This year, I’m taking up a different 21-day challenge for every month of the year. I started with meditation in January and this month, I tried a 21-day workout challenge.
For this challenge, my goal was simple: exercise in some way or form every day for 21 days. When I first started this challenge, I knew February would be a tough one. I’m not the most active person and exercising for 21 days straight seemed like a daunting task. But deep down, I also knew this challenge would bring a lot of positive changes to my life.
After 21 days, I’m happy to say that I survived this challenge, and I’m excited to share my experience with you. Let’s start by tackling some common questions.
What are the benefits of regular exercise?
What the research says
Reduces feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress
Helps with weight loss
Helps to build strong muscles and bones
Reduces the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease
Increases life expectancy
Improves brain function
Improves sleep quality
I work from home now and my lifestyle is somewhat sedentary. I sit behind a desk for most of the day, typing away on my laptop. It’s nice to take a breather, head out for a walk, and get some fresh air. Since I started exercising daily, I’ve noticed an improvement in my overall mood.
It may be in part due to the meditation practice that I’ve been continuing since January, or perhaps it’s a combination of both habits. Either way, I’ve experienced fewer lows this month than usual.
Many of us are homebound now due to the pandemic and at times, it can take a serious toll on our mental health. As such, incorporating this mood-boosting habit into our daily routine is an important step to protect our mental health and well-being.
I’ve also noticed some improvement in my sleep. I fall asleep faster than before and the quality of my sleep has also improved, i.e. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night as much I used to.
Are there downsides to exercising regularly? Yes. There’s more laundry to do and…well, that’s about it.
How much exercise do you need?
What the experts say
According to the Centre for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), adults should do at least:
150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g. brisk walking, riding a bike on level ground) OR 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (e.g. jogging, running, riding a bike on hilly terrain) a week, AND
Muscle-strengthening exercises (e.g. lifting weights, push-ups, sit-ups, resistance band exercises) 2 days a week
If you like going on walks, that’s 30 minutes of brisk walking 5 times a week, plus 2 days of muscle strengthening exercises, ideally speaking.
To be honest, 30 minutes a day from the get-go sounded pretty ambitious for me. To make this habit stick, I knew I had to start small. So, I started with 15 minutes a day, alternating between brisk walking and yoga.
After a week, I increased it to 20 minutes, and then 25 minutes. Is it less than the recommended amount of physical exercise? Yes, but it’s still better than no exercise at all. Over time, I can gradually increase my workout duration.
In the beginning, I think it’s important to commit to something that’s doable. From my experience, the ‘go big or go home’ mindset doesn’t really help when I’m trying to build a new habit. Starting small helps to build your confidence and gets you comfortable with the habit before you scale up in intensity or duration.
What are some good ways to exercise?
What the experts say
When it comes to exercise, we have a lot of options – walking, swimming, sports, yoga, etc. So, what should we opt for?
An article by Harvard Health Publishing lists swimming, tai chi, strength training, walking, and kegel exercises as the 5 best exercises you can ever do. WebMD, on the other hand, identifies squats, lunges, push-ups, and crunches as some of the most effective exercises that help you make the most of your workout.
Ultimately, moving your body, whether it’s through walking, swimming, yoga, or crunches, is good for you. So, my advice is to find something you enjoy doing. If you don’t like the workout, the habit is less likely to stick.
Also, introduce some variety to your workouts. Change it up and alternate between different things, so you don’t end up getting bored with the same ol’ workout day after day. I alternate between brisk walking, yoga, and dance. When I want to get some fresh air, I head out the door, put a podcast on, and go for a walk. If it’s raining, or I don’t feel like heading out, I’ll roll out my yoga mat and follow a workout video or two on YouTube.
Have at least one indoor workout that you enjoy in your arsenal. This way, bad weather never becomes an excuse to skip a workout!
What is the best time of day to exercise?
What the research says
Mornings are said to be the best time to exercise. Morning workouts are more ideal for weight loss, and they improve mental health and productivity throughout the day.
I prefer to work out in the evening. I reserve my morning time for meditation and stacking too many habits in the morning may deter me from sticking to them. Next month is going to be the dreaded 5 am challenge, so I might try working out in the morning then.
I think ultimately it boils down to what works for you based on your schedule and preferences. Science may say mornings are ideal for exercise, but if your mornings are hectic, and it isn’t the ideal time for you, it might be better to exercise later in the day.
The goal is to move your body and be more active. If you can only do that in the evenings after work, then do that! It’s better to set yourself up for success than go into it with a “I-must-workout-in-the-morning-or-else I-have-failed” mindset.
What workout equipment do you need at home?
When it comes to exercise, I think there are two ways to do it: go to the gym or workout at home. I fall in the latter category. Don’t get me wrong. Gym memberships are great. You pay a monthly fee, and you have access to different workout equipment and classes.
I had a gym membership once, but I rarely used it. For me, driving to the gym and finding parking became a deterrent. So, I cancelled my membership and decided to work out at home instead.
From personal experience, all you really need to start working out regularly is a comfortable pair of shoes, a yoga mat, and a good sports bra (for women). Of course, there’s nothing wrong with investing in some exercise equipment for your home. In fact, many people own treadmills at home and use them regularly. It’s convenient, and it saves you the hassle of travelling to the gym. But you don’t need it to get started!
How do you motivate yourself to exercise regularly?
Here are a few suggestions:
Start small. Try 15 minutes a day for a week, then build up slowly.
Do workouts you enjoy.
Mix it up with different workouts, so you don’t get bored.
Have an accountability partner (perhaps a workout buddy). For me, I announced my 21-day challenge and posted updates on Instagram to keep myself accountable.
It’s okay if you miss a day or two. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t throw in the towel, just get back to it.
I hope to continue this habit of regular exercise for the rest of the year. I’ll keep you posted on this and all other habits I experiment with this year. Hopefully, they stick for the long run, fingers crossed!
Next month is the 5 am challenge, GROANNN. Can you tell that I’m not really a morning person? But I’ve heard good things about it, and I’m up for a challenge! I’ll let you know how it goes. See you again soon!