IT’S cold and raining outside, you’ve had a bad day at work, and your favourite TV show is about to start.
So what do you do? Grab a beer from the fridge, pop a ready meal in the microwave and collapse on the sofa in time for the opening credits?
Or do you get your trainers on, brave the rain and join thousands of other people across Scotland in a 5K-a-day challenge?
The 5X50 Challenge, which starts next Sunday, is designed to get people taking part in 5K – or 30 minutes – of exercise every day for 50 consecutive days.
Last year around 5000 people signed up, and organisers hope to attract just as many for the 2014 challenge.
Participants can do a traditional 5K walk, run or cycle, but can also do any form of exercise they choose – from trampolining to disco dancing – just as long as they do so for 30 minutes a day.
The idea is centred around research that shows habits are formed after just 21 days. So, with the challenge running for 50 days, it is hoped that participants will continue their fitness regime beyond this so that it becomes a part of daily life.
This has certainly been the case for Sarah Mather, who attributes the challenge to “transforming her life”.
The 29-year-old took part in it for the first time last year – and has since lost three stones and re-trained as a personal trainer in order to pass on her new-found love of fitness.
“There are days when you’re so sore from the run the day before or you’ve caught the flu, but the fact it’s part of this challenge does keep you going,” Sarah, from Meadowbank, explains.
“Even if you’re feeling rubbish, there are lots of things you can do to keep your daily exercise up as you don’t need to do the 5K all in the one go.
“You can build it up throughout the day by doing things like getting on and off the bus a stop earlier and going for a walk during your lunch break.
“Last year we had quite a few people doing Zumba classes and some people did body combat and yoga – there’s loads you can do.
“So many people get caught up with the idea that they have to run 5K a day, and say they don’t have time to fit that in every day, but you can do whatever would make it work for you.”
She adds: “Thirty minutes of exercise a day is going to make a huge difference. I feel so much better for having done this. It really has transformed my life.”
Sarah is a “Fiver”, or ambassador, for Edinburgh this year and has organised a few group activities, such as weekly walking and running groups up and down the Royal Mile.
As well as striving to get the country fit, the 5X50 Challenge is a registered charity which raises money for Sport Relief, amongst others.
Since it was established in Scotland three years ago, people from 43 countries have taken part in the annual challenges, raising more than £160,000.
Some famous names who have thrown their weight behind the challenge include former 10,000-metre world champion and Olympic athlete Liz McColgan, TV presenter Jenni Falconer and Edinburgh’s own ultra-runner and adventurer, Dr Andrew Murray, who says the beauty of the 5x50 Challenge is the fact it boosts happiness, as well as health, as exercise releases “happy hormones”.
“The 5x50 Challenge really made a big difference in getting people active and getting them off their couches,” explains Andrew.
“Not only does it make a big difference to people in terms of improving health and happiness – it’s been shown that exercise can improve quality of life in more ways than one – it’s also raised a phenomenal amount of money for charity.”
Andrew, who has himself taken part in the challenge and plans to do so again this year, admits that it’s not an easy feat to sign up to.
“For anything to be a challenge, there needs to be the chance of things going wrong.
“This challenge is not that easy – there are days when it’s raining outside and you can’t be bothered, but that’s the whole point of it. This is a really good way of keeping motivated.
“Whenever I feel like that, I think of all the thousands of other people out there pounding the streets.
“The first few days are the hardest but it gets easier.
“It would be great to see a significant contingent from Edinburgh taking part.
“There’s no better way to see Edinburgh than on foot so it’s a good excuse to go up Arthur’s Seat and take that significant step to health and happiness, which for me is the most important thing.”
He adds that he is planning to vary his daily exercise this year to add that extra dimension to his own personal challenge.
“I’m going to do a mixture. I already run five times a week, but this is a good way of getting other people involved too.
“My wife is pregnant at the moment so we can go for walks together.”
This year’s challenge starts on Sunday, March 30 and runs until May 18.
Kelly Mason, co-founder of the 5x50 Challenge, says: “Year on year our 5x50 community has embraced the challenge in yet more creative ways.
“From swimming to salsa, from running to riding and from kayaking to climbing, mixing up activities is a great way to stay motivated. “We want to get the message across that it doesn’t matter what you do to cover 5K or exercise for 30 minutes, as long as you do something.
“We’ve had people pacing the aisle of an aircraft to nail their 5K in past challenges, so there really are no limits on how you complete your 50 days and no excuses for not completing.
“For some it will be a physical challenge, for others it will be a battle against time, and for yet others it will be about finding the psychological strength to get out the door.
“We’re not saying it will be easy but it will be worthwhile.”
To sign up and find out about events taking place in Edinburgh, visit www.5x50.org.