So you’re convinced of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise. Maybe you’ve read my article on the miraculous effects of ‘cardio’. But you can’t figure out how to best fit cardiovascular exercise into your life. Read on!
Let’s state the obvious first, and get that out that way. If you happen to love an active sport, or you love exercise classes or running — that’s what you need to do more of. Just be sure that you are getting pleasantly out of breath for half an hour at a time. Standing around in a field watching a ball get kicked or thrown about will not get you fit!
But what if you don’t enjoy any of these things, and really struggle to get any kind of cardiovascular exercise? What if you hate gyms and feel stupid wearing shorts, and you don’t like to play any kind of sport?
That’s where exercising at home comes in. Now, in theory, a skipping rope is all you need to exercise at home. Skipping, if you enjoy it, can be a great cardiovascular exercise.
However, some people find skipping a little tedious. The worst thing about it is that it’s also noisy. If you live in a flat, your downstairs neighbours will not thank you for taking up skipping!
Fortunately there are other solutions. Two of the best machines for indoor exercise are:
Exercise bikes need no introduction; however, be sure to buy one with magnetic resistance so that you can smoothly adjust the resistance level of the pedals. Exercise bikes with friction-based resistance are unbelievably annoying and will put you off exercising.
You may not be familiar with my personal favourite option, cross-trainers. These are machines that allow you to sort of “run” on the spot almost silently and with a gentle cycling motion, while also allowing you to exercise your arms via bars that you can push backwards and forwards.
Some people like the arm bars, but personally I stick to using the pedals. I think the arm bars are really a bit of a gimmick, allowing these machines to be marketed, quite fairly, as a ‘whole body’ exercise machine. While you can tone your arm muscles somewhat using these machines, it is much more efficient to tone your arms separately through exercises such as press-ups; just a few press-ups every other day will really help to improve your muscle tone. Well — that’s my opinion at least; what I mean is, you might find that you enjoy these machines far more if you leave the arm bars alone, and if so — don’t worry about it.
Don’t Give Up: Find the Right Path
Even with one of these machines in your house, it can be hard to get round to exercising. Do everything you can to make it easier and more enjoyable. Buy an mp3 player and load it with the fastest-paced, most listenable music you can obtain. Make sure you’ve got 45 minutes free every other day (30 minutes for exercising, 15 to change and shower). If you’re too tired to exercise after work, think about getting up a little bit earlier and exercising in the morning, possibly after a coffee if you’re a coffee drinker.
Remember that exercising will seem difficult at first if you’re not used to it. Start slowly, focus on developing a regular habit and congratulate yourself if you can even manage five minutes every other day at first. Build up your exercise time gradually. Always start with five or ten minutes of slow exercise; enjoy the music you’re listening to, and once you feel warmed up, allow the music to coax you into increasing the intensity.
Try to avoid falling into the classic trap where you start by thinking “I’ll do 30 minutes of hard exercise every other day”, followed by “I can’t do this 30 minutes of hard exercise, so I won’t do any”. Accept that it will take time to get into the habit of exercising regularly, and that you may have to build up slowly.
Always be thinking of ways you can make it easier for yourself to get down to exercising, and ways you can make exercising more enjoyable while you’re doing it. Don’t be afraid to be creative and to experiment, to find what works for you. For me, listening to face-paced carefully-selected music while “running” on a cross-trainer does the trick. For some people, playing a sport regularly works. For others, indoor cycling while watching their favorite TV program is the key. Some people enjoy the challenge of running outdoors, trying to go a little further every week. Some people would rather die than go running outside. Either way you can find a way of exercising that works for you.
Figure out what you have to do to get that 30 minutes of being active and breathing fast at least every other day, and don’t be discouraged if your initial attempts don’t work out. The benefits of cardiovascular exercise (in sharp distinction to many other forms of exercise) are so great that your efforts will be repaid manyfold in ways that you might not even be able to imagine at the moment, and regular exercise really will help you lose weight, even if you’ve previously found losing weight impossible.
Don’t start believing that you’re “one of those people who are no good at exercising”. There are no such people, except for people who have extremely serious health problems that literally mean they can’t exercise. The first time I got on a cross-trainer, I stayed on it for about ten minutes and got off thinking “that thing feels like Hell”. The first time I ran, I lasted about a minute (no exaggeration!) and then had to stop because my legs hurt. Now I love cross-trainers and I love to run.
What you have to understand is, most people can’t suddenly start exercising hard for 30 minutes at a time, anymore than most people can suddenly start playing nursery rhymes on a piano without having touched a piano before. Playing nursery rhymes on a piano is easy; running is also easy, but you can’t do either without some practice.
So go easy on yourself; break down your forthcoming exercise regime into steps along these lines:
- Figure out how to find 45 minutes free every other day when you’re not totally flaked out
- Figure out what kind of cardiovascular exercise you can potentially do, taking into consideration your personality and lifestyle
- Start doing some minimal amount of exercise, regularly
- Gradually build up to 30 minutes at least every other day
Write down a series of steps like this for yourself if you need to. Identify every single thing that presents a barrier to you exercising, and figure out ways you can overcome it. Is boredom while exercising a problem? Is self-consciousness the difficulty? Is lack of time and energy what stops you? You can figure out ways of dealing with these kinds of problems. Pat yourself on the back every time you learn to handle a new step in the sequence. If you fall off the rails and stop altogether, figure out what went wrong, try to do something about it and try again.
Don’t waste time feeling bad about not exercising. Figure out why you’re not exercising now, and write down small practical steps towards changing the situation bit by bit. Have courage and above all patience with yourself, and be systematic! Rome was not built in a day; that does not mean however, that Rome was not worth building.
Getting into a regular exercise habit in fact tends to follow the same pattern as learning anything new, or adapting to any new situation. Ease of exercising tends to follow a sort of exponential curve. That is, it’s very, very difficult at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets. Doing it regularly is what most people find most difficult; that’s why I suggest starting by doing a very little exercise regularly — a “token amount”. If you can do even one minute on an exercise bike, let’s say, three times a week for a month, you’ve cracked the hardest part and you can build up from there.
Ironically it’s the the fact that exercising once for one minute is relatively easy that actually makes it hard, in a sense. Doing an easy but unusual thing regularly is actually very hard; you struggle to make yourself take it seriously. “Five minutes on a treadmill? That won’t do me any good.”, you think to yourself. Be assured that getting into a regular exercise habit, even one that initially involves only a minute or two of actual exercising, is the really hard challenge that you have to focus all your efforts on cracking.
Believe me, I speak from experience. I’ve always hated team sports and I used to believe that exercise for the sake of exercise was a waste of time. I was the fat, non-sporty child at school, and I could not stop eating sugary snacks even for a day. I never drank anything that didn’t have sugar in it, and wild horses could not have dragged me into a gym. These days I still don’t like team sports, but I’m thin, I exercise regularly most of the time and I can take or leave sweet things; mostly I leave them, because I know that refined sugar is basically a chronic poison and I have cured my cravings for it. If I can do it, you can do it.