Is exercising more often one of your New Year’s resolutions? Having trouble getting started? If you’re not already a fitness buff, it can be difficult to begin — and stick to — a new workout routine. But there are several ways to set yourself up for success. Try these seven science-backed tips for exercise motivation.
1. CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
First things first. If you’re having trouble with exercise motivation, you might be due for an attitude adjustment. Instead of seeing exercise as a hassle, too exhausting, the worst part of your day and so on, view it as an essential, positive component of your self-care. Prioritize health over struggling to achieve unrealistic goals. Working out should make you feel happy, healthy and strong — not be a drag on your life. And if you only see it as a negative, you might have to change the exercises you’re doing, as well as how you perceive them.
When you learn to view exercise as some quality “me” time, you might actually start looking forward to your workouts. In fact, one study found that positive memories of exercising helped to inspire future workouts. There are countless exercises that can help you maintain a healthy body, so find a fitness routine you love, rather than one you dread.
2. GIVE IN TO TEMPTATIONS
No, not the junk food and TV binge temptations (though everything in moderation, right?). Sometimes, a little bribe goes a long way in exercise motivation. For instance, treat yourself to workout clothes you love — and only allow yourself to wear them if you’re actually exercising. Or save listening to your favorite music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc. for when you’re at the gym.
One study looked at the effects of “temptation bundling” — “measuring the impact of bundling instantly gratifying but guilt-inducing ‘want’ experiences (enjoying page-turner audiobooks) with valuable ‘should’ behaviors providing delayed rewards (exercising).” Participants received iPods with four audiobooks of their choosing that they only could listen to at the gym. As a result, they ended up exercising more frequently. And after the study, 61 percent even said they would pay to have gym-only access to such a device. So if you’re lacking exercise motivation, try to mimic this study for yourself with some of your favorite entertainment.
3. SET SIMPLE GOALS
Setting simple goals is the key to turning your good fitness intentions into a lifestyle change. Don’t leave yourself any room for excuses by diving into workouts your body can’t handle and expecting unreasonable results. “Remember to make your goals realistic and achievable,” Mayo Clinic says. “It’s easy to get frustrated and give up if your goals are too ambitious.”
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity — such as brisk walking or dancing — for adults per week. And it says adults should engage in strength training at least two days per week. But the kicker is “any amount of physical activity has some health benefits.” So no matter how simple you have to start to keep yourself motivated, it’s better than nothing.
4. SCHEDULE YOUR WORKOUTS
You probably have some kind of daily to-do list or schedule to follow. Is exercise on it? It should be. “If it’s hard to find time for exercise, don’t fall back on excuses,” Mayo Clinic says. “Schedule workouts as you would any other important activity.”
Try working out first thing in the morning, so exercise becomes No. 1 on your to-do list — and the first thing you get to cross off. Join a morning exercise group. Take your dog on a vigorous walk. Bike to work. Maybe you’ll have to tweak your sleep schedule, but you might just find an energetic morning person buried inside.
If you simply cannot find the motivation to sweat in the mornings, don’t allow fitness to fall off your radar during the day. Avoid sitting for long periods. Take the stairs. And prioritize that workout before you fall into the couch for the evening. But, on the flip side, never be hard on yourself if you miss a workout. Just get back on schedule as soon as you can.
5. INCORPORATE RESISTANCE TRAINING
If you’re not already incorporating resistance training into your fitness routine, you might want to start. A study on older adults found resistance training helped to improve exercise motivation. Researchers put 104 healthy 65- to 75-year-olds who weren’t meeting their physical activity requirements on a regular resistance training plan. After nine months of this training, the participants reported more enjoyment in exercise, and they led more active lifestyles. Plus, after the program, almost half of them continued regular resistance training on their own.
Besides having the potential to influence your exercise motivation, resistance training is key to maintaining muscles and boosting overall health as you age. “It can increase your resting metabolic rate, decrease body fat, and enhance muscle tone — as well as improve your balance and motor coordination,” according to Cleveland Clinic. For best results — and continued interest — vary your routine. Try free weights, resistance bands, machines and body-weight exercises to work all your muscle groups.
6. MAKE A BET
Things always seem to get a little more serious when money is involved — even when it comes to exercise. One study recruited 57 adults with a body mass index between 30 and 40 to lose weight through diet and exercise. Two groups received various financial incentives while the control group did not. In the end, the incentivized groups lost considerably more weight than the control group, suggesting the cash was a good motivator.
So if you need some added exercise motivation, try placing a bet on yourself. There are several apps that will reward you with financial incentives when you meet health and fitness goals. You also could set up your own challenge by putting money in a jar or donating to charity every time you skip a workout without a reasonable excuse. Or simply sign up for an expensive gym membership or exercise class, and vow not to let that money go to waste.
7. GET COMPETITIVE
There’s nothing like a good support group to help you achieve your goals. But when it comes to exercise, competition might win over support. A study divided participants into four exercise groups: one with supportive relationships, one with competitive relationships, a combination of both and a control group of people acting individually. The “social support condition” offered incentives when the whole group succeeded, whereas the “social comparison condition” provided individual incentives. And the combination group compared their results as a team against other teams.
The study found comparison (or competition) was much more effective in increasing physical activity than support alone. But it was actually the group that combined competition with support that performed the best overall.
Still, it’s important to keep competition healthy. For instance, there wouldn’t be anything helpful about comparing yourself to a friend who does marathons while you’re training to run your first mile. If anything, try competing with yourself — seeing whether you can beat your times or pushing for a few more reps. Crushing your own records and seeing your health improve might be all the exercise motivation you need.