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Struggling to exercise? Start with two minutes

Personal trainer Lizzy Williamson shares how a simple concept can help you push through any resistance to exercise.

Portrait of a mature woman working out at the gym

Two Minute Moves” are moments you can take in your day to move your body to help you feel less stressed, more energised, fitter, stronger and feeling good. The idea was born when I had postnatal depression and I started doing little workouts around my house to help me cope better.

So many of us are stuck in the ‘all or nothing’ mindset when it comes to exercise – if we can’t find an hour or get to a certain class then we do nothing at all. When I had a baby and a toddler, I realised if I wanted to get any exercise into my day then I had to break all the ‘rules’ I had around what it had to be.

I discovered that two minutes of exercise was so much better than no minutes at all, because it was easy to convince myself to do it. Plus it usually motivated me to do more.

If one session of two minutes is all you can manage, that’s a great start. It’s still making a difference, because you are telling yourself that you are worth taking a moment to give back to yourself. But what usually happens is that when you take action, no matter how small, it motivates you to keep going.

Here’s how the concept of starting with two minutes can help you in the face of almost any resistance to exercise.

“I don’t have time.”

The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that the most common reason people give for not exercising is lack of time. Before I began grabbing moments in my day to move, I was one of those people. How could I manage to get to the gym when I had a baby and toddler who wouldn’t even let me go to the toilet by myself?

Beat it:

  • Break your exercise rules. So you don’t have 90 minutes to do a bootcamp class or 60 minutes for a jog? Do 20 pushups at your kitchen bench or jog up and down some steps 10 times. Something is always better than nothing (and remember, it usually leads to doing more).
  • Work exercise into your day. Walk on the spot when you’re talking on the phone. Do some squats while you’re brushing your teeth. Cycle your legs in front of you when you’re binge-watching Netflix. Do a vigorous scrub of your floor.

“I’m too tired.”

I thought I knew tiredness – until I had children. Getting up through the night and not being able to catch up with a quick nap brought it to a whole new level. It was like the moment my second child was born, she opened her eyes and then didn’t close them again for another six months.

It’s no surprise to me that sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. I would have given away my deepest secrets to anyone who could promise me eight hours of sleep in a row.

Beat it:

  • Set a timer. Just move in some way for two minutes, and if that’s all you can do with the energy you have, brilliant. Congratulate yourself. However, chances are that your body processes will kick in and you’ll want to keep going.
  • Check in with why you’re tired. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you relying on that second coffee or handful of lollies, which leads to an even bigger energy slump? Exercise can help with both of these.

“I hate exercise.”

Exercise – particularly when you’re just starting out or have been out of action for a while – can feel too hard, confronting, embarrassing and disappointing. When you’re up against that kind of competition, it’s easy to let your excuses win.

And yet, I have seen extreme exercise haters fall in love with exercise. They begin to crave the feeling that it gives them, and often they find a way to exercise that they really enjoy – one that suits their body, personality and desires.

Beat it:

  • Reframe it. Take out the word ‘exercise’ and put in ‘movement’. Ask yourself: how would you like to move your body today? How can you incorporate more movement into your day?
  • Find a way to move your body that you actually like. You don’t even have to put on activewear! Put on your favourite song and dance around your living room. Run around an oval with your kids or dog. Instead of catching up at a cafe with a friend, walk together instead. Have a laugh by doing a strength workout with your wine bottles.

“I’ve got too much work to do.”

If you want your brain to function at its best, you need to keep refilling its tank throughout your day. Along with brain-boosting food, the best fuel comes from movement.

Beat it:

  • Take tiny breaks. It’s pretty normal to get totally engrossed in your work, and before you know it hours have gone by and you haven’t moved. Set a reminder on your computer or phone to get up and move your body for a few minutes, every 30 minutes or hour that you’re working.
  • Move as you work. Get up and talk to a work colleague rather than sending an email. Stairs, stairs, stairs – take them when you can. During prolonged sit-down meetings, encourage the idea of taking a two-minute stand up or walk break every hour or half-hour.

“I’m ashamed of my body.”

When you are in the mindset of punishing yourself over everything that is wrong with your appearance, you miss out on celebrating the small steps you’ve taken that have made you healthier, stronger, fitter and happier. Can you guess which approach keeps you coming back to exercise and good food choices?

Beat it:

  • Instead of trying to transform your body overnight, focus on something you can improve steadily: your strength. Do some manageable strength workouts at home that your body is capable of right now. No matter how small, it’s a step forward.
  • Try this weird confidence-boosting trick. Stand up and slouch your shoulders forward, looking at the floor and letting your tummy and arms go floppy. Now, lift up through your leg muscles, put your hands on your hips, look up and imagine a light shining out from the middle of your chest. Feel your shoulders go back as you stand up straighter. Notice the difference in how you feel?

“I’m not in the mood.”

When I had post-natal depression, exercise was the last thing I felt like doing. The idea of it felt way too hard. But I began to realise that two minutes was incredibly achievable. I wasn’t asking too much of myself and when I got started I found myself feeling so much better.

Now if I start to feel down, overwhelmed or stressed, the first question I ask myself is, how long has it been since I last moved my body? Do I need to move through what’s causing these feelings? Those who see me after a workout often say, “Oh you’re so good,” but I always point to my head and say, “It’s not about being good, it’s about what it does for me mentally.”

Beat it:

  • Start small. You know how the first step can be the hardest? That’s why we want to make that first step as easy as possible. Sometimes, two minutes is enough to give you a sense of achievement and a mood boost, making it much more likely that you’ll keep doing it day after day.
  • Use movement to release your feelings. If you’re feeling really annoyed about something, do some shadow-boxing or punch a pillow. It feels so good to let those emotions out! If you’re feeling totally overwhelmed, curl down to touch your toes, hang there for a few breaths and slowly roll up.

Lizzy Williamson’s Two Minute Moves (Affirm Press) is out now, RRP $29.99, available at all good bookstores and online at Booktopia.

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