How do I stay motivated to exercise?

You know the benefits of keeping fit but that doesn’t mean you’re always motivated to exercise. Here are some ways to get fired up about working out:
  • Get a workout buddy.
  • Hire a personal trainer.
  • Try group exercise.
  • Play games.
  • Entertain yourself.
  • Tap into social networks.
  • Try positive feedback -- it works!
  • Get a fitness tracking device.
  • Make it a family affair: Remember, you're not just training for yourself! 
Staying motivated can be a challenge but it's a very important part of staying committed to a long-term healthy lifestyle.  Here are a few tips for staying motivated:

1. Change your exercise program every 4-6 weeks - variety keeps us engaged and will get you better results!
2. Workout with a partner. Support is important and it can help to team up to keep moving.
3. Focus on the benefits of what you're doing and how you feel AFTER a workout so rather than dreading the act of getting to the gym, think about the positives that come out of the activity.
4. Celebrate your successes and set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

Keep moving and enjoy a healthier you!

Focus on how you are feeling instead the body shape changes that take longer. If you are consistently exercising (at least 2-3 times a week) in approximately a month more or less you may be feeling more energized, less stressed, sleeping better, and building confidence in your training skills. These benefits can help you stay motivated to make it to the four to six month time frame where you should see more of the physical changes and health improvements you desired.

Hopefully, feeling a great motivator, stay with it and make it a lifestyle. Research shows that exercise keeps you feeling younger and will help you stay active throughout the years.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Variety is the spice of life. Learn to incorporate different routines and moves to keep your motivated. Working out every day becomes tedious, because you're doing the same thing over and over. As long as you're doing something different it will keep you busy and it will prevent you from being bored.
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To stay motivated to work out, try these:
  • Do what you love to do. If you love biking and can't stand running, why run? Bike instead! Doing what you enjoy will keep you coming back for more.
  • Find other things you love to do, and do them! Add variety to your workouts. Try yoga or swimming for a change. If you find that you enjoy it, keep doing it. If you aren't sure what to do differently, ask a personal trainer for ideas.
  • Set short term, as well as long term goals. A long term goal to lose 50 lbs this year can get pretty discouraging because it does quite a bit of time to get there. Break that goal down to losing 10 lbs every 5 weeks. Or even 2lbs every week. That way you can see that you really are making progress and you'll feel good every time you acheive one of those smaller goals.
  • Measure your progress. Record where you were when you started your exercise program and take measurements along the way. Measure your waist size, record how fast you can run a mile, etc. You'll be able to watch your body change and have records to prove it!
  • Reward yourself when you achieve those goals. Go out with friends to celebrate your success or go buy a new shirt when you drop 10 lbs. Whatever makes you feel great about your accomplishments!
  • Understand that everyone has setbacks. We all mess up and have set backs in our exercise routines. Instead of getting down on yourself and quitting your program all together, move on. None of us are perfect.  
  • Find someone to cheer you on or even better, to do it with you. Having a good support system when you are trying to stick with an exercise routine is a great way to keep yourself on track. Friends and family will ask you how you are doing with your program and your goals. Also, If you have a friend who has similar goals, workout with them! You can keep eachother going.

It’s all about perception.  Try to approach your exercise as an exploration and adventure.  As soon as you start seeing your workout as a chore, it will begin to feel like a chore.  Get to know yourself and not only what results you want to see, but also what you love to do.  Explore the many kinds of exercises you can do and start racking up a list of your favorite exercises and your favorite kinds of exercise.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can exercise:

  • Jogging.
  • Swimming.
  • Cycling.
  • Hiking.
  • Weight Lifting.  (Endurance, Strength, Power, and Circuit Training.)
  • Sports:  (Football, soccer, tennis, golf, skiing, rock climbing, etc.)
  • Walking the dog.
  • Playing with your grandkids.
  • Yoga.
  • Group fitness classes.

If you are trying to spice up your resistance or weight training, get a book or ask a trainer to show you all the different ways you can work out the different muscle groups.  There are literally dozens of different exercises with many variations and progressions for every muscle of your body and chances are there are some that have your name on it.

As I always do, I’m going to throw in music as a powerful way to spice up your routine.  Have you ever tried watching a gripping movie with the mute button on?  Music is strong force for creating emotion and it is the same in the gym.  If you can find music that fills you with passion and drive, even a dull routine suddenly has fire under it.

Once again, it’s all about perception, so start looking for ways to create and see the excitement in your exercise and the path to your fitness goals will become less a grind and more an adventure!

