How I grew to love exercise as a habit
Without proper motivation, efforts to get fit are sure to fail. Sometimes, we do not know how to get started and often our daily life routines feel so crammed with a host of important and mundane stuff we need to accomplish, that the very thought of introducing some sort of fitness regime into our already busy daily schedule fills us with dread.
Yet, with all we hear in the media and from health professionals about the health risks posed by lack of regular exercise, we feel guilty about our lack of regular exercise. We continue to procrastinate, promising ourselves to do something about it but never quite finding the time do so and never getting to the point where we can honestly say that we exercise regularly. We tend to engage in sporadic exercise from time to time as our waist lines continue to thicken (well mine at least), paunches grow bigger, arms lose muscle and get flabby, single chins double and double chins triple and so on. Eventually, we resign ourselves to a new possibly grotesque body shape that bears little resemblance to the once fine svelte, toned and fine muscled human beings we once were and we tell ourselves ‘it is what it is’! Now, I know this might be a bit of an exaggeration but you catch my well intended drift. Exercise is vital to our health, our hearts, our vanity and possibly even our longevity.
How it all began
Much as I give the impression that I am a health and exercise freak, I am not really. Those who know me well will tell you this. I never really liked or enjoyed exercise. I found it too much of an imposition upon myself to look good for too much hard work. All that grunting and straining of muscles in the gym does not seem to me to be a natural way to live. But, I had to overcome my God-given dislike for any kind of discomfort, by learning to reprogram my mind and my perceptions around exercise in order to ensure that this was one of the few routines that I could stick with. I have never been and never will be a creature of forced habit or routine so I had to get my head and my heart around this mental obstacle of regular exercise if I was to stick at it with any success.
It was crucial that I did this, simply because it has always been my nature to shun anything that I couldn’t embrace with conviction or belief. The same applied to exercise in the sense that even if in my head I knew exercise was beneficial to me, I still wouldn’t embrace it as a habit if I didn’t induce my heart to embrace it as well. In other words, I had to convince my heart to follow my head. Sounds like the theme of a difficult romance but you get the picture. Perhaps, you can identify with this dilemma of forcing yourself to do something you don’t feel naturally inclined to do; like exercise for instance. So, I’d like to share how I transitioned from being apathetic about exercise to being extremely avid and enthusiastic about it.
First, I established in my head that exercise was good for me so I listed all the benefits I knew that exercise would offer me, like:
- Weight loss/weight management
- Better muscle tone
- Healthier heart /body
- Better sense of self image
- Peace of mind (well, some peace of mind at least)
All of the above were important to me and I realised that if I could only just stick with some regular form of exercise, I could achieve the goals I had identified as being important to me. Unless I was prepared to go under a surgeon’s scalpel, there was no other way to achieve these goals and even that was debatable. Would I achieve better health by going through plastic surgery? Nah! A better body perhaps but the results wouldn’t last long if I didn’t maintain with some form of regular exercise. I had better chances of maintaining good health through regular exercise, full stop!
For a while, I tried different exercise activities to see whether I would find my preference. I joined a tennis club in my local area but found that my knees would constantly flare up (one of the after effects I suffered from being on certain medication when I suffered chronic ill-health years back). The same thing happened when I tried regular jogging. My knees would flare up and my joints would become painfully inflamed. I sought medical attention and engaged the services of a chiropractor and was eventually advised to avoid forms of exercise that put pressure on my knee joints.
So, jogging and tennis were definitely out for me. I had always been registered at my local gym but at the time I rarely patronised it because of my punishing work schedule and the fact that when I did have free time, I preferred catching up on other important things like reading, researching, hanging out with friends or simply catching up on much needed sleep. Boy! Do I love to sleep! Besides, I found going to the gym rather boring and routinous so even though I used the gym from time to time, it was always a forced activity for me and I therefore couldn’t make it a routine I could stick with. I also decided to try out the variety of aerobic classes offered at my gym, but after a while, I just couldn’t pretend to enjoy jumping around to all that pretentious choreography (in my opinion). Sometimes I’d enjoy it but not enough to commit it to it long term. So, what could I get myself to commit to as regular exercise?
