Running to keep up? Fitting exercise into a busy schedule

Whether you prefer the gym, team sports or just being in the great outdoors, exercise is a vital activity for men to improve and maintain their health.  But even though we all know this, it can be a struggle to fit exercise into a busy week.  We can face legitimate restrictions on our time – having to earn a living, looking after children, etc. – as well as motivational challenges.  Sometimes both the body and mind are not willing!

For some men, regular exercise may not be possible due to long-term sickness, injury or disability.  If you are in this situation, then we’d recommend speaking to health and sport professionals about what would be the best approach for you.

However, if you could be exercising more, but need a push to help motivate you, we’ve got some fresh ideas.  Here are our seven steps to help you build good exercise habits.

1.    Recognise when you’re making excuses.  Matthew Inman is a comic writer but also an accomplished long distance runner.  He has said wisely that if you have time to ponder whether or not to go for a run, you have time to go for a run!  Substitute ‘run’ for ‘exercise’, and the point still stands.  No one is too busy to fit 15 minutes of exercise into each day, and ideally much more.

2.    Focus on the positives.  Think about what exercise can and will do for you.  Exercise can be lots of fun in of itself, particularly if you do an activity that interests you.  Think about what you’re keen on, be that football, golf, boxing, swimming, running, or something else.

There are physiological benefits too.  Regular exercise can help boost your immune system, improve your reaction times, and reduce your resting heart rate, making you feel physically better.  As quoted by NHS Choices, Dr Nick Cavill has said that “if exercise were a pill, it would be one of the most cost-effective drugs ever invented.”

Exercise is also a great way to improve your mental wellbeing, not just because of the natural endorphins that your body releases through exercise.  It can it be psychologically beneficial each time, by making you feel you have done something healthy and useful with your time.  Moreover, there is plenty of evidence that this can help your mood long-term.  Remembering these reasons why you are exercising will help keep you to a regular routine.

3.    Look for opportunities in your daily schedule.  Fitting exercise into your current routine is one of the easier ways to keep you engaged.  Is your home or work near to a gym?  You could visit it before or after work, or during your lunch break.  Is your job within jogging or cycling distance of your home?  Getting home is pretty motivational, so why not combine your commute with a run home?  Equally, if you’re more interested in sports, join a team that meets regularly near your work or home.

4.    Set yourself goals and track your progress.  Without goals, our efforts can be uncoordinated or misdirected.  How do businesses, governments and charities become successful?  Amongst other things, they set achievable, measurable goals, against which they can track progress.  The same logic can be applied to your exercise and wellbeing, without becoming too regimented.  We want to build positive habits rather than get dissuaded after a week.

Useful goals are those that are personal to you and your current fitness.  These goals need to be achievable, yet push you a bit more each week.  For instance, if you’re just starting out after a period of low or no exercise, you could add in a short stroll each day.  As that becomes commonplace, why not extend the distance?  You could also add in sport with friends once a week, or join a local tennis club or swimming pool.  If you are more accomplished, then consider setting variations on your usual exercise.  For example, you could jog your normal distance but aim for 5 minutes quicker, you could play two sets of tennis rather than one, and so on.

To help track your progress, there is a wealth of cheap or free apps that can be downloaded for any smartphone.  Any of these can help you track your exercise and progress.  If you’re setting yourself the challenge of at least 10,000 steps a day, many apps will track this for you automatically.

5.    Get a coach or ‘spotter’.  No, that doesn’t have to mean a professional fitness coach (though that might work for you).  Rather, we’re talking about someone who will check on how you are doing.  One of the best ways to motivate us is social pressure.  If you can find someone who will hold your feet to the fire, that’s a great way to keep yourself in a good exercise routine.  Why not approach a friend and suggest you can motivate each other?

6.    Give yourself a bit of flexibility.  We all have busy lives, so you may not always be able to fit in the exercise you’d like each day.  That’s ok, but if you set yourself goals for the week, you can make this up at another time.  Alternatively, if you have a particularly good day (ran for 10 minutes longer than normal for instance), then you may be justified in taking it a little easier the next day.  Obviously, there is a limit; too much flexibility and you’re no longer doing any exercise!

7.    Give yourself rewards for exercise well done.  This doesn’t mean 8 pints as a reward for walking to the pub.  But within reason, giving yourself a reward, like a favourite food or drink is a important way of keeping you motivate.  This helps train your mind to see the exercise as leading to a positive outcome.

There are countless other ways we can motivate each other and ourselves.  Why not share your experiences with us via our Twitter feed?