In a 2012 study lead by Phillippa Lally published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, it was determined that it takes an average of 66 days to form a habit, that is the duration from starting the habit to the point of it being automatic.
If your goal is fitness or activity related, then staying injury-free during the habit-forming period is essential. The right approach here will make the process much more enjoyable and effective, and will greatly improve your chances of achieving the goal that you have set for yourself.
With injury prevention in mind, Rachel Allen, Charted Physiotherapist at Mid West Physiotherapy, has put together these tips to help you to scale up your fitness, and hopefully ward off any pains, aches or injuries along the way.
1. DO enjoy it!
The best exercise is the one you enjoy doing. Don’t force yourself to go running if you hate running! Maybe you are best suited to structured group exercise, like HIIT classes, dance classes, weight training classes, running clubs or groups. Or perhaps you prefer to take time on your own to exercise, such as walking, golf or jogging. Whatever you choose, make sure to start small and build up. And if you’re the type of person that loves achieving a goal, or needs a goal to keep you focused, why not set an event date like a race or competition in the calendar to keep you motivated?
2. DO follow a structure that will allow a gradual build up
Whether it is exercise classes, personal training, a new sport/activity or running, a slow build up is key. This allows your body, muscles, joints, and tendons to adapt and become stronger.
As physiotherapists, we often see over-use injuries when the patient is around 4 weeks in to their new activity. The problem is these injuries don’t set off alarm bells until its a little too late. You can prevent this by taking rest days in between new activities. Remember, doing an activity for 5 hours in a row, is not the same as doing 1 hour a day for 5 days.
For brand new runners, “Couch to 5k” programmes are my favorite – here is a link to a NHS programme. For more experienced person, following a training plan can help avoid training errors that result in overuse injuries. See our previous article on this topic here.
3. DON’T forget recovery i.e. sleep, nutrition, hydration, active recovery
Intense exercise allows us to get stronger/fitter by contracting and stretching our muscles repeatedly, which cases tiny muscle tears. It is only when we sleep, eat good food full of protein, and get blood flow through gentle movement, that our body rebuilds these muscles to be bigger and stronger. Recovery is essential injury prevention and we cannot emphasise enough the importance of having adequate sleep, a healthy balanced diet and sufficient water intake.
4. DO aim for the recommended amount of exercise for health benefits
Everyone should aim for 150 minutes of “moderate intensity” exercise per week (this roughly 30 min/day, 5 days/week), and should include weight/resistance training twice a week.
*Moderate intensity is 50%-70% of your maximum heart rate. You should be able to maintain a conversation at this pace, but would not be able to sing. This NHS guide has more information.
5. DO remember the human body is highly adaptable
If you are new to anything, it will take a while for your body to adapt. The good news is, if you stick with it you can change everything from the strength of your heart, to the size of your muscles, to the density of your bones. It takes up to 12 weeks to build muscle. It may take longer to feel a difference in your body. But it will be worth it!
6. DON’T ignore niggles
It is much easier to get on top of injuries or pain when they first stop to crop up. A lot of people ignore pain that only bothers them when they do a certain movement, or ignore pain that goes away very quickly. But these are all signs that something needs to be sorted, and if not it can turn in to a constant ache or pain. The recovery period and length of time you will need to go to physiotherapy for is usually a lot less when you get on top of things early!
Don’t think physios will stop you from doing what you love! Our most important job is getting you back to doing what you love best. There are many many many modifications that can be made to exercise/gym/running routines that allow you to continue on some level while you rehabilitate an injury or a pain. We are experts on injuries and know exactly what will help; harm; or not bother it at all. Complete rest is usually never the answer, so let us guide you on how to continue while rehabilitating.
Can we help?
If you are starting out, our physiotherapists can help to to design an exercise programme that will help you best achieve your activity goals. Likewise, if you are experiencing any niggles, pain or injury, we would be glad to help you and get you back on target as soon as possible.
You can book an appointment with our physiotherapists via this online link, or your can contact our Reception by ringing 061-201444 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.