In the course of all this, I had developed severe back pain for which I was seeing a therapist and a neuro-surgeon who had suggested that I would need back surgery to remove a small cyst in my spinal discs that had been identified from MRI scans. I was open to surgery as a last resort since I was being seen by excellent specialists and trusted their opinion. Of course I also sought second opinions and the view was maintained that I would be better off getting the surgery over and done with. While in the process of contemplating this, a very close friend of mine, Alice Mbadiwe (pronounced mbaa-dee-way) who herself is an excellent personal trainer and fitness specialist (incidentally Alice will be guest blogging on the site) recommended that I try a form of yoga called Bikram.
Bikram or Hot Yoga
Many of you might be familiar with Bikram yoga and its benefits. I was at the time a complete novice and had never ever contemplated embarking on yoga as a form of exercise. I had certain misgivings about what I thought I knew or didn’t know about yoga practise and I didn’t want to get involved with all the ‘woo-woo’ stuff (in my opinion) that tended to be associated with all these ancient mystical practices. Perhaps my wisdom, perhaps my ignorance! Anyway, that was how I felt about these things at the time but given the severity of my back problems and the imminent possibility of surgery, I felt I had to give this form of yoga a try, especially since I did trust and value my friend Alice’s opinion as a friend and fitness enthusiast in her own right. She then arranged for us to attend a class together. Well, I can tell you, the Bikram yoga experience was quite unlike anything I had ever experienced. It was tortuous practising myriad impossible looking poses in a room heated like we were in hell’s preparation room (God forbid). It literally felt like hell and I fell in love with it! No, not hell, but the torture of Bikram itself. It felt like a punishment for sins yet unconfessed and I sweated profusely as if my redemption depended on it and it did, well the redemption of my back at least! I fell in LUURRVVE with bikram yoga and I had no reservations about signing up shortly after my initial taster session for more torture classes.
I never would have guessed I had it in me! I had found something to love and it happened to be a form of torture. Me! Who prior to this time hadn’t been able to commit to regular exercise because I found it too much boring and too much of a painful exertion; was now willingly committing to regular sessions of pseudo-hell! Well, that was life for you. The unpredictable always happens!
My reasons for yoga were never for meditation. Some people do it more for that reason, in which case they normally take up other forms of yoga that concentrate more on the meditative aspects. I practised and continue to practise bikram or hot yoga (as some variations of it are called), purely for the overall health benefits it provides and for the wonders it did for my back! And no there is no chanting! At least not in the classes I have participated in. Yoga practise is of course rooted in some sort of ancient belief and has its own followership of those adherent to that form of belief etc. I have never cared to explore that side of things. I just attend a class and avail myself of the benefits that the postures and the breathing techniques taught, provide me. Since taking up yoga, I have managed to avoid back surgery though I did have a relapse in the period that I had to discontinue yoga classes when for work reasons I moved base from London.
I initially took regular yoga classes at a studio near my home that tended to be patronised by high-profile clientele; minus me of course! On many occasions, I would be in the same class as some of these celebrities all sweating it out. Didn’t know their names but I would recognise their faces. I do remember though that for about a year, I regularly took some of the same yoga classes as the famous british actress, Helena Bonham Carter who genuinely happens to be one of my favourite british actresses. But within the heated confines of the studio, everyone was equal and there was no time to revel in star-struck awe as we were all focused on just surviving the 90 minute torture experience. It got me thinking that in ‘hell’, all are equal.
The particular yoga studio was set up by Michelle Pernetti who in her own right had gained celebrity status as the yoga practitioner who first brought Bikram yoga to the UK and enabled it to gain its level of popularity and reach in the UK. By virtue of my regular attendance at the Primrose Hill studios, I was fortunate to often participate in some of the bikram yoga classes that Michelle Pernetti herself instructed. She was an excellent instructor. Michelle Pernetti has since gone on to introduce a variation of Bikram yoga and her brand is now renamed and practised as Fierce Grace yoga.
