If you’ve ever kicked off a new exercise regime with excellent intentions, only to have it go off the rails shortly after, you already know the hardest part of improving your fitness is sticking at it long enough to see and feel the results.
There are so many things that can derail your fitness routine, from being laid low by a cold to caring for a new grandchild or partner.
But regular exercise offers so many benefits – better bone, cardiovascular and brain health, weight loss, increased energy, greater motivation to live a healthy lifestyle and a reduced risk of chronic disease to name just a few – that it’s really important not to let failed exercise regimes of the past put you off giving it another go.
That’s why Starts at 60 worked with Fernwood Fitness, Australia’s first and largest group of female-only fitness clubs, to nail down the secrets of sticking to a fitness program – all based on the experiences of real Australian women.
There’s nothing like making a date with a mate to ensure you get to the gym even when you don’t feel like working up a sweat. That’s how Amanda and Yolanda, both Fernwood members in Canberra, ensure they’re motivated to exercise regularly and put their best effort in each time they work out.
“Working out with a buddy has changed the way I view workouts,” Yolanda says of her exercise sessions with Amanda, who she met through work many years ago. “Our strengths complement each other and motivation is shared. It’s not just a workout but a social event.”
Amanda says that working out with Yolanda means she’s more likely to try out new ways of getting fit.
“The gym can be a little intimidating and joining with a friend will be a great introduction to help you feel more comfortable,” Amanda explains.
“The hardest part of any class is walking through the door, so if you have someone to walk in with you, it might make it a little easier.”
The experts say Amanda and Yolanda are right about the valuable role a friend can play in helping you stick to a fitness program.
A 2016 study found that having a gym buddy increased the amount of exercise study participants did, and the results were even better when the buddies offered each other emotional support and encouragement, in addition to being reliable when it came to turning up for exercise sessions. Another study from 2018 showed that older adults were more likely to stick to an exercise regime when they worked out with people of a similar age.
If you don’t have a friend keen to kickstart a new fitness plan with you, taking the initiative and joining a gym can help you find one. Many gyms have social clubs that organise fun, non-gym events for members. Fernwood, for example, has a members’ lounge where you can drop in any time for a cuppa with other members, as well as walking groups that pound the pavement together. (By the way, research shows that older adults who exercise as a part of a walking group are more likely to stay on their exercise program.)
And once you attend the same group fitness class a few times in a row, you’re almost guaranteed to get chatting with other members who are also regulars – then, before you know it, you’ve got some gym buddies!
A 2016 study by psychologists found that people who were able to identify an ‘intrinsic reward’ they received from exercising were more likely to stick to their regime.
What constitutes an intrinsic reward isn’t the same for everyone; it could be that you enjoy the endorphin high exercise creates, or that exercising with a friend makes it an enjoyable social experience. (Endorphins are chemicals that your body releases when you exercise, which react with receptors in your brain to give you a positive feeling!)
When you recognise an intrinsic reward in exercising, you’re more likely to respond automatically to whatever your ‘cue’ is to exercise, the psychologists say. This could be the alarm that wakes you up to hit the gym or knowing that you head straight to the gym each time you finish work or another regular activity.
It’s important to note that intrinsic rewards aren’t the same as exercising for a goal, such as weight loss; when you’re exercising for a goal, your cue doesn’t prompt the same automatic behaviour. Instead, you still have to make an intentional decision to exercise. That doesn’t mean goals are bad, though, as we explain later in the story.
Kellie found her reward in seeing visits to her local Fernwood Fitness in Melbourne as an escape to a haven where she was supported by other women just like her.
“I chose Fernwood to help me find the fit, healthy and glowing me again after being a single mum and for many years not having enough time or money to look after myself,” she says.
“I feel like I have a safe place to push myself and know I won’t be judged by setbacks in food choices. I know Fernwood is there for me to work hard or escape in a yoga class when needed. It’s also my ‘me’ time place!”
As a busy single mother and full-time worker, Kellie hadn’t exercised for a long time before joining the gym, but Fernwood caters to members who haven’t exercised recently or even at all, by offering all new joiners a one-one-one session with a fitness coach to create a personalised exercise program and help you begin your fitness journey.
As we mentioned above, researchers say that exercising with a goal in mind doesn’t cause you to automatically obey your regular cue to exercise – you have to decide each time that your goal is something you want to dedicate the time to work toward.
But a 2017 study did find that having a meaningful goal made older adults more motivated to exercise. Once those goals were achieved, however, activity levels fell, which indicates that you need to keep setting new targets to stay motivated. In other words, sticking to an exercise regime is easier if you set yourself a series of mini-goals you can challenge yourself to reach.
That’s what Jeanette Watt, a Fernwood member in Geelong, found when she decided to get fit in time for turning 50. She signed up for one of Fernwood’s 12-week challenges, a special program the gym group offered to help people achieve their fitness goals within a set timeframe.
“I had weight I wanted to lose, and by committing to the challenge and having my progress tracked, I had to stick to the plan. I’m delighted to have exceeded my weight loss goal and reduced my body fat – and I have muscle definition I never thought possible,” Jeanette says of her 12-week challenge experience.
“When I signed up I decided to give it 100 per cent, and to see it through until the end … I learnt that, physically and mentally, I’m capable of much more than I ever thought. A lot of the challenges were as much about having the right attitude as they were about the physical requirements.”
If you find your own motivation to hit a target slipping, finding a fitness club that offers online support can help because that means a quick look at your smartphone or laptop will remind you why it’s worth working hard toward an outcome – even when the going gets tough. For example, Fernwood has Facebook and Instagram pages with plenty of information and conversation, as well as programs designed to offer you extra support during your fitness journey.
Jeanette says that during the challenge, her Fernwood personal trainer Vicki also made sure to keep introducing new ways to extend Jeanette’s range of exercise and keep her interest levels high. “[She] opened my eyes to how much more I can do,” Jeanette says.
At Fernwood, we are for every woman. No matter your age, gym experience or fitness levels, we’re here to help you achieve your health and fitness goals. Plus, if you join us during our Zero Joining Fee sale, you can save up to $199! But hurry, this offer is available for a limited time only.
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