7 Ways to Boost Motivation for Daily Exercise

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Staying consistent with exercise is difficult—but we have some tips to help.

You know how it goes. You start out with that new exercise program, and you’re all gung-ho. Maybe you purchased some new equipment, signed up for a new gym membership, started a new class, or got an exercise group going.

All goes well for several weeks, maybe even several months. But then “things” begin to happen.

You have a conflict, so you bail out of your regular workout routine, or you call your friends and tell them you can’t make it. Life interferes, and you drop out of that class you were taking. Maybe you end up traveling for a few weeks, and it messes up your schedule. Or you have someone in the family with health problems, and all your routines crumble into dust.

We all know that it’s consistent exercise that benefits our long-term health. The trouble is, it’s not easy to stick with it.

Why It’s So Hard to Stay Consistent

You may be in the habit of beating yourself up when you find you’ve either really slacked off your exercise routine, or maybe stopped altogether. You’re not alone, though.

Turns out that most everyone comes up against roadblocks now and then. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Time: You may start out exercising first thing in the morning, but then find that time taken away when the boss implements new morning meetings, your parents require extra care, the kids get sick, something in the house breaks, etc. Routines are easily set aside for emergencies, and then it can be hard to get back into them again.
  • Money: Maybe you were doing really well with your gym membership, but then someone lost a job or suffered a health setback, and suddenly there isn’t enough money to cover the membership anymore.
  • The weather: Those who love to exercise have a hard time sticking with it when the weather gets bad. Who can blame you if you don’t want to run in the snow?
  • Boredom: This one hits most people at one time or another, and it can be really difficult to overcome. Exercising to exercise becomes just too boring. So many other things you’d rather do!
  • Energy: Our days are packed with activities, and we can all experience a lack of energy. That feeling can make exercise seem like an insurmountable task.
  • Lack of results: Maybe you started exercising to lose weight, or to build up stamina and muscles. After several weeks, if you don’t see measurable results, you may become discouraged and wonder what you’re doing it for.
  • Lack of support: If your family rolls their eyes every time you step out the door with your sneakers on, it can be hard to stay with it.
What the Consistent Exercisers Do

No matter what your reasons for neglecting exercise, it may help to know—it’s not easy to keep going.

“It can take a lot of motivation to keep going,” says Alicen Ronan, NASM Elite Trainer. “It’s important to remember that every little bit of movement counts toward better health and fitness and you should never give up.”

So what’s the key to becoming a lifelong exerciser, one of those unflappable individuals that stay fit and healthy no matter what?

Consistent exercisers have some general things in common—things that you can adapt to your own program to increase your odds of sticking with it.

  1. They use cues. Research from Iowa State University found that making exercise a habit that is hard to break makes it more likely that you’ll stay with it. The key to making it a habit, in turn, is to create a regular routine with prompting cues. Think of Pavlov’s dog. A morning alarm clock, a certain quitting time at work, a pair of sneakers resting by the bed—these can all cue your brain that it’s time to exercise. Researchers call these cues “instigation habits.” Set a workout time that works with your schedule, and then create some cues on purpose. Set an alarm (on your watch or phone if you need to), have your exercise clothes nearby, or exercise with a friend you can’t let down. After about a month of doing the same routine over and over, you’ll be less likely to allow anything to change it.
  2. They pay no attention to how they “feel” about exercise. Consistent exercisers don’t let thoughts like “I’m tired today” or “I just don’t feel like it” interfere with their workout. They simply respond with, “Fine, I’ll go a little easy today” or something similar. They know that even an easy workout is better than none at all. Typically, once they get started, these thoughts disappear anyway.
  3. They find something they enjoy doing. Consistent exercisers don’t allow boredom to stop them. Instead, they use it as a cue to try something new. Hiking instead of biking, maybe, or dance class instead of spin class. There are endless types of exercise out there. The important thing is to keep moving, so if what you’re doing is no longer motivating you, it’s time to shake it up. Variety is also important, not only to your motivation, but to your overall health. Mixing up cardio with weight training and flexibility practice is a good way to avoid monotony while keeping your whole body fit.
  4. They have a workable “why.” Why are you exercising? Maybe you want to lose weight, train for a marathon, become stronger, or get fit to participate on a local sports team. Whatever your reason, you need to know it and really want it. If you’re “why” is “well I know I should do it for my health,” you’re not going to stay motivated for long. If, on the other hand, it’s “because I want to look good for my 20th class reunion,” you’re more likely to keep going even on those days you don’t really feel like it. Having a strong sense of purpose kicks in the part of your brain that’s responsible for achieving long-term goals, which strengthens your willpower. Just be careful—once you reach your goal, be sure you have another one ready behind it, so that you don’t stop and go backwards!
  5. They track their progress. The pedometer is a popular fitness tool for an important reason: it gives exercisers real feedback on how they’re doing. Two-thousand steps today? I’ll do two-thousand-fifty tomorrow. We all like to see ourselves get better, but we need tools that measure our progress. There’s the scale, of course, but there are also pedometers, workout trackers like FitBit, online fitness programs, or even simply keeping track of how many miles you covered this week or how much weight you were able to lift. Creating a workout journal can help give you that desire you need to constantly improve.
  6. They celebrate small accomplishments. Having a goal and tracking your progress can both be motivating—but they can also derail your regular workout. Say you want to run a marathon. Within a few weeks, if you’re not reaching the distance you planned on reaching, you may get discouraged and quit. Or say you wanted to lose 20 pounds. After three weeks, if you’ve lost only two, your motivation may leave you. Here’s where it becomes important to celebrate small accomplishments. So you lost only two pounds. If you’re still exercising on a regular basis, it’s time to pat yourself on the back. So you can’t run ten miles yet. If you’re regularly running every day, that’s something to be proud of. Keep it all in perspective. Consistency is the ultimate goal.
  7. They have a backup plan. Life is unpredictable. Things happen. Consistent exercisers have backup plans in place. They have an extra set of workout clothes stashed at the office. They have a treadmill at home for when they can’t make it to the gym. They have a dog that if all else fails, demands a walk. They have people who can watch the kids for an hour if needed. They’ve prepared for those times when their regular exercise routines become impossible, so they get in some movement one way or the other. That way, they don’t have to overcome a big wall of inertia when they return to their regular routine the next day.

How do you stick with your exercise routine? Please share any tips you may have.

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“What makes people want to stop exercising?” ShareCare, http://www.sharecare.com/health/fitness-exercise/what-people-want-exercising.

Philips L. Alison, Gardner, Benjamin, “Habitual Exercise Instigation (vs. Execution) Predicts Healthy Adults’ Exercise Frequency,” Health Psychology, July 6, 2015; doi: 10.1037/hea0000249, http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2015-30036-001/.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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