That was a couple of years ago. I moved studios when I returned back to working in London and found a more specialist yoga and multi-disciplinary therapy centre even closer to my home. This centre offers all forms and variations of yoga and their brand of hot yoga involves the use of far infra-red heating which has even more superior benefits to the ordinary form of heat used in regular hot yoga. I will discuss the benefits of infrared based heating within the context of exercise, and my ‘blissful’ experience of it in a subsequent blog piece to be written soon. So, watch this space.
To continue with my story on the search for an exercise regime I could love and adopt as part of a routine; I had discovered hot yoga and I loved it. I do yoga between two to four times weekly depending on how busy I get during the week. But the important thing is, I genuinely strive to make time to do something I love and because I love it and appreciate it, I make time even when I am incredibly busy. So, apart from when I am abroad or in a location where I am not able to take a hot yoga class, I never skip the opportunity of a yoga class. I find the classes therapeutic and extremely detoxifying. I am better toned and my spinal alignment continues to improve as I increase stamina, improve posture and build core strength and stability. I have no desire to become a yoga guru or to perfect the art of contortionism and jaw-dropping flexibility. I simply want to give my body a chance to be healthy and to sweat the guilt out of me. So yes, yes, yes, I love hot yoga.
Classes are a bit pricey if you take individual classes at a time but its more cost effective (though still pricey by comparison with regular gym membership) if you do register for monthly rolling classes. Prices will vary based on the centre and the geographical location. Each class lasts for a punishing hour, an hour and a quarter, or even an hour and half. Whatever the duration, rest assured it will be a duration of torture but you will be well rewarded for it. Also, be prepared to sweat river loads so it is essential to be well hydrated with water or healthy liquids before, during and after a class. It is also advised not to eat heavily three hours before a class and you will know why if you make the mistake of being heavy with food when doing this class! A couple of times I made the horrendous mistake of having a meal too close to a class and felt awfully nauseous and lacking the energy to sustain the postures in the heat. I almost passed out.
In addition to discovering a love for hot yoga, I had also discovered a love for walking which was more of a cathartic experience than a real desire for physical exercise. Brisk walking however did help with my weight loss goals and I loved it, so this also became part of my routine. Walking provided me mental and creative inspiration in a way nothing else did. I found it conducive for airing out my thoughts, unwinding and reflecting on things that I might not have had the opportunity to do in depth, had I not embarked on these walks. Walking for me became a form of spiritual and not just physical exercise.
Spiritual because I was able to meditate prayerfully and also because some of the sharpest solutions and answers to issues literally would flash through my mind while walking, and with a conviction that was so rock solid that every doubt was eliminated. I‘d return home totally certain and at peace about things in a way I hadn’t been prior to my walk. Often while in the middle of walking and thoroughly engrossed, I would experience a sudden bombardment of lines and lines of words and thoughts which I had to quickly write down. I would find somewhere to sit, like in a park or at a bus stop or I would even literally stand on the spot and write down stuff using my phone’s notepad in order not to lose what was coming through to my head. This happened almost every time I went on a walk and I think that further heightened my love for walking because it made difficult things so much easier for me.
Another activity, I rather unwittingly included as part of my weekly exercise repertoire was dancing! Yes, dancing. I have always loved dancing and I love dancing away to all my favourite catchy dance tunes, through the R & B dance and soul hits of the 80’s, 90’s and contemporary tunes. I realised that I didn’t have to wait for a night out or a celebration to indulge in a good spot of dancing in the confines of my home. Remember, earlier I had mentioned about the aerobic classes I had attended at my local gym which for some reason never inspired me enough to want continue? Well, I decided that dancing to my own choice tunes in my own style was more enjoyable and just as energetic.
