Whether you’re looking to refocus on your exercise routine to help reach a specific goal, or are hoping to start living a healthier lifestyle, finding ways to exercise in your already busy schedule can be tough. Not to mention ensuring you’re in the right place mentally to move past the initial excitement and create a sustainable routine that works for you.

It can be easy to fall into the ‘New Year, new you’ mentality. As a new year approaches, setting resolutions can feel uplifting, encouraging, and like a big motivator. What better way to start the year, than with a big change? But the thing is, this all-or-nothing mentality can be more harmful than good.

According to research, just 16% of us stick to our New Year’s resolutions. Experts believe that this is often due to us focusing on a specific outcome – “I’ll reach X weight next year!” or “I want to be a size X by this time next year!” This can result in us treating our goal as a sprint rather than a marathon, meaning we ignore or underestimate the time, effort, willpower, and continued effort we need to put in to turn our end goals into an attainable, achievable, sustainable process.

Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist and Hypnotherapy Directory member, Morag Stevenson, explains more.

“A resolution is a new habit that we want to create. To make your resolution stick, you need to understand how to shift a new habit from a wishy-washy thing that might or might not happen to a firmly rooted routine in your life. What could make the difference? What could help you not only start a new habit but stick to it? Be precise, be clear, and be realistic.”

So before you get started on your journey to exercising more, it’s worth asking yourself: Why do I want to do this? What do I hope to achieve? And how am I going to measure my success? Having smaller, attainable milestones towards a larger goal can be a big help in keeping motivation high.

Why is exercising important?

Exercise is essential at every stage of our lives. Regular physical activity can improve your physical and mental health, reduce your risk of developing serious health conditions, help you to manage, maintain, or gain weight, as well as strengthening your bones and muscles. Exercising can lower your risk of early death by up to 30% according to the NHS. And best of all? It doesn’t have to cost a thing.

Regular exercise provides a huge range of benefits. From boosting your self-esteem, mood, overall energy levels, and quality of sleep, to reducing your risk of stress, clinical depression, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and dementia – exercise can feel intimidating, but the benefits are substantial.

It’s recommended that adults try to do something active every day. Over the course of a week, we should aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity. This can include anything, from walking or cycling, to taking part in sports, following exercise videos online, or even joining a class or gym. As long as your heart rate becomes raised, you breathe faster and feel warmer, it counts as moderate-intensity exercise.

With more and more of us leading sedentary lifestyles due to desk jobs, relaxing while sitting or laying down with the TV or PC, or even relying on the car for shorter and shorter journeys, many of us are at increased risk. No matter what your motivation, moving to improve your exercise habits and incorporate them into your day-to-day life is more important now than ever.

Unsure how to get started? We answer your top questions on how to exercise.

How to exercise for beginners

Starting slow and building up gradually is key. If you throw yourself in at the deep end, it can be easy to overdo things, become disheartened, or even cause accidental injury. This can make you less likely to develop good exercise habits, as it can feel like you are struggling at the first hurdle.

Generally speaking, it’s recommended that 30-40 minutes of exercise at a time is a good amount of time for a beginner. However, doing what works for you is what really matters. If a 10-20 minute workout is what you feel able to complete, that is far better than skipping exercise entirely. Take regular breaks, give yourself time to rest and recover between activities, and gradually work up to longer or higher intensity.

Healthline shares their free one-week exercise programme you can do at home without any equipment, or check out this shorter 20-minute workout designed for beginners.

How to exercise without going to the gym

Exercising doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. While going to the gym can be helpful for many, others find a gym setting to be intimidating, have difficulty making time to get there or find the cost to be prohibitive.

Despite nearly a quarter (23%) of us having a gym membership, just 12% of us use our memberships regularly. Going to the gym may seem like the default option for incorporating exercise into your routine, but it doesn’t have to be.

“Doing something different that you actually like is key.” Personal trainer Tally Rye explained to Happiful’s I Am. I have podcast. “Focusing on how we feel rather than how we look is most important.”

Intuitive movement, an offshoot of the intuitive eating movement (a non-diet approach to eating and developing a healthier relationship between food, mental health, and physical health), focuses on helping people have a good relationship with exercise.

“[Intuitive movement] can help improve confidence and self-esteem. We know it can help manage and reduce the potential risk of developing depression as well as managing depression. These things are just not marketed to us at all. The only things we see with fitness are before and after photos.”

