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How do I motivate myself to exercise for brain health?

morning walk through the forest - how do I motivate myself to exercise?

How do I motivate myself to exercise for brain health?

One of the best things you can do for the preservation of your brain as you age is to exercise. Exercise helps to keep your blood vessels supple. [1] It can also reduce the speed of your resting heartbeat. Pumping blood around your body is good for your heart and especially good for your brain. But how do I motivate myself to exercise for the health of my heart and my brain?

The problem? 40 % of Australians do less than the recommended amount of exercise every week. [2] Across a range of developed countries, this number is a large proportion of the population. FYI the country that has the highest levels of exercise is Uganda.[3]

So how do I motivate myself to exercise?

If you are one of that 40 % who finds it difficult to exercise, it might be worth digging a little deeper to find out what is holding you back. A decent chunk of people who don’t exercise, find it hard to find the time to exercise around work commitments. [4] I totally understand this. An early bout of exercise can make your day a lot happier (due to the endorphins). However, it can be hard to find time in the morning. Work and study scream a lot louder in my experience.

Some good advice I found recently, is that it can be helpful to think about a time in your day when you normally have some time or a bit of a break.[5] It might BE in the morning before work, or perhaps you find your lunch hour is a time when you can repeatedly count on some time to yourself. For me, I find that I have free time in the evenings after work. It makes sense to exercise then because, without competing demands, it is less likely to shift down the priority list.

How much exercise is recommended?

The other thing to be aware of is that while the physical activity guidelines suggest 150 – 300 minutes of moderate activity each week. Or 75 – 150 minutes of vigorous activity [6]. This doesn’t have to happen all in one hit each day [5]. If you can find 15 minutes to begin with to do some aerobic exercise each day, this will add up over the week.

In Australia and many other countries, the most popular form of exercise is walking[7]. This is a great, low-cost activity that can be easily be attained incidentally. When you are on your way to work or to go out you can walk each day. The definition of moderate here is walking more than 4 km/hr or 2.6 miles per hour [8]. It is a great way to increase exercise in your day.

Motivate yourself with a form of exercise you enjoy

The point is to find something that you enjoy and that interests you. And don’t feel bad if you lose interest in a particular activity after a few weeks. It is simply an indication that you need to change things up a bit. [5]

I am personally finding that 15 minutes of fairly vigorous dancing in the evenings after dinner is the perfect routine for me to settle in to right now. If you can do 15 minutes a day for a while, then even increasing this by one minute a week to 16 minutes, once this has become a habit. And so on. It can gradually increase the amount of time you spend exercising and therefore the more protection for those precious blood vessels in your brain.

It might take longer than you expected to see changes in your body

Give yourself permission to enjoy your exercise. And if you are waiting impatiently for changes in your body, please note that it can take up to 12 weeks for changes in your body to occur [10]. So sticking with an exercise routine for a month or so, and getting discouraged because your body didn’t change, is bound to be disappointing. You will be more likely to give up at this point. Knowing that it can take longer to see changes, can help you to stay the distance.

You will become more motivated if you concentrate on how the exercise makes you feel. Even after a week or two, you should find that your mind is more fit and that you are remembering facts and figures easier. Focus on THESE benefits and the joy of movement. And try to make your exercise incidental and you are more likely to reach your targets.

Treat yourself and measurement is key

One last tip in the quest to find ‘How do I motivate myself to exercise?’ Something that can be really helpful is to build an ‘exercise chart’ so that you can note down how much exercise you do each week. If you reach your target be sure to treat yourself with something that you really want! It can be as simple as a spreadsheet with the days of the week in one column and the types of exercise in columns above. Simply Google ‘exercise chart’ to get some ideas.

References

  1. Greger M, and Stone, G, 2017, ‘How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease’, Pan Books, London.
  2. The Department of Health, 2017, ‘Research and Statistics’, health.gov.au, < https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-active-evidence.htm#:~:text=The%20National%20Health%20Survey%202014,combination%20of%20both%2C%20including%20walking) >
  3. Bruek, H, 2017, ‘Finland and Uganda are the world’s fittest countries — here’s what they do to stay in shape’, Business Insider, < https://www.businessinsider.com.au/worlds-fittest-countries-reeal-how-to-stay-in-shape-2019-4?r=US&IR=T >
  4. Ross, D, 2018, ‘Lazy Aussies wasting $1.8 billion on unused gym memberships’, News.com, < https://www.news.com.au/finance/money/costs/lazy-aussies-wasting-18-billion-on-unused-gym-memberships/news-story/6243cf35a8424a8dfa212ea17c1a0208 >
  5.  Harvard Health Letter, 2019, ‘Why we should exercise – and why we don’t’, Harvard Health Publishing, < https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/why-we-should-exercise-and-why-we-dont >
  6. Department of Health, 2019, ‘Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines and the Australian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines’, Australian Department of Health, < https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines >
  7. Heart.org, 2017, ‘Why is Walking the Most Popular Form of Exercise?’, Heart.org, < https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/walking/why-is-walking-the-most-popular-form-of-exercise >
  8. Bumgardner, W, 2020, ‘How Fast Is a Brisk Walking Pace?’, Very Well Fit, < https://www.verywellfit.com/how-fast-is-brisk-walking-3436887#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Centers%20for,is%203.5%20to%204%20mph. >

Image credits

“Morning Walk” by CreatographyBD is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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