This question is often presented and very understandable.  For many of you who exercise, you do it because you know you need to.  The benefits are all present but at times we lack in motivation.  Try some of the following and let me know if I can further assist:

  • Find a workout buddy
  • Take a group exercise class
  • Change the time of day in which your workout
  • Most of all change your routine!!  Do not get stuck in the same routine as it will get boring and you will lose motivation.

Stay motivated to exercise by finding what motivates YOU. What motivates one person may not motivate another. In addition, what motivates YOU today may not motivate YOU tomorrow. Consider staying "motivated" to make health a priority in your daily life and knowing that exercise (moving your body) is a component, find ways to do it each day in ways you enjoy.

Working towards a weight loss goal? Allow your progress to motivate you to keep moving. Sometimes we put more focus on how far we have to go and forget to acknowledge how far we have come. Remember this is not a short-term project. Once you reach your goal weight, you will have to continue doing what you did to lose the weight at some level.

Exercise does not need to be complicated or time consuming and can absolutely become a part of our daily lives.

Jane Milliff
Physical Therapy

Just knowing you should exercise, (and there are a million reasons why), does not make it happen. But turning something into a habit is exactly what makes it happen. Like brushing your teeth – do you ever forget to brush before you leave the house? Is it an effort to get dressed? Nope, you always leave for work or school dressed in something.

Because these pathways in your brain are so established, brushing your teeth, and dressing, are just second nature. And because they are second nature, it doesn’t take willpower or brain power to make them happen. In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor lays out all the research on developing good habits, based on studies in the field of positive psychology.

Consider these strategies so healthy habits become second nature. It’s not about self-discipline; it’s about setting yourself up for success. Use these tips and you will end up heading to Pilates at Alta or to the gym before you even realize what’s happening.

Eliminate Choice - Have an action plan in place so that in the moment, you don’t waiver because you have to decide:

  • Which exercise clothes to wear???
  • Cardio day or weight lifting?
  • Exercise before or after work???
  • At the gym or outdoors??

Having to make a multitude of last minute decisions is a sure fire way to deplete your willpower and make it likely that you will grab the remote and end up on the couch.

Plan ahead

  • Schedule an appointment at Pilates.
  • Commit to meeting a friend for a hike.
  • Fill your water bottle, lay out the exercise clothes and set the alarm before you go to bed.
  • Put it in your weekly planner and make it a ritual.

Willpower is finite and the more you use it, the less you have. It’s just like dipping into a bucket of water; soon the bucket is empty and your willpower is gone. However, if you make all those little decisions in advance, exercise can become the path of least resistance.

The key to creating good habits is ritual, or repeated practice, until your brain has an easily established neural pathway. So if all else fails, as Achor says, just sleep in your gym clothes.

Sari Greaves
Nutrition & Dietetics
We all experience days when we just can't convince ourselves to exercise! But there are ways to combat these days.

Having a friend to work out with, who follows the same workout schedule as you, helps create accountability. Accountability is a great motivator!

Set small goals. Tell yourself even a 10 minute brisk walk is better than nothing. You may find that once you start walking, that 10 minutes turns into 20 or 30 minutes, and you have met your exercise goal!

If the day is simply awful, give yourself the day off, but then get right back on the exercise the very next day! And as always try to maintain a clean diet and drink lots of water.
The reasons for exercising vary person to person. Studies have indicated that an individual's motivation is either driven from within (internal), or driven from outside influence (external). This must be identified to create strategies for one to stay motivated to exercise. Individual's can become demotivated from exercise for various reasons:
  • Boredom
  • Lack of Results
  • No support system
  • Program not appropriate for the user
  • Pain

Possible Strategies: 

  • Variety is the spice of life! Suggestions for either internal or externally driven individuals is variety. Your program should be built to create modifications in your program either daily, weekly, or monthly. Both types of individuals could benefit from incorporating environmental changes (outdoor, indoor, at home, at health club or PT studio are examples.)
  • Go for a check-up! For the externally driven individual, hearing your doctor give you positive or negative feedback can motivate you. Most people have higher regards for their doctor. If the doctor tells you to move more or eat less that will most likely get you moving. The same can be said if the doctor says great job, keep it going.
  • Seek A Pro! Hire a professional coach to help guide and design a program that is just for you. There is no one program that fits all. A coach can match you, your goals, and tasks to the appropriate program. For the externally driven individual, another voice is in your ear.
R M. Firth, MD
Family Medicine

Exercise is an important part in a healthy lifestyle. I often say exercise is the key to life. It is the best pick-me-up pill there is. We all go through ebbs when it is more difficult to exercise. This is natural. I promise that exercise will give you more energy, more self-esteem, and make more time in your day as you will feel energized. You will also sleep better and have a decrease in your stress level. 

