Until around a month ago I did not value long periods of low intensity exercise.
Now it’s the most important daily habit I have.
With a competitive personality, the gym used to be somewhere I looked to push myself as hard as possible for maximum results. The efficiency of my efforts trumped enjoyment every time (I did a lot of HIIT/ Tabata). Now my approach could not be more different.
And it’s had a read across to other areas of my life (more on that below).
The main goal I now have is to ensure my heart rate elevates to about 60–70% of resting for at least an hour around my schedule every single day.
And it turns out that’s very different to aiming to do ‘some form of physical exercise’ 4–5 times a week, which many people would assume is enough, even optimal.
What that looks like in practice is seeking out opportunities to move outside of the gym, taking the stairs, skipping the tube. Being acutely aware of how much you have moved today, every day. Even on the days you go to the gym!
Finding the time to move for up to an hour every day was a game changer for me. The impact on my ability to be present and focus has been quite profound.
Between fitting in a daily Yoga practice and resistance training I only ended up doing around 20 minutes of cardio maybe twice a week, max. I did not have a daily cardio target which meant most days I was quite simply just not moving enough.
What’s been really interesting to me is realising just how much I avoided cardio because of the pressure I put on myself to be running, swimming, or cycling faster and faster each time, without really noticing.
This attitude makes for poor progress in the long run.
By taking the pressure off and going slower, for longer, cardio has now turned into a sort of meditation. It is something I look forward to instead of dread. And I am reaping the physical and mental health benefits.
How you do anything is how you do everything
I went on to realise I have been trading away efficacy in the pursuit of efficiency in other areas of life.
There are very tangible lessons here:
- Consistency beats intensity
- Slowing and allowing beats rushing and pushing
- In trying to do more we end up doing less
- We learn and grow so much from reflecting on what we avoid. Try and think about what you avoid, explore why. Do you have any projects or ideas that you feel ‘stuck’ on? You are probably putting too much pressure on yourself to make it perfect. Better to get on with whatever you can, even if it doesn’t look like what you want it to be. Like pretty much everything I write. But I do it anyway.
- Find out how to make anything you do that is necessary and unpleasant incrementally more pleasant, even if it’s just 1% better, so that you do it more.
Of course all of the science evidences the benefits discussed here extensively. But despite knowing this I was still not moving enough.