Motivated to Exercise: Who, Me?

When it comes to exercise, I know I’m not normal.  I like to exercise, but frankly, I haven’t always been this way.  As a teen, I was very self-conscious about how awkward and lumpy I looked in my gym shorts compared to fit and trim girls half my size.  I had curves where they had the bodies of little boys.  As a college student, I started working out at the student gym but always thought my cottage cheese thighs were drawing attention to me.  I never liked classes like Jazzercise or Aerobics because I thought everyone was watching how slow and uncoordinated I was, and how I had the tendency to sweat like a linebacker.  When I was home for the summer, I rode my bike and ran laps around the school track every evening.  It wasn’t my favorite form of exercise but I enjoyed being outdoors and liked the results (avoided the “freshman fifteen”).  I was motivated to exercise so I could eat what I wanted to and not feel guilty.  Is that the “right” motivation to exercise?  Why do I exercise now?

My motivation to exercise at this stage in my life is: to be healthy, to maintain/lose weight, and to live a long and healthy life.  This is what works for me!  You have to find your motivation—one that keeps you going, day by day.  Although your motivation may wax and wane over time—as your life becomes more complicated with job stresses, family demands, low energy levels, and illnesses/injuries, you have to find a way to keep going, moving, and exercising!

Here are some tips/ideas for motivating you for a lifetime of exercise and good health:

  1. Be realistic! Many “new” exercisers or ones that are trying to get back into exercising initially set too high of a goal.  Start slow—do “the best activity that you enjoy and is easy for you to do” 20-30 minutes each day, at least 2-3 times a week.  You can build up to longer exercise times and more times per week as your body gets used to increased activity.
  2. Keep track of your progress. Track by hand or electronically information such as time spent, activity, increased reps, increased frequency, etc. to maintain motivation.
  3. Don’t expect perfection. There will be days when you might miss exercising due to illness, injury, or schedules.  Don’t use missing a day or two as an excuse to completely stop, and don’t beat yourself up when you happen to miss.  Start over the next day and move forward.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to others. There will always be someone faster, skinnier, or more muscular than you.  Your best efforts should be focused on what you can do—forget them, forgive them, and do what you can do!
  5. Get athletic supporters. I’m not talking about jock straps or sports bras—you need moral support from friends, family, and exercise partners—ones that will encourage you but not nag.  If a personal trainer will keep you motivated, use them!
  6. Find the fun in it! Find activities that you like to do—exercise classes, team sports, working out with a partner at the gym or outside, Zumba, spinning—the list goes on.  Try a variety of things so you can find out what you like, especially before purchasing equipment, etc.
  7. Break it up. Two to three shorter sessions is as beneficial as one long workout.  It may even be more convenient for shorter workouts if you have an extremely busy schedule.
  8. Make it convenient. No one has an abundance of time on their hands—try to remove as many barriers as possible to exercise.  Join a gym close to your home to cut down on drive times.  Use walking trails or parks near your home for exercise.  Use exercise DVDs or FitTV for exercise programs and classes.
  9. Forget the past. You aren’t exercising to earn a letter jacket or make the drill team.  Likewise, you aren’t that lumpy freckle-faced kid that always got picked last in dodgeball.  You are exercising to feel better, live longer, and be healthier.
  10. Reward yourself. A triple decker bacon cheeseburger is not the reward you should be giving    yourself!  Give yourself a treat for settling into an exercise routine and sticking with it—a new pair of running shoes, workout clothes, an afternoon at the movie, a pedicure, or an outing at your favorite bookstore!  Choose something that is special and that will make you feel good when you reach that milestone!