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How can I get motivated to exercise?

Henry S. Lodge, MD
Internal Medicine
People don’t fall off track because they do the wrong exercises at the gym. They fall off track because they stop going, just for a day or two, and then never go back. I’ve worked on this with thousands of patients, and it’s the habit and routine of exercise that lead to success.

And that’s not so easy. We are hardwired to eat, to make love and to sit down and rest whenever we can, because in nature it was not clear when -- or whether -- the opportunity would come again. Now, in times of plenty and ease, those instincts are disastrous, but they are never going to go away.

Luckily, you can rewire your brain with structure and routine. Just take that amazing life skill you started building the first day you showed up for kindergarten and turn it to a new purpose. Show up at the gym. Think of it as a great job, which it is. It will change your life, slowly but surely, because once you show up you are virtually certain to do some meaningful exercise. And even if you don’t, you will show up again tomorrow. That’s the key -- showing up again tomorrow for the rest of your life.

It makes sense to think of this as a job because once you pass the age of fifty, exercise is no longer optional. You have to exercise or get old.

The only real issue is that it’s tough to keep up the motivation to exercise when life is crowded with obligations and stress. So rely on structure more than motivation. Carve out the time to exercise, make it “protected time” and guard it fiercely against intrusion.

Getting into great shape is fun and wonderful if you’re healthy, but it’s essential if you’re not. Even if you’re in truly lousy shape now, or if something really bad happens to you down the road, take heart -- everyone can do this.
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Eva B. Cwynar, MD
Internal Medicine
One of the best ways to get motivated to exercise is to participate in a sport. It's not just about energy. It's not just about getting in shape. It's about achieving a goal -- to be good at whatever sport you choose, whether it's rollerblading, swimming, playing tennis, or beach volleyball. It doesn't matter what sport it is, it only matters that you enjoy it. If you start young, you won't spend so much time in front of the computer or the television. Having said that, you're never too old to start a new sport. The feeling of accomplishment you get simply by participating actually increases your energy output. Many of my patients who are fatigued have discovered dancing (a variation on the "sport" concept). One of the reasons they find it so appealing is that there are so many kinds of dance and dance classes available. Some go to ballroom or swing dance classes; others go to classes that are closer to exercise classes and don't require partners. If you prefer not going to a class, you can dance around the house or arrange a "dance night" with friends and neighbors.
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Keri Gans
Nutrition & Dietetics
Here are some ways to increase your motivation to exercise:

1. Find your exercise “why.” Make a motivation list.

2. To inspire yourself, inspire someone else. Find an exercise buddy.

3. Make being active count. Get involved with a cause.

4. If you can’t get motivated yourself, get help from a personal trainer.

5. Work out early in the day, if possible.
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To develop your motivation to exercise, invite a family member or friend to exercise with you on a regular basis. You can also join an exercise group or class in your community. Remember all of the benefits that come with being physically active. Make a plan so you decide when you will do each type of activity. Be sure to set realistic goals and make a plan so you know what you are working toward.
Kathy Shain
Fitness
A great way to become more motivated about your workout plan is to find an activity that you feel passionate about. There are so many different ways to become more fit. There are competitive sports, dance, skiing, hiking, swimming, kayaking, marathons, weight training, skating – to name just a few that popped into my head. Look for groups in your area that you can join or for activities that take some skill try out some lessons. Be a little daring and even try out a few activities that you do not think you may be interested in; you may be surprised with the results.
Eric Beard
Sports Medicine
According to Freedictionary.com motivation is "a desire to do; interest or drive. Inspiration is divine guidance or influence exerted directly on the mind and soul." To be sufficiently inspired or motivated comes from a clear understanding of why you want to reach a goal. Getting clear on the reasons "why" can provide the fuel to get you to a goal when you are exhausted and things seem most bleak. Finding others who have accomplished a similar goal might help to give you that extra push as well.  You can find success stories online. Being involved with a group of people who are trying to reach the same goal at the same time as you can be helpful too. The support of a group, be it small or large, can help you follow through. Also, many of the most successful people on the planet have had coaches to help them along the way. Coaches can help to; figure out what to do, develop clarity for goals and motivation, provide encouragement and set benchmarks to reach smaller goals on the path success.
Motivation. Where does it come from and why are some people more motivated than others? I think understanding the answer to this is key and it is simple. DESERVE. Everyone I know who is highly motivated and accomplishes their goals feels at their core that they deserve to accomplish them. Ask yourself-Do you feel you deserve to have your dream body? If you don't, what is cluttering the way? Write down everything. Don't stop just write. Then you know what you do with that piece of paper? You throw it in the trash can and let it go. Why? Because it is a waste of your time and not part of the critical path. It is excess noise. Next close your eyes and visualize exactly what you want to look and feel like. No matter how long it takes don't open your eyes until you are crystal clear. Once you have the exact picture keep it. If you have a hard time visualizing, find a picture of someone who has the body you desire and put it on your bathroom mirror to drive you forward. Once you do this twice a day close your eyes and get this mental picture of what you want and what you deserve. Trust me. Now you will chose activities to make it happen. That is motivation. If I have it, you can have it too. You deserve the best.
Joanne Duncan-Carnesciali, CPT,NASM Elite Trainer
Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

