How To Get Active if You’re a Couch Potato

There is no shame in being a Couch Potato. I was one for most of my 20’s and it is still my favorite pastime after a stressful day at work, or on completing a particularly wild kid’s bedtime (that’s a wild bedtime, rather than a wild kid, although sometimes I wonder).

The fact is that Couch Potato is probably the most common starting point for those of us full of good intentions to get more active, one day, eventually. The popularity of the Couch to 5k plans over the past few years is evidence of this. If you’re starting from the couch the assumption is you’ve done no exercise for over a year, and often since you did PE at school. So the challenge isn’t just about how do you build up physical strength, but how do you build up mental strength, to break that comfortable habit of inactivity and motivate yourself out of the door.

My advice? Take it very easy and lower your expectations. When starting a new exercise regime it can be very easy to expect instant results and then get disappointed when they don’t come. After all, the effort of putting on some trainers and do some exercise is so great, that surely after 2 weeks you’ll be jogging around like Mo Farrah? No, unfortunately it doesn’t work like that.

The only person you should compare yourself to when getting active is you. If last Monday you lay on the couch with a white wine and bag of Dorritos, and this Monday you got up and did a 10 minute walk before opening your Dorritos, then that is a success. Recognise it, and be happy about it, because that way you are more likely next week to try a 20 minute walk, and maybe have half a packet of Dorritos. In 6 weeks you’ll be walking 40 mins and have swapped the wine for chocolate milk because it’s good for recovery. And because chocolate milk and Dorritos don’t really mix, maybe you’ll have a slice of toast instead. OK, so you’re not quite ready to sign up for the next Olympic training camp but suddenly you’re walking 40 mins every Monday evening, and feeling better for it.

Three years ago I was seeing a life coach and trying to get tips for getting active. I wanted to go running in my lunchtime break, but each lunchtime I would look out the window and think “It looks too wet/windy/cold/cloudy/hot for a run, I’ll just stay in”. I just couldn’t get out the door. The coach told me: “Put your kit on and stand outside your front door, if you still don’t want to go for a run come back in”, so I did. The first time I tried it I stood outside my front door for 3 seconds and walked straight back inside and stuck the telly on. The 2nd time I started running, for 5 minutes, and then couldn’t be bothered and came back. The 3rd time I ran 20 minutes, and after that I started to regularly run 30 minutes twice a week. Now if I’d compared myself to others on that first day I’d never have tried again, but I was able to recognise that getting out the door was a big improvement for me and so I kept trying and kept improving. This is key. You are getting active for you. Don’t worry what anyone else is doing.

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