Tally Rye explains more about intuitive movement and changing the fitness narrative

Intuitive movement isn’t the only option. Try a variety of different activities and sports to find what you most enjoy and what works for you. If you enjoy something, you’re more likely to make time (and less likely to make excuses). Consider running in your local park or joining a beginner's running group, cycling, or swimming. If you think a level of accountability could help to motivate you, sign up for a class like yoga or pilates to help you get started.

How to exercise at home (with or without equipment)

If you’re starting out at home, you can still exercise without spending a fortune on big, bulky equipment. Simple (and cheap) options like having a skipping rope, yoga mat using a balance ball can be a great place to start. Or if you’d like to expand your home equipment a little bit more, you can often pick up great deals on barely used second-hand equipment like weights, benches, rowing and cycling machines.

If you’re looking for quick at-home exercises that don’t require equipment, the NHS has shared a number of 10-minute free workout videos for cardio, strength and balance, as well as warm-down stretches. You can watch these or access the transcripts through Better Health.

How to exercise regularly with a busy schedule

Making time for exercise can be tough - but there are small changes you can make. If you’re a commuter, getting off the bus, tube or train one stop earlier can help start your day off right.

Switching from driving to cycling, or parking further away from your work and taking the stairs instead of the lift can be small ways to get your heart rate going. Shake up the school run by switching to walking together; this can not only help you to get moving but can open up the opportunity to talk together.

Take your lunch break in full and get away from your workplace. Try going on a lunchtime walk, run, cycle, or even fit in a quick class if there is one nearby. Doing so with a workout buddy can offer extra motivation and support on the days you might be struggling or tempted to give things a miss.

Multitask during your evening relaxation time. Instead of sitting or laying down to catch the latest must-watch series, try simple exercises like squats or lunges, or even use an exercise bike while you watch. If TV isn’t your thing, listening to a podcast can be another great way of enjoying your exercise time.

Ensure that you’re getting enough sleep. It can be tempting to push yourself to get up earlier or stay up later to try and cram in extra exercise, but sleep is vital to maintaining our mental and physical health and wellbeing.

As one therapist explains on Counselling Directory, “Poor quality sleep makes it more difficult to function fully. There can be no doubt in the power of sleep to help us repair, recover and rejuvenate our minds and bodies. We are at greater risk of physical and mental ill-health if we don’t get around seven hours of sleep a night. Getting a good night’s sleep is as important for us as healthy eating and exercise.”

How to exercise without losing weight

When it comes to exercise, despite the marketing narrative we often see pushed, weight loss isn’t always the goal. If you’re looking to exercise without losing weight, it’s important to ensure you are eating healthy, nutritious foods to replace the energy you are burning.

As you develop a sustainable, healthy exercise routine, you may naturally begin to build and tone your muscles. This in itself can help counter weight loss. Focusing on strength training workouts and ensuring you are eating enough protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats can support increases in muscle mass, as muscle is more dense than fat.

Find out more about the types of exercise you should focus on (and which to avoid), as well as how working with a nutritional professional can help you to manage and maintain your weight in a healthy, sustainable manner.

How to maintain an exercise routine

Creating healthy habits that stick can be a challenge. Counselling Directory member and counsellor Samantha Flanagan (BA Hons, PGDDP, Registered member of BACP) explains more.

“The important part of developing new, healthy habits is to make them a part of your lifestyle rather than a quick fix to get that ‘beach body’. How can you develop a new healthy habit that becomes so ingrained into your everyday life that it becomes as automatic as brushing your teeth in the morning?”

Habit stacking can be one way to hack into your existing routine, and help you to make new, healthier lifestyle choices a priority. Habit stacking essentially means looking at your current routines and habits, and figuring out ways you can turn these habits into triggers to help incorporate exercise. This could be something small - “I will do five minutes of stretching before I get in the shower each morning,” to get you started, or something bigger once you get going - “I will take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator whenever I have the option.”

Ensuring you incorporate exercise into your day every day can also increase your chances of success, as can reinforcing good behaviours with a reward – just make sure that reward isn’t a day off from exercising. Just as giving ourselves food-based rewards can inadvertently make us crave unhealthy foods more and fall into a yo-yo dieting mindset, so too can making your reward be a day off from your routine. The key to maintaining a healthy, sustainable exercise routine is to see it as a lifestyle change, not a temporary activity to reach a single end goal.

Need support? Connect with a nutritional professional using Nutritionist Resource, consider working with a health or wellness coach using Life Coach Directory, find out how working with a hypnotherapist can help you to make changes for good using Hypnotherapy Directory, or enter your postcode in the search bar below to find a qualified, experienced therapist near you using Counselling Directory.