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Now that the clocks are turned back and we're faced with wet and windy days and long, dark nights, the appeal of exercise has sharply diminished - especially in lockdown. Yet if we can just get motivated, exercise can make us feel really good.

Here are the best tips for finding that workout motivation:

1. Harness the placebo effect

If you’ve forgotten the benefits of exercise, try logging on to the internet and watching some of that Olympic glory from Rio or London; seeing the benefits of physical activity might just help.

Or write yourself a list of positives, if you need serious reminding. According to one study, the more we believe that exercise will do us good, the more we are likely to experience emotional and neuropsychological benefits when we exercise.

The study found that individuals who exercised after watching short films that praised the benefits of cycling enjoyed the exercise more. Brain scans also showed that the subjects were more relaxed on a neuronal level.

2. Buddy up

Studies have found that exercising with a partner improves performance, but if none of your friends are up for being an exercise buddy, there are plenty of exercise communities online.

3. Listen to music

Personal trainer Lee Constantinou, from BodyBuilding.com, recommends using music to get in the mood.

“Listening to music is a great way to increase your energy and focus before exercising,” he says. “Listen to upbeat high energy music if you’ve got a high intensity session ahead.”

4. Find what you enjoy 

The best time to start exercising, adds Constantinou, is “now” although, ideally, people would start a routine in the summer and autumn and see it through to the winter. “Choose something that you enjoy and you can stick to,” he says. “That’s when you’ll see the true benefits of exercising.”

“Walking is great for anyone who’s not a fan of bodyweight or resistance exercise,” says Constantinou. “For those less able, a brisk walk outdoors is a great form of exercise for keeping the heart healthy and strong. Any form of activity is better than nothing, so do things that you enjoy and can sustain.”

5. Set time aside 

For working out at home, Constantinou recommends using an exercise mat and light dumbbells as a great way to start. But to turn it into a regular routine, he advises allocating time in your day. “Set a time and day that you’re going to work out,” he says. “Schedule it in your diary and commit to that one hour.”

6. Keep it realistic

Constantinou also advises building up your fitness gradually. “Keep it short to begin — 30 mins max — and slowly progress sessions to one hour as you get fitter and stronger. “Aim to do one to two sessions each week for a month and then try [to] up your workouts to three or more. It’s all about commitment and consistency.”

7. Exercise like a child

Children exercise without even realising it, and your own kids could be great exercise buddies. Join them in kicking a ball or running after a Frisbee.

8. Skip

A skipping rope is a low-cost piece of equipment (especially ‘borrowed’ from the kids). Just make sure that it is long enough for you, and find a space where it isn’t going to cause any damage!

Skipping has a range of benefits including heart and lung fitness, improved stamina, and improved coordination and balance. Because it is weight-bearing it can also help build bone strength.

Build-up in incremental stages, skipping for a count of 30 and then walking on the spot for 30 before skipping again. Do this until you can reduce or cut out the walking stages.

9. Stretch

Children naturally stretch when they climb and play, but for adults it’s a great way of getting rid of tension and lengthening tendons and muscles — especially when we have been hunched over a computer.

Before stretching at home, make sure you have adequate space and be gentle — it might not seem much of a workout, but it can be. Treat cold muscles with respect. If you can’t manage an hour, try to stretch for a few minutes every day.

As well as helping improve flexibility and mental wellbeing, stretching helps improve balance and could help prevent falls as we age, by keeping us flexible.

10. Dance

Look for YouTube or Zoom dance classes where you can strut your stuff. But dancing doesn’t have to be a social activity, so if you feel a bit shy whack some dance tracks onto the sound system and get moving.

If you don’t want to disturb others, take your shoes off to minimise noise, put your earphones in and create your own silent disco.

Dancing offers a wealth of benefits. It improves heart and lung fitness, stamina, balance and bone strength, and can be taken up at any age.

11) Visualise the rewards

Keeping physically active could reduce your risk of developing certain cancers. A meta-analysis by the US National Cancer Institute (NCI) found that leisure time physical activity was associated with a lower risk of developing 13 types of cancer. The average time spent exercising was about 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, which included walking, running and swimming.

Exercise has also been positively associated with cognitive performance. One single-blinded randomised trial involving 155 “community-dwelling” women aged 65-75 found that subjects who did resistance training performed better in cognitive function tests, compared with subjects who did balance and tone training.

Weight-bearing exercise is also positively associated with maintaining bone density — something of vital importance as we age.

Exercise also helps with insulin sensitivity. One small study found that even a few minutes of light exercise every 30 minutes can help control glucose and insulin levels.

With so many potential benefits, is anything stopping you?


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