There are some keys to staying motivated to exercise. These are some that I use. List the reasons you want exercise in your life and refer to the list often. Also list the things that get in your way of exercise. If you understand what gets in your way you can adjust things to your advantage. For most of us making the time is the key. If you can set aside time you will feel liberated and actually look forward to exercise time. It beats the stress of having to juggle things everyday to get the exercise in. 

  • Set goals that you want to achieve -- short-term and long-term goals. Refer to them often.
  • Keep an exercise log noting when you exercise, how long, any achievements or goals you've reached, etc. Keep it simple, but positive.
  • Exercise with a friend or spouse. It is easier to break away from the arms of the bed early in the morning or distractions at other times to exercise if you know a friend is waiting for you. It is also more fun as you push each other to become better. 
  • Sign up for simple competitions as a goal to work towards -- a 5K run, an organized cycling, walking or swimming activity, a local strenuous hike, etc. You will soon label yourself as an athlete which will further motivate your exercise.
  • Reward yourself as you reach your short-term goals. We don't give ourselves enough credit for the great things we are accomplishing. Celebrate the new life you are creating through exercise and an active lifestyle.
Eric Olsen
If you've established some specific goals and you're keeping a record, you have the opportunity to reward yourself for reaching those goals. Added years of life, reduced risk of disease, weight loss, improved appearance, a better self-image, and improved vitality are all "rewards," of course, but they usually come only after several weeks or months of consistent activity. To keep yourself motivated in the meantime, offer yourself more immediate gratification.

Set up a "token economy." For example, if you like beer -- or an alcohol-free substitute -- allow yourself one can for, say, every five miles of walking or jogging. Or reward yourself with a weekend at your favorite bed-and-breakfast once you've logged 100 miles of walking, or the equivalent in laps in the pool (roughly speaking, a quarter mile of swimming is equivalent in energy expended to one mile of walking or running). If you'd like a new dress that costs $100, set up a token economy around that dress: For every 100 kilocalories burned in exercise (or 10 kilocalories if you can't wait), drop a dollar in a jar. Soon enough you'll have enough money for the dress. You may even fit into a size smaller than you would have without the token-economy approach to exercise.

Each of us must decide which rewards are attractive and powerful enough to keep us motivated, of course; for some, it might be a vacation in the Bahamas; for others, merely a blueberry Danish.
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DO NOT wait for the motivation to keep you in action, DO move to action and let the motivation from your progress grow and move you to want more. Consistent motivation is not something you “attain or that stays with you.” Motivation comes from making the commitment that you will change yourself for the better, creating a plan to meet your goals, having the discipline to stay true to your plan, and constantly being aware of your progress so you can meet the challenges and celebrate the victories.

 How you live your life is a series of your choices. Having fitness being part lifestyle is your decision. In order to commit and STAY MOTIVATED, you need to find a reason WHY you want to make a change or take action in your life. It is easy to say it is for your health, to prevent disease, live longer, lose weight, or have a happier life. However, these are not YOUR personal reasons to improve your fitness. Fitness needs to add value in your life. Here are some simple questions you can ask yourself that will begin to develop the WHY behind your fitness and provide constant motivation:

  1. If I were in better shape, had more endurance, had less pain and/or sickness, what would I do differently with my time/life?
  2. If I did not have to think about how my body limits me by pain, injury, sickness, lack of energy, lack of confidence, what physical, professional or personal goals would I be able to accomplish?
  3. If I had more energy, felt better about myself, was happier every day, was more productive at work and home, and was not limited in the activities I could do, how would my time with family and friends be enhanced?
  4. How would my life change if I could look in the mirror and be proud of who I saw.
  5. Do I want to be a prisoner of my body crippled by my circumstances or do I want to utilize my body to live life as I choose, accomplish my dreams, and have the freedom to do what I want when I want?

Commit to yourself, believe in yourself, choose Fitness for your reasons and motivation will find you. Take time to sit down alone and ask yourself the above questions. You have the motivation, you have the time, you have what it takes.

To keep on track, consider scheduling your workouts like you would any other appointments. You may want to find a workout partner who will keep you motivated when you are tempted to skip a workout.
Set realistic goals including long-term goals, such as walking 30 minutes a day 5 days a week, and short-term goals, such as “I’m going try strength-training today.” You may want to do a variety of exercises to keep your interest piqued in working out. Track your progress by recording noticeable changes, such as your energy level, weight, belt size, and changes in medications.
Harris H. McIlwain, MD
Be sure to choose those activities that you enjoy and do these activities in moderation both in amount and in intensity. One main reason people drop exercise programs is that they get bored; either the exercise becomes too mundane, the scenery is too repetitious or the results are not startling enough to keep them motivated. Another reason people quit exercising is that they try to do too much, too soon and instead of receiving aerobic benefits, they become injured.
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One way to stay motivated to exercise is having multiple exercise buddies, so you have several obligations throughout the week to keep you moving. Perhaps you have one friend who likes to go to an aerobics class, another who walks in the evenings, and your faithful dog who is ready for walk when your alarm goes off each morning.

