If you've had a long summer of BBQs, al fresco dinners and lazy weekends in the sun, then, like a lot of us, your exercise regime may have fallen by the wayside. Now the weather is cooling down and children are back at school, this is the perfect time of year to get back into a routine and set some fitness goals.
The benefits of exercising are wide-ranging, from improved mental health to a lower risk of serious diseases, but still many of us live sedentary lives.
According to a recent study by the British Heart Foundation, around 39% of UK adults - that's around 20 million people - are failing to meet government recommendations for physical activity of 150 minutes (two and a half hours) of moderate-intensity activity per week. It's not just a problem in the UK - the World Health Organization ranks sedentary behaviour as among the 10 leading causes of death worldwide.
Embarking on a new fitness regime
Autumn feels like a new beginning. Many people treat September as their New Year, so much so that is has been dubbed the new January, says Mary Huckle, personal trainer at Breakthrough Fitness.
A new fitness regime could mean exercising outdoors, at home or in the gym.
"If you're young, fit and healthy, generally just find something you like and go for it," says GP Dr Jeff Foster. "If you have a medical problem we would advise speaking to someone trained at a fitness centre and then if you have any further concerns to speak to your GP."
Autumn is all about making the most of the great outdoors after the summer holidays.
"Any activity which allows you to be outside and at one with the reds and golds of nature is recommended," says Huckle. "As the climate cools, exercise becomes a lot more comfortable outdoors. I would recommend walking, trail running, boot camp in a park or cycling. All of these are great for taking in some scenery whilst enjoying the fresh air and cooler temperatures."
If you're still not sure what to try, have a think about your goals. Look first at what you want to achieve - is it weight loss? General fitness? Or you want to feel stronger, for example?
"Often team sports or groups are very helpful to encourage motivation and reach targets, but they aren't for everyone," says Foster. "There are specific types of exercise that are better for certain people. For example, swimming is very good for people with joint problems, weight-bearing exercise is good to prevent osteoporosis. There is now increasing evidence that short, very intense bursts of exercise are more beneficial than long, low impact," he says.
This could be in the form of a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) class at the gym or try a workout at home - you can find plenty of free workouts on YouTube.
How to get started
If you've put off exercise for a while, here are some useful tips from our experts:
The most important thing is to find something you love. If you enjoy it you will want to do it more and that is the best motivation. Try out different things and decide if there's something you enjoy doing. Most people who dislike exercise just haven't found the right exercise.
Set goals and stick with them
Set realistic goals, measure results and look to others who have achieved what you want. Schedule in your workout and place it at the top of your priority list.
"Keeping a food diary will make you conscious of what you're eating and drinking. Your diet should be healthy and nutrient-dense if you're seriously intending to become fitter. Experts say 90% of training is diet and 10% is activity - there is no point training hard if you eat rubbish," says Foster.
Don't do it alone
Training with friends or groups can help you keep motivated for longer.
Aim for 7-8 hours per night, as poor-quality sleep reduces our ability to train and make good food choices.
"Get your workout clothes and trainers ready the night before. This way you'll have no choice but to wear that outfit and you'll be 100% ready. Wear your fitness clothes as much as possible and wherever you can. It's like wearing a uniform and being in a constant state of 'ready'. In other words, your afternoon walk might turn into a brisk one or even a jog, if you're dressed appropriately," says Huckle.
Why starting now will see you through winter and beyond
With the days getting shorter our urge to hibernate really starts to kick in in late autumn. In terms of exercising and fitness, preparation is key.
"We know that school half-term, Halloween, Fireworks Night and the run-up to Christmas can play havoc with our diet and exercise," says Huckle. "Establishing a good diet and exercise regime can help combat the cumulative weight gain effect. Create good habits for damage limitation."
Another thing to consider is how exercise can impact on our mental health at this time of year. For those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or depression in the colder months, exercise can help stimulate body chemicals called endorphins which are natural mood boosters.
Most new fitness regimes fail within six weeks. Stay motivated with these tips from Huckle.
- Make yourself accountable to family and friends.
- Crush the exercise demons by telling yourself daily affirmations.
- As you get fitter, increase the intensity of your exercise.
- Is boredom setting in? In that case, try something new.
- Set yourself SMART goals - these should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.
- Reward yourself each time you reach a goal. This could be a massage or a trip to the cinema, for example. Just try not to make it a food-related goal.