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Wellness Article


You’ve finally sorted out a routine that works for you, but what happens when lockdown lifts and your free time disappears? Experts reveal how to stay committed.

Over the past month, for the first time in my life, I have finally committed to a regular exercise routine: every weekday morning before work, I get up and do a half-hour circuit of cardio, bodyweight and weighted exercises before starting the day.

There’s a simple reason for this new-found motivation: time. The coronavirus pandemic that currently has the UK under lockdown, means - without commutes or post-work drinks - we have a whole lot of extra time on our hands.

And I’m not the only one who has found a new workout groove. If my Instagram feed is anything to go by, people are using their daily outside exercise allocation to start running and fitness studios have started to offer free live-streamed workouts to their followers.

But, what will happen once things tick back to normal? When the lockdown ban is eventually lifted and we return to a semblance of how life was, with hour-long commutes, 6am wake-up calls and barely any time in the evenings to rustle up a home-cooked meal?

How to create a new exercise routine and turn it into a habit.

Tamara Willner, a nutritionist at Second Nature - a healthy eating plan that aims to 'rewire' bad habits - says the best way to create a lasting exercise habit is to start small and tie the habit to a ‘trigger’.

Willner continues: “A habit can be compared to a skill - it takes time to develop and the more you practise it, the more natural it feels. A trigger acts as a cue and tells our brain to go into automatic mode.

“For example, if your end goal is to practise 30 mins of yoga every day, start small by allocating five minutes every day to do some stretching. Make sure you tie it to the same trigger each day, which could be making your bed in the morning. That way, each morning your brain will respond to the trigger of making your bed and you’ll feel compelled to practise stretching. When this practice feels almost automatic you can build on the behaviour, such as stretching for 10 minutes or following a 15-minute online yoga class, until you reach your goal.”

Jordan Lue, personal trainer at luxury London-based gym group, Third Space, says you need to consider the variables and ‘moving parts’ when adding a fitness routine into your lifestyle.

He continues: “Social media for one, is swamped with ideas and how-to’s to achieve common fitness and exercise goals. This sometimes leads people to over-analysing and suffering from ‘paralysis by analysis’.

“In my experience, a good way to get started is to break down the end-goal by targeting small wins along the way. If you would like to run 5km, for example, but it is a little beyond your reach at the moment. It may be that we break down the distance into digestible pieces. Maybe in week one we target running for five minutes at any pace, without stopping. As time goes on, you may find that running for eight minutes without stopping is possible. You already have two wins and maybe without realising, you have formed the ‘habit’ of exercising, despite previously not knowing how to best get started.”

How to stick to your exercise routine once lockdown lifts.

Willner suggests using this time during lockdown as an opportunity to practise these habits, increasing the likelihood they will stick when things return to normal.

She adds: “If you’ve been enjoying running or cycling during lockdown, consider using these methods to get into work if you live within a reasonable distance. If you live farther away from work, you could always take public transport half of the way and run or cycle the rest. Similarly, if you’ve been practising exercise in your home, consider keeping the same triggers but waking up slightly earlier - even if this means going to bed 30 minutes earlier the night before.

“Enjoying the exercise that we do is so important in forming the habit, so if you’ve found a new form of exercise that you enjoy, why not join a class when things go back to normal? For example, if you’re currently practising yoga in your living room and enjoying it, you could think about joining a gym that offers yoga classes or a yoga studio once lockdown is over.”

Lue adds that he’s noticed a strong sense of community during lockdown - something that will be ‘crucial’ for us to lean on once we head back to our normal routines.

He continues: “If you haven’t already, maybe consider reaching out to friends and family. Seek out social media groups, with like-minded people where you can both network and keep one another accountable. After all, motivation may fluctuate but if you have some friends right beside you, we should be able to achieve the goals we’ve set.

“When the lockdown eventually passes, I can imagine that work and family life will become extra busy as we play catch-up with normality. This, however, shouldn’t get in the way of our fitness goals. Now more than ever, our time management will be challenged. I would suggest keeping a diary or using your smartphone to help keep you accountable. Find slots in your day where there is a little less to do and try to set an alarm or reminder for small wins. It could mean, walking, running or cycling to the office. Ensuring that by lunchtime, you have hit a target step-count. Maybe even heading to bed 15 minutes earlier for that run in the morning. It won’t always be easy, but with some preparation, it should definitely help.”

How to stay motivated to stick to your exercise routine.

“Psychologists have determined two different types of motivation that explain our behaviours and how we pursue goals: intrinsic (from the inside) and extrinsic (from the outside),” Willner explains.

“An example of extrinsic motivation is exercising to lose weight so we can look better in our clothes. An example of intrinsic motivation is exercising because we feel energised and calm after a workout. Research has shown that extrinsic motivation only keeps us motivated in the short term, and we need to shift into intrinsic motivation to achieve long term results.”

Willner adds that the key to finding intrinsic motivation is to pick an exercise you enjoy doing and reflect on the internal benefits.

She continues: “If you hate running, then don’t do it! There are hundreds of ways to move your body more, including boxing, cycling, dancing, HIIT exercises, or yoga. Next time you do a workout, focus on how you feel during and after the workout - you might have more energy or notice that you sleep better that night.

“Everyone’s unique and there’s no one size fits all approach when it comes to how much we exercise. A good goal to build up to is to move your body at least once a day, whether that’s a walk, yoga, or a full workout. Consider practising more intense exercise that increases your heart rate one to three times a week. When you find an exercise you enjoy, you’ll want to do it more often.”

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