You know exercise is good for you, right? But regular exercise is like pushing water uphill. You do it for a couple of days – and then try and forget about it, because it’s just too hard. Sounds familiar?

People who exercise regularly swear by it. They enjoy it. They can’t stop talking about it. But how did they manage to build a habit that sticks? Wouldn’t you like to know a painless and easy way of getting into the exercise habit? Read on to find out.

The reason we often fail when trying to implement a regular exercise routine is because we work against our instincts, instead of with them. What we are trying to do when we establish an exercise routine is do reverse a trend.

Imagine that you are a train driver driving at high speed. How are you going to do that? Are you going to simply crash your gear into reverse? If you did, the train would derail, passengers would get hurt or killed, and you would end up with a catastrophe.

There is a better way.

You could gently apply the brakes until the train is at a standstill, and then slowly start reversing the direction. Easy!

The example is very clear, isn’t it? And yet we do the opposite when trying to start exercising. We try and run for a mile, or go to the gym for an hour, or play a game of tennis – and then wonder why we feel so stiff and sore next day. Then we try it again, but the body hates it – and then we stop. Again.

As In her book “This year I will…”, Andy Ryan, an expert in collaborative thinking, spells out why such a gung-ho approach doesn’t work:

Whenever we initiate change, even a positive one, we activate fear in our emotional brain….If the fear is big enough, the fight-or-flight response will go off and we’ll run from what we’re trying to do.

We need a different approach. We need an approach that eases the body into exercise so gradually, so that we don’t trigger the flight response.

How do we create change so gently that we don’t take fright?

There is a very interesting Japanese philosophy called Kaizen which can help us do that. Kaizen  focuses on continuous but small change.

Andy Ryan explains:

The small steps in Kaizen don’t set off fight or flight, but rather keep us in the thinking brain, where we have access to our creativity and playfulness.

Let’s take a look at how that could be applied to physical exercise. I’ll take running as an example. Could you run for 15 seconds? Most people can. With the philosophy of Kaizen, you could say that if can run for 15 seconds, you can learn to run for a minute – and even for an hour. How?

Follow this simple running plan. Add 15 seconds each day.

Day 1#  Run for 15 seconds
Day 2#  Run for 30 seconds
Day 3#  Run for 45 seconds
And so on…

It will seem ridiculously easy! Do this for a about forty days, and you’ll be running for 10 minutes. A month later, and you’ll be running for 20 minutes. By that time your running habit will be well established. But it will have happened naturally!

You can apply the same principle to establishing any exercise. Whether it’s yoga, or swimming, or walking.

The important thing is keep to your plan. You may feel that you could easily do more than the prescribed amount of exercise, but please rein in your enthusiasm. Just do the requisite amount, and not more. This is the trick to establishing an exercise habit without stress or strain.

Exercise really is a miracle pill. This is what it can do for you:

  1. Helps prevent or manage high blood pressure
  2. Lowers the build-up of plaque in the arteries
  3. Can help prevent type 2 diabetes
  4. Can help prevent osteoporosis
  5. Stimulates the immune response
  6. Can help prevent certain kinds of cancer
  7. Can help recover after illness.
  8. Builds muscle tissue
  9. Strengthens heart and lung function.
  10. Helps manage weight
  11. Promotes good sleep
  12. Helps revitalize sex life
  13. Improves mood
  14. Calms and centers the  mind
  15. Keeps the brain in shape

You might want to stick this list on your fridge to remind you of the benefits of exercise.

There are a some important guidelines for exercising. As a general rule, the intensity of exercise should not exceed certain limits. If monitoring heart rate use the simple equation – 200 minus your age (in years) to estimate the working heart rate you should remain under.

If you don’t exercise, your fitness slips a little each day. The Keizan method of introducing exercise reverses that trend, little by little. Of course we want to feel the benefits of exercise all at once. However, we need to remember that the smaller the steps we take, the easier it is to establish an exercise habit. And that’s what this method is about: building a new exercise habit that sticks.

What’s your experience of exercising?

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