Clever tricks to start exercising - and continuing with it

Clever tricks to start exercising - and continuing with it

Exercise provides many valuable health benefits for a person with rheumatic disease. But it can be really tricky to get started and persevere over time. Planning, lowering the threshold and anticipating pitfalls are good strategies to take.

Many scientific studies show that physical activity and exercise have positive effects on people with rheumatism. When you increase your fitness, strength and mobility, your ability to perform everyday activities also improves, and you improve your quality of life. Often pain also decreases, which may be due to physical activities starting the body's own pain relief system and increasing your body’s endorphin content. Research shows that the most important thing is not the activity you choose, but that you actually do something—preferably frequently and regularly.

Within motivational psychology, it is often described that there is a fundamental reason why you do something, and it determines whether you will continue or not. Anyone who performs an activity because it feels great and fun in the moment, will find it easier to create a sustainable and long-term habit. Anyone who performs something with a sense of obligation and that it is not really one's own will, will face more difficulties in creating a long-term habit.

Start small and increase slowly

Us humans are complex beings. Even if we know that exercise is good for us, it can be hard to put on our trainers and get moving. Getting started can be difficult, perhaps especially after a diagnosis when the body is not behaving exactly as before. Finding your motivation is the key to getting started. To create a long-term habit, it’s important to find tricks for those days when motivation is lacking.

Have you ever had big plans and goals that lasted about a week before you were back in your old ways? You're not alone. Most of the time, we are good at setting too high demands on ourselves that hinder rather than help us in the long run. Now it's time to rethink.

Changing habits takes time. A good idea is to start with small steps and not to make too big a change all at once. The key is to find something that is sustainable in the long run, something realistic. Here are some strategies tips to get you started!

Make room for your training. You cannot squeeze more hours into the day, so you have to set aside time for exercise. Sit down with your diary and find the time that suits you best. Do the afternoons work for you, or is it easier to go to the gym before work? Think “This is my time. I am doing this for my own sake. Exercise is medicine and I am devoting time to my body even if I cannot manage the sweatiest workout today.” It could be enough to add one or two activities a week, and then you can, if you want, gradually add more.

Lower the threshold and anticipate the pitfalls. Create the conditions you need to succeed. If you are not a morning person, it might not be a good idea to plan your workout before breakfast. Be honest with yourself and think about what is reasonable for you. Stuff happens. By anticipating the things that make you cancel your exercise, you can find strategies that allow you to still get some form of physical activity. The key is simply to plan for potential pitfalls and work out how you can avoid them. Remember the reasons why you want to exercise and the arguments that will get you going. Make it easy for yourself by packing your gym bag and a snack the night before.

Have a plan B—adapt to how you feel each day. Some days don’t go to plan. If you have RA, your body may not want to do what you first intended. Try to prepare for these setbacks in advance. Having a plan B up your sleeve is a success factor for getting physical activity into your routine. On those days when you’re not feeling at your best, it is easy to give up exercising completely and just think "I will not be able to run because I am in pain". You need to be smarter than your body and develop your plan B. Maybe a bike ride or a yoga class would work instead. Feel and think about what you can give the body. A key is to devote the time you set aside for exercise to your body, even if your body won’t let you do what you first planned.

Dealing with setbacks—do not be too hard on yourself. Your exercising will have its ups and downs in periods, just like life itself. But that’s okay! Instead of losing heart and thinking the race is over, take the time to reflect on why it turned out the way it did. Is there anything you can learn from? Maybe you were having a flare-up, maybe you planned too much, or maybe it was just one of those things. And then, get up and move on. Life is lived forward and it's about trying your hand.

References: 

Selected parts of the program "Physical activity - find your way" in the Elsa app. Do you want more inspiration and tips? Start following Elsa's program.

What would you like to learn more about in the subject of physical activity and exercise? Contact hanna@elsa.science with your wishes!

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