Dr. Angela Hanford
** Trigger Warning: This topic may be triggering for anyone with a history of eating disorders. **
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be diet or exercise advice, but purely focused on finding motivation. Before beginning exercise or working out, it is important to consult a medical doctor.
Exercise or physical activity has been shown to have many benefits, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Despite the benefits, sometimes it can be difficult to find the motivation needed to start incorporating body movement into our daily routines.
There may be several obstacles that stand in the way of working out, including a lack of time, uncertainty of what your workout should consist of, physical limitations, financial concerns, or other daily concerns that take your attention. For some of these situations, one remedy may be finding the motivation to push past the obstacles.
You don’t need a gym membership or special equipment to get a workout in, nor do you need large swathes of time. For example, taking a walk or dancing can be done without any financial obligations.
Exercise can take so many forms such as lifting weights, running, calisthenics, yoga, swimming, ballroom dancing, spelunking, walking, hiking, or mountain climbing. Admittedly some of these require more time than others or need specialized equipment to get into, but the basic idea stands.
The biggest obstacle to getting more exercise is the motivation to get it done. That feeling (best described as “ugh”) that sets in when the alarm goes off or the thought that first comes to mind (perhaps “yay!”) when a text from your workout partner comes in saying they can’t make it to your session needs to be overcome.
The goal is to find the motivation that will help you to overcome that “ugh” or “yay!” feeling that undermines your consistency and enthusiasm for getting exercise.
Finding your workout motivation
Sometimes it helps to focus on the positive effects of body movement in order to bring about workout motivation. Exercise has many benefits, ranging from elevating your mood through the neurochemicals dopamine and serotonin that your body releases during exercise, to lowering your levels of stress, boosting your overall energy levels, and the enjoyment of feeling your body in motion.
There are benefits to heart health; reduced risk of falls through balance training and gaining strength; enhancing your flexibility; developing stronger bones, joints, and muscles; and lowering the risks of several conditions such as some cancers and Type 2 diabetes.
This information on the positive effects of exercise is helpful, but most of us already know it. It must become more personal and made more tangible for us. The information needs to be tied into your world and what’s of value to you.
Here are some ways to increase your workout motivation – you can adapt them to your situation.
Having clear goals: One way to motivate you toward getting up and moving is to know what you’re aiming for. Having something specific to get up for is better than nothing. When you place your goal in front of your eyes and keep it there, it can push you beyond your regular limits.
For some people, the goal is being able to play with their kids or to be limber and strong enough to play hide-and-go-seek with their grandkids. What might push you is having a clear vision of remaining healthy and walking your daughter down the aisle, while for others picturing themselves finishing a marathon gives them the needed push.
For others, the thought of feeling comfortable and energetic enough to go about their day is motivation. When you have those clear goals, keep returning to them when negative feelings come up, and get moving!
Listen to inspiring music: You can make your workout enjoyable by incorporating music that is encouraging and inspiring. Music has a profound effect– it can relax your mind, energize your body, and bring you pleasure.
Good workout music gets you pumped up and excited for the task ahead of you, it can help you maintain a good rhythm and it helps to both pass and mark time. Some songs just get you in the mood to get up and do something, for instance ‘Eye of the tiger’ (perhaps because of the Rocky training montages?). Good music can spur you on to get up and get going, and that’s why lots of group workouts (online or in-person) are set to music or have music in them.
Keep track of your progress: Exercise typically has tangible results if you stick to it long enough and do it right. The results may be becoming more flexible, feeling stronger, getting faster, and so on. Tracking your progress can help to keep you motivated. When you track your progress, it’s important to have realistic expectations of yourself.
If unrealistic expectations aren’t met on the schedule you’ve set for yourself, it can have the opposite effect of what you intended. Expect changes, but be conservative in your expectations, and be aware that it may take a while to get your body to the place where those changes are noticeable and tangible. Be careful about focusing solely on weight and body shape changes, instead of looking at how your body feels and overall health.
Build community: One of the benefits of starting and continuing your fitness journey in community with others is that you can motivate each other and find enjoyment in being physically active with another.
Find a physical activity that you enjoy: This is probably the most important aspect of motivation. Find some type of body movement that you enjoy. This could be going to the gym, walking, yoga, attending a dance class, or any type of body movement.
Focus on what makes your body feel good and strong, not on how many calories you are burning or pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion. Exercise can actually be a great way to be mindful when you can be attuned to how your body is feeling in the moment of exercise. In contrast, counting calories and focusing on the number on the scale can lead to discouragement and obsessing rather than enjoyment of what your body can do.
Working Out as Part of an Overall Self-Care Routine
When it comes to self-care, exercise or body movement is just one component. For example, it is equally as important to have enough sleep each night. If you have slept four hours and then push yourself to work out, that is depriving yourself of the needed sleep. Sleep is so important to brain health and overall health.
Making sure that you are eating enough and feeding your body with things you enjoy and providing nutrition is also important in the overall picture of health. Furthermore, engaging in other stress-reduction activities (e.g., mindfulness and breathing) and maintaining a close circle of social support are also key. Exercise should be about self-care and health.
What are the Next Steps?
As previously stated, the first step in working out is to talk to your doctor. If you struggle with not knowing how to fuel your body, a registered dietitian may be helpful. Try some of these ideas for increasing workout motivation. If you still hare struggling with motivation, in this or any area, it may be helpful to reach out to a coach or therapist to see if there are any other factors contributing to lack of workout motivation.
“Yoga”, Courtesy of Kike Vega, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Calm Sea”, Courtesy of Jonathan Bean, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Forest Walk” Courtesy of James Wheeler, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Golden Hour”, Courtesy of Wes Hicks, Unsplash.com, CC0 License
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