need to put brushing their teeth on the calendar.
But, for those who haven’t yet created exercise habits, physically scheduling and mentally prioritizing are musts. Not only for the first week or the first month but for at least a year. It’s more important that you schedule them at times when they’re least likely to get bumped on any given day than to schedule them at the same time every day.
Michelle’s Code: Seek out ways to move every day. People trying to establish a workout routine tend to view exercise as an “other” in their daily lives. They see it as something separate they must add to everything else they need to accomplish during the day. Regular exercisers tend to view dedicated workouts as on par with walking during their commute, yard work, cleaning, playing soccer with their kids and preparing to host a celebratory meal.
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you consider daily activities that involve walking or standing along with twisting, bending, lifting, pushing or pulling as constituting exercise, even if they don’t induce perspiration or last only ten minutes at a time, you’re more likely to also perform dedicated workouts regularly. What workout dynamos understand is active, in all its forms, is the opposite of sedentary. Your heart and lungs don’t know if you’re on a treadmill, at a Soul Cycle class or digging a hole to plant a sapling. If you’re moving, you’re exercising.
Once you internalize this, you take the pressure off. You can legitimately believe, while you wish you hadn’t overslept and missed your morning Pilates class, you haven’t failed because you walked during your lunch hour and cleaned up the playroom after the kids went to bed.
Michelle’s Code: Always be prepared to be active. Dynamos, for example, have their workout items out and ready for the next day before going to bed. Using the example from the last paragraph, a regular exerciser also has a pair of sneakers at work so, on the occasion she misses Pilates, she can walk during her lunch hour.
Ultimately, it’s a no-excuses mindset. If you believe any and all activity constitutes exercise, then you’ll set up your environment to be sure any tool you may need to take advantage of an opportunity to be active is available to you wherever you are. Never allow yourself an excuse to say no to an opportunity to exercise.
WSJ Secret: “They’re more flexible than infrequent exercisers about how long or vigorously they exercise.”
Michelle’s Code: Turn the rigid exercise mindset on its head. To be fair to the 79% considered inactive, the rigid exercise mindset comes straight from the fitness industry. Even the guidelines on exercise from U.S. Health and Human Services suggest that exercise should be of a certain duration, frequency and intensity to count.
Science proves nothing could be further from the truth. By every measure, several short bouts of any exercise that cumulatively add up to one hour is equal to one hour straight of that same exercise. Furthermore, several short bouts of high intensity exercise is more beneficial, by every measure, than one longer continuous bout of that same exercise at a lower intensity. Activity of any form, duration and intensity is always beneficial and always infinitely better than inactivity.
When you embrace this healthier mindset, every activity you engage in becomes a win and psychologically encourages you to get another win. When you only count a one-hour Zumba class as exercise, then any time you miss that class, it’s counted as a failure and you’re psychologically discouraged from trying again for a win.
Michelle’s Code: Shift your goals. This is undeniably the most difficult to do. There’s so much pressure to exercise to achieve aesthetic changes. Yet, aesthetic goals don’t work well in the short-term and rarely work in the long-term.
Again, science is our friend. We now know it’s better to be fat and active than to be skinny and inactive. Let that one sink in for a minute.
What does better mean? It means a lower mortality rate, higher quality of life, better sleep, greater feelings of well-being, elevated energy levels and sex drive and a more positive body image. The true embodiment of fit and happier.