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What kind of exerciser are you? Reluctant, hopeless, hopeful?
Whichever your type, you can be confident you’re not alone. And no matter who you are, you can learn some tricks from these four people and their very different approaches to exercise.
From the hater to the inconsistent, the extreme to the chronically in pain, these people reveal how they take control of their exercise and offer tips to help us get moving more reliably – and more enjoyably.
The reformed exercise hater
Comedian Dilruk Jayasinha has a trick.
He puts on his active wear as soon as he wakes up. He’s learnt that this way he’s likely to live up to his clothes and actually be active.
“If I’m already in the outfit and I go up to get a coffee, I’m like, oh, I might as well go for a run now,” he tells ABC RN’s Sporty.
He knows it sounds silly but it’s had a massive impact. He credits the trick with improving his life.
“Back in January 2018 when I decided to change my life around a bit, the goal I gave myself every day for two weeks was to wear the activewear,” Jayasinha says.
It was that simple. But the effect was anything but.
“It was what I needed, because I needed to shift my identity completely from a person who hates working out to someone who just accepts this as a part of who I am,” he says.
Before 2018, Jayasinha was overweight, eating terribly and drinking too much.
A competitive swimmer as a child in Sri Lanka, he ate a lot because he trained so much. “But then when I stopped swimming, I just kept eating the same amount,” he says.
“So I started putting on weight at the age of nine and I didn’t lose it until the age of 33.”
Initially, all Jayasinha could manage were walks around the block. But he was celebrating every small milestone, allowing himself to focus on day-to-day achievements rather than a singular future goal.
“Then 20 months later I did a full marathon, which is 42 kilometres,” he says.
“Doing little baby steps without worrying about how this impacts you overall is much better than trying to go, ‘alright, I’m going to run a marathon’.”
He says exercise success is about “trusting a process”; knowing it’s a positive step to have simply embarked on a road ahead, no matter how long or bumpy.
Three years on, Jayasinha says running “has become part of my everyday DNA”.
And he’s thrilled about it. “At this point, for me running is really a victory lap,” he says.
“As someone who was 125 kilos, who got puffed out when I was walking down the stairs, the idea that running became my source of stress relief was something I’m truly proud of, something I never would have thought I would become.”
The inconsistent exerciser
ABC News Breakfast co-host Lisa Millar’s inclination to exercise comes and goes.
“I am so inconsistent,” she admits. “This week I’ve probably gone for a 45-minute walk each day, and that’s it.”
In other weeks, she might fit in a tennis lesson, a Pilates class or ParkRun on a Saturday morning, and in years gone by, she’s been “crazy addicted to exercise”, doing half marathons and triathlons.
“I don’t know what makes me go on this roller-coaster of exercise,” Millar says.
But she does know what helps. Like Jayasinha, she has some tricks.
One is to sign up to something. “I have to commit,” Millar says.
“If you said to me, let’s go for a 16-kilometre run after work, I wouldn’t be much interested. But if you said to me, let’s sign up for a half-marathon that’s a charity and the money all goes to sick children, I’m like, ‘yeah, I’ll be there, awesome. Where do I sign up?'”
She has learned that if she commits, “it gets done”.
“If I’m by myself and I don’t have that motivation, then it’s pretty hard to get out of the house,” she says.
Another trick is to keep it social. That way, she’s more likely to enjoy it, which makes sticking to it more feasible.
“A lot of the exercise I’ve done has had that social connection, whether it be ParkRun or training for the half-marathons. I’ve always done it with friends. I’ve never signed up for something solo,” Millar says.
And though she needs others around in order to enjoy exercise, she’s not fussed about any public recognition.
She says she’s “not particularly good” at any exercise she tries – and she’s adamant it doesn’t matter.
“I’m not too bothered. So even though I say on one hand that I’m not very good at any of those exercises, I actually don’t care. I don’t mind. I’m not doing it for anyone else,” she says.
The extreme exerciser
Sam Marles’ physical regime is extreme. A mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter, he trains every day.
He says he’s “obsessed” with the sport.
Intensive training is “a non-negotiable” and Marles is single-minded when he exercises.
There are plenty of things he’d struggle to focus on but he says with MMA, once you start, “you can’t think about anything else”.
“If you start thinking about something else, you’re going to get cracked or end up in a compromised position,” he says.
“It’s just one sport where you’re totally in a moment, which I think is rare these days, especially with social media, phones – there’s always things trying to take your attention.
“So anytime you can do something where your attention is completely captured and you’re living in the moment, that’s a pretty special thing.”
Marles describes MMA as “high-level problem solving with dire consequences”. And he says it’s a sport many don’t understand.
“A lot of people will see it as a barbaric thing. But to me, it’s about challenging the mind. I enjoy the movement that comes with it, the flow that comes with it,” he says.
Marles says his exercise and training focus his mind and offer him “mental wins”.
For instance, he says training while you’re in pain, when your inclination is to retreat rather than continue, is something that strengthens or “calluses” his mind.
Pushing through the pain is his trick for sticking at exercise, no matter how hard it is.
“It’s like your body learns, oh, that wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. So you get a little bit stronger.
“It becomes a little bit easier to make that decision the next time and then you do it again [and] again. And before you know it, it’s just second nature.”
The pain manager
Leah Dwyer knows pain as well as any MMA fighter.
For 14 years, the remedial massage therapist has lived with a neuromuscular condition that causes her intense chronic pain.
In the face of her diagnosis, she refused to “go and lie on my couch or my bed and become housebound and afraid”. Instead she had to find a way to keep fit without pushing her body too hard.
She found surf skiing, which she now does a couple of times a week.
As with Millar, the support of friends is an important part of exercise for Dwyer. It helps her push through her pain.
“It’s a social event for me. I get a lot of encouragement from the other people that I’m surf skiing with,” she says.
And, as with Marles, games of the mind help her to cope with pain.
Her trick? Pain is how you couch it.
“I’m not going to sugarcoat this at all, I’m in pain a lot,” Dwyer says.
“But because I was a bit of a gym rat before all of this [chronic pain] began, I was really used to a level of pain in the form of delayed onset muscle soreness [or] DOMS which a lot of people just call workout pain.”
It’s an experience she can refer to now.
“I kind of reframed my pain … I treated it more like delayed onset muscle pain, than I did chronic pain. So I really kind of reframed it in my own mind,” Dwyer says.
The part of your brain telling you to stop something that hurts can’t rage too loudly if it’s being duped into thinking it’s simply workout pain.
And the part of your brain trying to prevent you from being the kind of exerciser you’d like to be should run scared at the knowledge that whatever the hurdle, there’s a way over it.
Sometimes you just have to find the right trick.
Take Control is a four-part series from ABC Radio National’s Sporty program, covering exercise, diet, sleep and pain. Listen here.
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