This week, despite good intentions, 16% of Londoners will have given up on their promise of a healthier lifestyle and will break their New Year’s resolutions.
However, in a contradiction, new research also found that almost a third (29%) of people in London admit that feeling fitter gives them a confidence boost.
In a bid to help London locals overcome this love / hate relationship with health, Fitness First, which has 47 clubs in London, has teamed up with Relationship Scientist Dr Anna Machin, to explore how people in the capital can improve their relationship with health and fitness for the long term.
Fitness First’s study into the nation’s reasons for giving up also revealed Londoners’ attitudes towards motivation and the reasons for giving up so soon. The most popular excuses in the capital are:
- A lack of time
- Focusing on a specific goal is too challenging (this came in eighth on a national level)
- Lack of enjoyment
- Can’t stick to a regime
- Takes too long to see the results
- The novelty wears off
- Putting off until summer comes
Taking lessons from relationship science and evolutionary theory, the partnership with Dr Anna Machin aims to unpack the reasons behind these attitudes and how to tackle them.
Dr Anna Machin sets out the evolutionary challenge; “Our love of fatty, sugary foods today originates from a time when we needed high calorie fuel to support our never-ending and energetic hunt for sustenance.
“Craving these things is an evolutionary hangover which ensured survival in yesteryear. However, we no longer have the highly physical demands of finding food to burn all those calories.
“The advancement of technology means that we can order a three course meal from our sofa; but despite 200,000 years of evolution, we’ve not developed a mechanism in our brains that motivates us to exercise for the sake of exercising.
“This is why we still eat as if we were about to hunt a mammoth, but don’t balance it with adequate exercise.”
This ‘bad romance’ with healthy habits is also evident in membership data from Fitness First clubs. Analysis of gym attendance over a three-year period shows that by February, when the average Briton will have given up, Britons are already working out 10% less frequently than they did in January but by the time September comes, Britons revisit their good intentions and pick back up.
Lee Matthews, Fitness and Marketing Director at Fitness First said: “We’ve already been working with behavioural psychologists to understand the challenges that people face when it comes to sticking at new habits but wanted to further this.
“Knowing the reasons why people find maintaining a healthy lifestyle challenging led us to partnering Dr Anna, we wanted to deepen our understanding.
“People feel like they’re failing when they fall off the wagon and this in turn creates negative feelings towards exercise and healthy eating. Working with Dr Anna explains the science behind this behaviour and offers tips on creating a better relationship with healthy habits so we can help new and prospective members.”
Dr Anna Machin has developed these three top tips for building a loving relationship with health:
- Create chemistry: Our relationships are as fundamental to our survival as air, food and water because they lead to protection and procreation in many instances. To make sure we stay motivated to seek out new relationships and maintain old ones, our brains have evolved to produce a wonderful set of chemicals which are triggered by love and friendship.
Oxytocin encourages us to start relationships while endorphins and dopamine keep them going. All make us feel warm, content and even euphoric. The most powerful of these – beta-endorphin – is also released by vigorous exercise!
Lee Matthews at Fitness First says: “To produce beta-endorphin you need to do aerobic exercise for around thirty minutes, but the reward is a wave of feel-good chemicals. Try a high intensity interval training (HiiT) workout such as our SHRED session or the Pro-Cycling spin class.
“After a while, you will crave that feeling again and be motivated to exercise, so while the first few sessions of exercise might feel like a chore, once you’ve had regular hits of endorphins, you’ll be keen to keep it up.”
Dr Anna Machin adds, “Research by my team at Oxford University has found that if you do a vigorous activity in a group setting and in synchrony, then the endorphin hit is even bigger. Ultimately with the power of the endorphin you may become as attracted to exercise as you are to your partner.”
- Check your compatibility: Successful relationships are all about compatibility. At the basis of this are four attachment styles that are the result of both genetics and experience. None are right or wrong but we do know that some styles fit better together in the long term than others.The goals for our relationship with exercise are the same. We need it to be long-term and comfortable. So find a form of exercise that suits who you are; your personality.
If you prefer time on your own or are an introvert, try solitary pursuits such as a session on your own in the gym, running or cycling. Whereas, if you’re an extrovert with a love of music, a dance class could be your perfect match. If your attention span is short, look at introducing a HiiT class into your life or if it is long, a Pilates class could be a natural fit.
- Keep it fresh: The most successful long-term relationships are those where the couple keep things fun and exciting. They take the time to explore new experiences together, to laugh and have fun.
The same is necessary for exercise. Keep challenging yourself and when you start to find excuses not to get physical, mix things up a bit with a new exercise experience. A recent study found that of the 25 possible factors that could ensure a person sticks to their exercise regime, one of the top five was that it should be fun! So if you’re dreading your session, that activity is not right for you – time to try something new.
Lee Matthews at Fitness First says: “From a physiological perspective, doing different types of activity ensures you are working all areas of the body and improving everything from aerobic capacity, to flexibility and strength.
“We encourage our members to make full use of the range of activities available both in and out of our clubs. For example, try combining classes, Freestyle sessions and long walks over the weekend to keep things interesting and challenge your body.”
Dr Anna concludes: “No relationship survives without a bit of hard work, and it’s when we take our eye off the ball that trouble can set in. Your relationship with exercise is no different.
“Work on creating a mind-set that elevates exercise and healthy eating as an important a part of your life. When you’ve neglected the gym for a few weeks give it a bit of extra attention and loving care, just as you would a partner.
“And remember that sometimes a great way to show your love is with a gift, so when you have achieved a particular goal – treat yourself!”
For those looking to find their perfect exercise match in 2017, Fitness First is opening its clubs to non-members for free on Monday 16th January – a great opportunity to put Dr Anna’s advice into practice. And in case you need reminding, Fitness First has created an infographic to help Britons create a long-term partnership with exercise.
To help Britons keep their relationship with exercise fresh Fitness First is also launching their ‘1001 ways to train’ campaign in January giving inspiration on different ways to stay fit.