Richard Beddie is chief executive of Exercise NZ.
OPINION: It’s 2023 already. And with the New Year come the New Year’s Day resolutions. One of the most popular of those is increasing physical activity, with about three-quarters of people who make a resolution setting their sights on moving more.
While some of that might be associated with the hangovers and extra kilos that follow Yuletide indulgences, for many the motivation is to improve their mental health. Research Exercise NZ commissioned a couple of years ago showed 61% of people who wanted to start exercising cited better mental health as the reason.
So why is it that there’s a queue outside the gym in January, but by mid-February you can take your pick of exercise stations?
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One reason might be that people’s resolutions are just too ambitious.
While it’s great to aim high, the old saying that you need to learn to walk before you can run isn’t just a metaphor – it’s also good advice in a literal sense.
How much exercise do we need? Not as much as you might think. According to the World Health Organisation, the level of exercise needed to significantly improve your physical and mental health is just two-and-a-half hours per week of low to moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of moderate to intense exercise.
As always, something is better than nothing. Beginning with a walk after work twice a week and increasing that throughout the year might be the option that works best for you. The key is consistency. Develop a routine and stick to it. And if you slip up? That’s OK, just start again.
Exercise can be informal, such as playing tag with you children for half an hour in the evening, walking to work instead of driving, or making use of the facilities in your local park. This is physical activity that is less structured but also less intimidating for people who are starting to exercise for the first time – or the first time in a while.
Others find structure provides extra motivation. Joining a yoga class, a gym class, or a local football competition can give you the support you need (via a bit of positive peer pressure) to get up and at it when you’re not in the mood. Join with a friend and you’ll improve your social health – as well as your chances of sticking to your new routine.
Pick an activity you enjoy. Maybe a sport or recreation you liked when you were younger could provide a pathway back to regular physical activity. Try as many as you can, until you find the one that works for you.
But how energised and optimistic do you feel as you grapple with this and other resolutions? The nightly TV news brings the usual lineup of Covid, the war in Ukraine, a looming recession, and climate change. Mentally, it can all start to build up.
In the spirit of the season, we at Exercise NZ have made some resolutions of our own. Over the coming year, we’ll be working on new ways to encouraging more Kiwis to be physically active through exercise. But whether it’s formal or informal, structured or unstructured, fast, or slow, we hope this is your year to move a little more.