Okay, so we all know exercise is good for us. Time and time again, research proves that it can reduce blood pressure, decrease inflammation, improve blood flow, and so much more. But let’s face it: in this busy world of ours, exercising consistently can be hard. In today’s post, I’ll share tips that I’ve used over many, many years to make sure I stay active.
1. Know thyself.
Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself when figuring out what form of exercise would be the best fit:
• Do you prefer working out solo or with a group?
• At home or in a gym?
• Someone telling you what to do or making it up yourself?
• Cardio or weights?
• High impact or low impact?
• Inside or outside?
• With an encouraging coach or no one’s involvement?
• Short and sweet or slow and steady?
There are no right answers here! It’s just about getting to know what your preferences are so that you pick something that’s a good fit (and therefore easier to maintain).
For those of you who prefer group workouts, enjoy cardio, and don’t know what to do on your own, Orange Theory or F45 might be a good choice. If you like working out at home alone, videos from something like BeachBody On Demand might be a better choice.
2. Set realistic goals.
I get it: when you don’t feel your best, it’s tempting to commit yourself to 90-minute workouts five times a week. However, this is completely unsustainable and will likely wear you out physically and mentally. And when that happens, it’s easy to say, “See!? This is why I hate working out!”
Set goals that are compatible with your life and err on the side of caution. In other words, if your ideal scenario would be to exercise five days a week, start at three days a week and work your way up. And remember that working out is about quality over quantity, meaning you do NOT have to spend hours on end at the gym to get a good workout.
3. Work with your body, not against it.
I prefer high-intensity workouts so sweating through an intense weight training session or bike ride outside makes me feel recharged and rejuvenated. However, let’s rewind to November/December of last year when all of a sudden, these usual workouts were making me feel lethargic and unmotivated.
It occurred to me that this made perfect sense from a physiological perspective: given that I was under very high levels of stress at the time, my nervous system was already working overtime and pumping cortisol and adrenaline through my body on a day-to-day basis. And yet, here I was doing extremely stimulating forms of exercise. It wasn’t what my body needed at all; in fact, it needed low-impact training like yoga, walking, pilates, and the like.
The point is, pick a form of exercise that works with your body and nervous system and be flexible with yourself. If the idea of a 5km run feels too much one day, do a 5km walk instead. This doesn’t mean you’ve “failed,” it means that you’re simply giving your body what it needs—and you’re still getting more exercise than the person watching Netflix on the couch!
4. Redefine your “why.”
As we all know, one of the benefits of exercising is that it can increase muscle mass and encourage weight loss. But if changing your appearance is the only thing that’s motivating you to work out, this can catalyze a very unhealthy relationship with exercise. For starters, physical activity is more likely to become a form of punishment: “I'm only working out to burn off that pizza I ate last night.” (And why the hell would you want to do something associated with punishment?)
Secondly, using your body as your only metric of success is fickle. Our bodies experience bloating, menstruation, water retention, and more, which can all affect our appearance. Seeing these things as evidence that “exercise doesn’t do anything” is not only inaccurate, but it will make you feel defeated.
I like using metrics that have nothing to do with my appearance when it comes to answering the question of why I want to work out. For me, I focus on the psychological benefits like sleeping better and feeling more relaxed.
Research backs this up, by the way: exercise has been shown to improve sleep, increase interest in sex, improve mood, increase energy, and enhance mental alertness. The mechanism through which this happens is through the release of endorphins and serotonin, which are important for mood regulation.
Other metrics you could use include: improving your resting heart rate, increasing the amount of weight you can lift, increasing your endurance, and more.
5. Find ways to be accountable.
It’s usually easier to stick with something when there are consequences if we don’t. Plus, a cognitive bias that many of us engage in is something called the sunk cost fallacy, which is when we’re more likely to keep doing something if we’ve invested time, money, or energy into it. While sometimes this cognitive bias can work against us (like staying in a mediocre relationship just because we’ve already been in it for three years), it can be helpful in the case of working out, like being more likely to go to the gym if you’ve paid for a membership.
Speaking from personal experience, I was most accountable when I had the help of a personal trainer. While I know this isn’t an option for everyone, it’s an investment that I think is worth every penny. Not only did I learn so much about how to work out properly, I gained confidence to go to the gym alone, create my own fitness routine, and make working out a part of my routine. Plus, having a personal trainer who was so encouraging and optimistic helped me feel more positive too, which lended some serious emotional perks. (One such wonderfully positive person who I trust with all things fitness is the wonderful Abianna Roman, who offers in-person and online personal training.)
Other examples of holding yourself accountable include signing up for classes with a cancellation fee, finding a workout buddy, or registering for an event like a 5km run.
6. Accept that there will be ebbs and flows.
Recently, I exercised five times every single week for two years solid—without missing a single workout! But as I mentioned, I eventually hit a total wall. While it was easy to freak out about this—and sometimes I did—I reminded myself to have faith in myself. Rather than calling myself “lazy,” I told myself, “You know you’ll get back into it eventually… just give it time.” And I was right! Be kind to yourself rather than beating yourself up when you’re going through the ebbs; there’s no need to make things worse.
Also, suddenly losing motivation to work out could be due to nothing more than sheer boredom! Try something totally different for a little while and you might be surprised to see your motivation come back all on its own.
The Bottom Line
I know, I know: you’re busy. But the benefits of exercise seriously can’t be overstated. From improving mood to enhancing sleep quality, working out is a simple way for us to exert control over our lives for the better. The trick is to set realistic, sustainable goals, pick a form of exercise that’s compatible with your lifestyle and that you enjoy, hone in on a “why” that resonates with you, and employ useful strategies that will keep you accountable.
With that in mind, know that it is totally normal to experience ebbs and flows when it comes to working out and that sometimes, resting is just as important. The important thing is that you recalibrate when your needs and desires change and work with your body rather than against it.
If you’d like some support increasing your motivation or improving your nutrition, contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book a psychotherapy and/or nutrition session in Markham or Vaughan.