Also think about signing up for some kind of lessons such as martial arts, dancing, kayaking, or yoga. You don't need to be so scheduled that you have a different activity mandated every day of the week, but having multiple choices keeps your increased activity fresh and doesn’t have to feel like chore.

As you increase your level of exercise and fitness, it’s important to not give up. Think of your commitment to a daily exercise program as one positive step you can take to end chronic pain -- and it takes time. The more you see your exercise time as equally important to your life as eating healthy food or taking medications, it will become easier, more natural, and a total part of your multifaceted program to help you feel good again.
Judith Beck, PhD
First, don’t wait to feel motivated to exercise. Develop a plan to carry you through no matter how you’re feeling. Second, it’s a good idea to commit to exercising every day, even if on many days you only take a five-minute walk. In that way, if you’re tempted to skip exercise, you can remind yourself, “Exercise is an essential part of being healthy. That’s why I am going to take at least a five-minute walk today.” So many exercisers are all-or-nothing. They skip one week of exercise and it then takes months for them to restart. A short walk is always doable and can help break the cycle of periods of exercise alternating with periods of no exercise.
Staying motivated can be challenging. Here some ways to find motivation.
  • Find out what motivates you from within: You may have set a fitness goal, but have you asked yourself why this goal is important to you? Dig deeper than the surface and use these deep reasons, your "why," to become motivation for you.
  • Use visual motivators: Write down your "goal" and your "why" and place what you've written where you can see it everyday; on the fridge, the bathroom mirror, in the car, or at the office. These can be motivational quotes; pictures or one word prompts that mean something to you. For example, if your "why" is to get healthy for your kids, use a picture of them for your visual motivator.
  • Practice journaling: If journaling is not your thing, just use a few words to describe what is going on, like "Had a successful day," "Today was hard," or "Day started rough, but ended well." You'll discover that just taking the time to think about your feelings or thoughts will help with your ability to focus. You may even find you are writing more and more each day.
  • Avoid de-motivation: Be prepared for setbacks. They happen to us all. Setbacks are not necessarily failures, rather learning opportunites. Be ready to move on instead of staying in a place of defeat. Avoid negative self-talk and complaining. When the temptation happens to speak negatively, stop, take a breath and say something positive. When you are tempted to say, "I've completely let myself down," stop, say instead, "I am becoming a new person and today I am making good choices." Or instead of "I just can't do this," say "I am challenged, but I will rise to the occasion." Avoid bringing temptation upon yourself. For example, if friends invite you to the donut shop for coffee, suggest meeting at the park for a walk instead.
  • Put yourself in charge: Remember, ultimately you make the choices. You would make every effort to prove responsible for a job you were entrusted with. So, imagine you are your own boss giving yourself a job to do. Hold yourself accountable and know that no one but you is in charge of your body and the choices you make.
  • Get support: When struggling to muster motivation within yourself, look for a support system from family or friends. Find an accountability partner; a training partner who is in it with you, or someone motivating to confide in. Personal trainers or nutrition coaches make great accountability partners and know how to help you achieve your goals.

Goal setting can help keep you motivated and on track in your exercise program. Here are some tips to help set goals. It's important to think realistically (doing some exercise but not too much exercise) about setting 2-3 small, short term goals that come out of your long term goals. For example, a long term goal might be to lose weight. Some short term goals for that long term goal might include: adding one more serving of fruit everyday, deleting one carbohydrate 3 days for the first week and adding 1 more glass of water everyday. As you find yourself reaching one goal you'll find your confidence increasing to reach the next goal. You will also need to take into consideration what 'things' help you to exercise: groups, friends and family and what 'things' get in the way of exercising: time, energy, work and motivation. Once you are aware of what things you need to exercise and what gets in the way you are better able to incorporate those into your goals to help you move forward and build confidence. For example, if you don't like to workout alone then it's important to be aware of that, add that to your goals and find someone to workout with you. If work is a barrier to exercise, add that to your goals and find a way to either incorporate exercise into your work or add it before or after your work.
The key to motivation is a sense of control over what you are doing, when you are doing it and where. Choose something you know you'll love or something you think you'll grow to love and have fun with. Add in social support such as friends, co-workers or family members to keep you engaged in the activities. Similar to anything new, you need to realize that you are starting off with a sense of newness and possible discomfort, but those feelings go away; as with anything in life that is new.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.