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Exercise Motivation


QUESTION:

I know that exercise is really important, but I just have a hard time getting motivated.  What's the trick to staying consistent with my exercise program?

ANSWER:

There are various strategies that you can employ to help you stay on track.  The most critical factor that you'll need to address is the type of activity that you're engaging in.  You MUST find an activity that you enjoy!  Once the initial excitement and willpower of starting a new program has ceased, you will most likely give up your exercise routine if you're not enjoying it.  When individuals say, "I hate to exercise", I know they either haven't found the right activity or they are viewing exercise as a punishment and not as a self-loving activity.  If done properly and at the right intensity, moving your body feels good and exhilarating.

To help identify activities that are right for you, thoroughly explore your likes and dislikes.  Do you like the outdoors or do you prefer being indoors?  Are you competitive by nature or do you cringe at the thought of anything aggressive?  Do you like the atmosphere offered by fitness clubs and gyms?  If yes, do you prefer a specialty gym such as an all-woman's facility, or a body building gym?  Is music necessary to your motivation during your routine?  Do you like the camaraderie offered by team sports and group classes or do you prefer the tranquility offered by an individual sport?  What equipment and guidance do you have at your disposal?  Maybe your local YMCA or university offers community classes in areas that you've never even imagined!  Think outside the box when considering various activities.  Maybe fencing or river boarding is right up your alley.  Or maybe you've been dreaming of scuba diving - sign up for a class and start hitting the pool!  Think of the possibilities; roller-blading, belly dancing, Nia, water running, martial arts, boxing, pilates, yoga, soccer, hiking, mountaineering, tennis, squash, skiing, rowing, mountain biking...  Don't let being a beginner intimidate you; everyone was a beginner at one point, no matter what the activity or sport.

Cross-train, cross-train, cross-train.  Doing the same old thing every single day would burn out even the most avid exerciser.  Find at least two activities that you enjoy and alternate them throughout the week.  Or, change them every couple of months or by season.  Maybe you're training for that Memorial Day fun run right now, but will pick up a swimming class this summer.

Setting goals or endpoint activities can be very motivating and will give you something to work towards.  For instance, train with the intent to run an upcoming race or climb a certain mountain.  Update these as you attain them, setting new goals and sights on future events.

Next in line of importance is to actually schedule your workouts into your day.  If you don't make room for it in your busy schedule by actually allotting it a time slot, you're not giving yourself an equal fighting chance.  Most everything else in life is scheduled, whether it be work, school, church, or social events; you name it, it's demanding a spot in your busy life.  If you don't provide a given time for exercise, the clock will strike midnight and you'll realize that you never got around to it!  Once scheduled, you are less likely to forego it for something else.  This appointment with your workout is just as important as any other appointment, so treat it that way!

When scheduling your workout, consider what times are actually appropriate and realistic for you and your lifestyle.  If you are truly not a morning person, don't set your alarm an hour earlier to workout at 5 am.  It may work in the short term, but fighting against your natural circadian rhythms will be a constant uphill battle.  If your lunch hour is a strict 60-minutes and in reality it takes you longer than that to get to the gym, work out, shower and get back, then this will be a consistent struggle.  If possible, work with your employer to shift your schedule - maybe take a 90-minute lunch break and stay 30 minutes later in the evening, thereby even missing rush hour traffic!  Employers are currently struggling with skyrocketing costs of health insurance and will typically work with employees who are taking strides to improve their health.  Experiment with your schedule until you find a time slot that works for you.  Remember, it doesn't have to be the same time everyday.  A lunch hour workout may be perfect for MWF, but evening exercise may fit better for Tuesday and Thursday.

Accountability is another aspect of your program that is extremely helpful.  Consider finding a workout partner.  When someone else is depending on you, it ups the ante.  It doesn't have to be for every workout.  Mix it up some - schedule a weekly Saturday hike with your husband and a Tues./Thurs. noon hour yoga class with your best friend.  Utilize our support forum and recruit family members and friends into your efforts by letting them know your goals and desires to integrate these times into your schedule.  Most of all, be accountable to yourself.  Sign a contract stating that these are the steps you are going to take to improve your quality of life.  Honor your promise.

Last but not least - don't give up!  Integrating activity and exercise into daily living is a lifestyle habit and will take some time to perfect.  Be patient and view this as lifestyle management.  Some attempts or approaches may not work at all while others may simply need a bit of tweaking.  Giving up when faced with a roadblock would be bad management!  A good manager will tackle the problem from a different angle until the problem is solved.  Be a good manager of your health and stick with it! Remember:


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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.
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