I am definitely not what you would call an exercise addict or an expert in exercise in any way; but because physical activity is such an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle, and it really goes hand in hand with healthy eating, I try to exercise regularly. But I often struggle to motivate myself to get going; especially after a busy day at work the thought of having a nice dinner and slumping in front of the TV often seems more appealing than an hour at the gym. But I know when I do stay on top of my exercise that I feel so much better for it, so for anyone else out there who can feel like this, here are some of the strategies I use to motivate myself to get my exercise on!
This is the most important part of encouraging regular physical activity. Studies have found that people who exercise for the enjoyment of the activity and taking part are much more likely to continue with long term regular exercise compared to those who are motivated from more extrinsic factors such as social pressure or feeling like they “have to” exercise1. So think about what exercise you enjoy doing, or try something new! I recently went surfing with a group of friends which turned out to be an amazing work out (although my muscles weren’t too happy for a few days afterwards!) but at the time it didn’t feel like exercise at all and the time flew by because it was so much fun!
Remember the health benefits
Achieving the recommended 150 minutes of moderate physical aerobic exercise (or 75mins vigorous activity), and 2 or more sessions of strengthening exercises per week significantly lowers your risk of developing diseases such as: heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, arthritis, dementia and depression, and it lowers your overall risk of early death by up to 30%2. If exercise was a patented medication it would be making millions!
Keep it convenient
Exercise has to be super convenient for me to keep it part of my routine, for example the gym I go to is literally between my work and where I park my car which means I basically have to go out of my way to avoid going. I find that exercising straight after work takes much less effort for me compared to if I went home first then had to leave all my lovely comfort to get out and exercise!
Routine, routine, routine
It has been found that a really effective way of forming habits is to repeat an action regularly in the same setting3, so as I mentioned I like to stick to the routine of exercising straight after work, but some people find it best to get into the habit of exercising before work and have it done and dusted for the day (I wish I could be one of these people but I love my bed too much!). Being specific when organising your routine can also help, I generally aim to exercise on 4 days per week for about 40 minutes to an hour at per session. Joining exercise classes, exercise groups or taking part in a weekly “Park Runs” are also great ways of promoting a regular exercise routine.
Have a goal
Over the past two years I’ve been getting into running for the first time. I’ve found that having a goal to work towards such as a half marathon or 10km has really motivated me stick to a regular training plan. Even trying to beat my own time during training seems to spark that competitive streak again which makes me push myself that little bit harder.
Make it social
I find that exercise is much more enjoyable when it’s more of a social activity. There might be an element of positive peer pressure or FOMO (fear of missing out) involved, but whatever the mechanism I find that I’m much more likely to exercise if I’ve arranged an activity with friends. Even going to an exercise class with people I don’t know very well makes me push myself a lot harder than if I was exercising alone; that might be me trying to keep up or a slight competitive streak emerging!
Mix it up
I find that changing the activities I do while I’m exercising helps to make the time to pass by much faster. If I’m at the gym I like to do intervals on the treadmill or cross trainer because I find having lots of mini-goals such as 2 minutes at certain speeds or inclines makes the time fly by, and also increases the workout intensity in a manageable way. Also mixing up the parts of the workout such as doing a combination of cardio and resistance training feels less boring than just sticking to one activity. Or better yet, change the types of activity you do and try out new activities to keep things interesting.
Give yourself a pat on the back!
Feeling positive for ALL exercise that you manage to do is more likely to promote on-going increased physical activity levels compared to feeling bad for not doing massive workout sessions3. So whether that is taking the stairs instead of the lift, or just managing 20 minutes in the gym, rather than being hard on yourself you should feel good for any exercise that you do because you will be more likely to seek out that positivity associated with exercise in future. You can also add up all lots of short exercise sessions during the day (such as 10 minutes three times per day) which can feel less daunting but will still count towards your overall daily activity levels. Also any exercise is better than none and it’s natural to have bad weeks, so don’t be hard on yourself, just jump back on the workout wagon!
The feel good factor
Even if I have been dreading a workout I know I always feel so much better afterwards (dem endorphins though!). There is a good body of research to support that exercise significantly reduces levels of depression4, and the Mental Health Foundations reports: “Research has shown that exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good – boosting your self-esteem, helping you concentrate as well as sleep, look and feel better”5, sounds pretty good to me!
Having the gear
I’m not massively into stylish gym gear but it can be motivating to feel good about yourself while exercising. Monitoring your progress using gadgets like pedometers and exercise apps (which are often relatively cheap or free!) can make exercise more enjoyable and help you to work towards specific goals. I recently invested in a running watch which I found really useful for motivating me to run for longer distances and try to beat previous run times by frequently setting mini goals during my runs (there’s that competitive streak again!).
Guilt free treats and rests
Another massive plus about exercise is not feeling guilty about having occasional treats, yay for balance! And on the non-exercise days you can appreciate getting to take a break and enjoying a well-earned chill to let your body recover. Back to the mantra “everything in moderation”.
Happy exercising! 😉