Thanks to my childhood and still good friend, Joyce Halliday Aboderin who remains one of the most stylish dancers on the dance floor that I have ever come across, I developed my love for dancing from Joyce’s sense of style and rhythm way back then. With her innate sense of rhythm, Joyce he taught us (her group of friends) rhythm, style and moves and how these were combined on a dance floor. So thanks to Joyce and perhaps myself too, I can honestly say I am a good and stylish dancer, even if I must say so myself. I decided to turn my home for at least an hour a few times a week into my dance arena (rather small one) but do I have fun!
I can’t cook, and I am not domesticated in any way, but I can dance! I would put on my favourite tracks and I would dance myself into a sweat with a feeling of complete exhilaration. I’d very easily dance for at least an hour if pressed for time and if not for about an hour and half and on some weekends, almost two hours. I’d feel thoroughly energised as well as enjoying myself. I easily burn about 450 to 700 calories or more. So, without too much strain, over a period of time I’ve found that with walking, yoga and dancing I manage to get my quota of exercise on a near enough daily basis and I don’t even have to force myself.
I burn off reasonable amount of calories and together with other other calorie burning tips which I will share with you in later on, I am able to keep the weight off without the need to diet. I my regular exercise activities maintains an active metabolism and stops my metabolism from getting sluggish which tends to happen as we grow older and if we live a sedentary lifestyle.
The bottom line is: Aim to enjoy
So, the moral to this story is that anyone can grow to love exercise, if you have in the past struggled with developing an exercise routine you can stick with. My suggestion based on my experience is to try out a number of exercise activities that you can engage in within your local area or even at home. Exercise DVDs might do it for you or it might be dancing, if like me you happen to love dancing. You don’t need to worry about your coordination or rhythm. No one’s watching so just dance for long enough to work up a good sweat! Your body naturally moves to the music. As the law of Inertia states, once in motion, objects continue in motion until exterior forces are present. Start dancing and you will not be able to stop! Dancing is a wonderful way to work out, and it’s fun too which is the whole idea. So, get going. Invest in some trendy or casual sport wear and start dancing your way to a fitter body, a healthier heart and watch those pounds melt away. This will keep you motivated to stick with it and you’ll be amazed at how enjoyable you find these exercise sessions.
For others, it might be the gym or exercise classes like aerobics, swimming, martial arts, yoga or something you particularly are interested in that can get the heart rate up for at least half an hour daily or three to five times a week. Later on, I’ll tell you about a rather new and exciting way of intensive exercise done at high intensity for short bursts at brief intervals of about twenty minutes. This accelerates your metabolism far better than conventional exercise methods and is also anti-aging. Yes, some forms of exercise actually may keep you fit bodywise, but cause an increase in the production of free radicals in the body which accelerate the aging process. I will explain further in another blog article.
Spend time discovering which forms of exercise you enjoy. Try incorporating these within your weekly routine and start without putting pressure on yourself if at first you struggle. Just keep trying to form a routine around the exercises that you do enjoy. These will provide you the benefit of keeping fitter than if you did nothing. Changing and rotating your workouts to include new activities is a great way to not become bored with your exercise plan. If you don’t want to abandon your workout program, think of ways to stay motivated. You will not lose interest in your routine if you keep it interesting. Never allow yourself to stop because you grow bored. It’s just too hard to get started again.
Learn to reward yourself
Rewarding yourself is an excellent way to look forward to exercising. You are not required to wait until you have reached your final goal to celebrate your accomplishments. Choose rewards with responsibility. Make your rewards simple and affordable. Mine is my favourite chocolate pack Minstrels which is not responsible I know but what the heck. One simple bar of chocolate is a small price to pay for the torture I put myself through each week. When choosing a reward, you should ensure it is one that has ‘value’ to you and simple to get. In my case, chocolate does have value to me –the pleasure of me savouring its velvety smoothness with my tastebuds. Delicious!
Don’t just concentrate on the work in working out. There are many different ways to make your workout routine more fun. With the tips already outlined above, you should be able to make exercising a fun experience. Drop me a line to let me know how you get on or to share your tips to encourage others.
From my heart to yours, always