When we think about physical fitness and health we tend to think about needing to have a good, healthy, balanced diet, and getting more exercise - and that's really important. But it's not the whole story. The biggest barrier to getting fitter is often in our minds - and can be emotional or psychological. We know that we should be changing our behaviour, but it can be so hard to do it. To be really motivated to eat more healthily, to get more exercise, the perceived benefits need to outweigh the perceived barriers. We need real enjoyment or satisfaction from whatever activity we choose, and to feel confident that even though it may be a challenge, we can master that activity (Biddle & Mutrie, 2008). If we feel at the outset that we'll definitely fail, we're unlikely to even try. There are many barriers to exercise, and for some people the barriers are really hard to overcome. Many people can lack confidence, and feel uncomfortable going to big gyms full of young, beautiful people. They make it all look so simple, don't they? It's easy to feel intimidated, and that you'd never be able to do that. I can find them quite intimidating myself, and I'm a personal trainer, so how bad must it be for somebody who's unsure of their physical abilities?
At the moment many people have put some weight on, as over lockdown it's been more tempting than ever to comfort eat. Body image issues are a huge barrier to exercise, especially when those young, beautiful people look so good in their gym clothes. Some people just don't like exercise and have never found anything that's actually fun. They don't want to lift weights, or run on a treadmill. Many people may have had bad experiences at school, always being picked last, the PE teacher repeatedly telling you how useless you are - in front of everyone else, of course!
But here's the thing - you don't have to be like those young, beautiful people to be able to do and enjoy exercise (and remember, they won't be young and beautiful for ever, either!). I'm very definitely not one of them, but I can and do keep fit, and even more importantly, I enjoy it. I think most of us have days when we don't feel as motivated to do that workout, to go for that run - but once you start (or on some days, maybe not until you finish!) you really do feel better for it, so it's worth making the effort. You'll have earned the right to feel just a little bit smug that you've got off the sofa and gone and done something active! It's important not to compare ourselves to others, but just to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.
It's taking the first step that's vital, and deciding that the benefits are worth it. And once you do, you'll find that as you feel fitter and healthier, you'll start to feel happier, and more motivated to carry on - those endorphins will kick in, you'll have a sense of mastery from achieving your fitness goals, and your self-confidence will improve. It's important to develop a 'growth mindset' (Mueller and Dweck, 1998), so that instead of saying “I'll never be able to do that”, you say “I can't do that yet, but if I keep trying I will be able to”. This is where you need more than just a gym membership or personal trainer, because it's not simply about telling you what exercises to do. Remember - it's your mind that needs training, too! You need somebody who can support you on every step of your fitness journey, encourage you, help you keep the motivation going - congratulate you when you achieve, help you bounce back when you haven't had such a good day. It's why I talk to my clients to find out what their hopes and aims are, what barriers they have, how they're feeling about themselves, what they enjoy or hate doing - no point insisting on dozens of v sits if you hate those, there are other exercises that use those muscles! Find activities that you enjoy, so that you look forward to it. It's no surprise that enjoyment increases motivation!
Once you're motivated to get more active, it will also help you maintain a healthier diet - less time to think about food if you're physically active, plus more motivation to eat well when you're seeing the benefits of being fitter.
So, no - physical fitness isn't all about exercise and diet, although those are important. Our minds and bodies work together, and we need to look after both in order to maintain our physical and psychological health and wellbeing. You just need to take that first step - and it's your mind that does that for you!
Biddle, S.J.H. & Mutrie, N. (2008). Psychology of Physical Activity, determinants, wellbeing and interventions. 2nd Edition. Oxon: Routledge.
Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75(1), 33-52. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.199