With January coming to an end and spring on the horizon, many will be striving to “exercise more” or “work out.” Do a quick internet search or scroll through social media and you’ll find hundreds of fitness programs with detailed instructions on the best exercises, how to do them, and how many sets and reps you should do.
Unfortunately, many people struggle to stick to any consistent exercise, due to unsustainable exercise habits. Building healthy habits should be the first thing you focus on when exercising. The following 10 tips will help you create sustainable exercise habits and reduce your risk of injury, in order to be fitter and healthier in 2023.
1 Choose an exercise/activity that you enjoy
Studies have shown that people are more likely to stick to — and be consistent with — an exercise if they enjoy it. This can be a team sport or an individual exercise activity. Whether it’s pilates, yoga, running, walking, swimming, cycling, boxing or soccer, the key is to choose what you enjoy, so that it becomes sustainable in the long term.
2 Create an action plan
The goal here is to make time for exercise – you may have to move things or ask for help in order to achieve this. Spend some time and effort on it and write down your daily fitness plans.
3 Introduce the exercises gradually
Any new exercise should be introduced gradually. Our bodies are excellent at adapting to physical activity but this takes time, and any effective exercise program will have gradual progression at its core. To guide us here, we can use the 10-segment rule. For example, your walk or run, times or mileage can be monitored and each week can be increased by 10% as you try to build your fitness.
4 Adopt a healthy mindset and attitude toward exercise
Shifting your mindset to exercise as something positive can go a long way in maintaining exercise as a lifelong habit, while reaping the many benefits physically, mentally, and socially. Surround yourself and talk to other people who like to exercise.
5 Avoid the boom-bust cycle
This means slowly evolving into your chosen exercise, at a rate your body can adjust to and taking regular breaks. The injury is very common with people who are just starting out or have not recently played sports, as they may be excited at first and do too much too quickly. Muscles and tendons take time to strengthen and adapt to new exercise loads, so be patient with your body and keep up with the exercises over time.
6 sleep and recovery
Many processes such as human growth hormone secretion and muscle protein synthesis occur during sleep and are necessary to promote adequate recovery from exercise. Studies looking at the sleep habits of athletes have shown that those who sleep less than 7 hours per night for two weeks have a 50% greater risk of sustaining a new injury. It is recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
7 strength training
Just two sessions per week of strengthening exercises have been shown to reduce the risk of acute injury by 30 percent and overuse injury by 50 percent. You don’t need any fancy equipment or a gym membership to add strengthening exercises to your weekly workout regimen. Alternatively, you can do a bodyweight circuit at home including exercises like squats, push-ups, side planks, and calf raises.
8 Fuel your body and drink
Carbohydrate-rich foods help boost exercise performance and protein-rich foods aid in muscle repair after exercise. We should aim to drink 2-3 liters of water per day to ensure optimal hydration, and readers are advised to seek guidance from a dietitian for further help and support with nutrition.
9 Change your environment
If you can’t commit to a gym or exercise class, learn how to work out at home. There are many workout options now available online, both paid and free.
10 Don’t expect perfection and have fun
Going from not exercising at all to exercising 3-5 times a week can be overwhelming. But remember, exercise should be fun. So don’t get stuck if you need to skip a day or don’t have the time or energy to complete a workout. It’s normal to get stuck now and then – forgive yourself and start over the next day.
If you are not sure which exercise is sustainable for you, it is always a good idea to check with your local physiotherapist for guidance on the above. If you’ve sustained an injury or are concerned about an old one flaring up, seeking help early will put you in a better position to continue playing sports throughout 2023.
Emyr O’Brien MISCP, Clinical Specialist specializing in Musculoskeletal Physiotherapy at Dublin Beacon Hospital