It is important to find a strong, compelling reason for yourself as to why you would want to exercise.  Once you find your reason, make small goals that you know you can achieve to start off and progress from there.

From there see if you can enlist a friend or even joing a gym so that you have a support system to keep you motivated.

Denise Chranowski
Integrative Medicine
We emphasize the WHY before the WHAT.  So you'll get encouraged to exercise when you know why you want to.  I ask each of our patients to write down ten 'whys' as to why they want to get healthy.  And it can't be that my cousin, Nelly, is getting married next month and I need to drop 5 lbs to fit into my dress.  They have to be powerful whys.  For example, I love my life and my children and I want to be an active participant in their life.  Or my first grandchild was just born and I need to get up and down off the ground to be involved with him/her.  Once you have your why firmly cemented, the what to do becomes much easier.  And repeat after me, "exercise is non-negotiable" so get moving if you want to be healthy!!
Emilia Klapp
Nutrition & Dietetics
If you have never been physically active, you may be resistant to start. Try imaging yourself as a physically fit person, and remind yourself of the benefits of exercise, such as improved energy, muscle tone, and appearance. You don’t have to do intense aerobics for two hours each day; just find some exercises that allow you to move. Any of us is a potential athlete. You will be rewarded if you put the effort and are consistent. The only difference between those who are active and those who are not yet is desire and action.
Mr. Donovan Green
Athletic Training
Sorround yourself with things that keeps you motivated. Simply hang up a picture or read a book / magazine, or go the gym. Think about the things you love to do and get involved. Stay away from the fog and come out in to the light. See who you are and who you want to be. Always push to be better in all you do. Tell youself every single day "I WILL".
Judith Beck, PhD
Psychiatry
Don’t wait for motivation! You may not be highly motivated to brush your teeth every day but you do it anyway. That’s because you have put brushing your teeth in your “no choice” category. It doesn’t matter if you’re feeling motivated to brush your teeth; you do it anyway. It’s the same with exercise. Don’t pay attention to how you feel, to whether you want to exercise or not;  just follow your schedule.  

Motivation can either be intrinsic, motivation from within you or extrinsic, a motivating factor from your outside world. In my experience people seem to stay more motivated and focused on an intrinisc goal however, I support whatever reasons a person begins to exercise as long as it is safe and effective. Also another concept is the pain/pleasure spectrum. This concept means that we are motivated to take actions that either move us towards pleasure or away from pain.

Motivation to exercise does not have to be complex or complicated.  It should be as simple, as asking a one word question like"Why?" Why do you want to exercise? Do not doubt how important it is to take a moment and think about why you want to begin to exercise. Then write it down. Until your "WHY?" is written down it is only a wish. Once it is committed to paper then it is a goal.

For example, is your "Why?" to loose weight? Great write it down.
Do you want to lose weight to look great on the beach this year? Great! Write that down too. Now you have a simple reason of why you want to start exercising. Next, decide when you want this goal to be accomplished by and how it will be done, then you should be motivated to take action. This a goal that is moving towards pleasure.

Is your "Why?" more dire like a recent health exam that did not go well?
Ok write it down. Maybe you want to start exercising so that when you go back to the physician he will give you a much better review of your current state of health and well being. Ok write that down too.
Then ask your physician what safe steps you can take to exercise regularly.
This is obviously a goal that moves away from pain.

These are just two examples of motivating reasons to exercise. Whether your's is to gain muscle mass, improve athletic performance or to simply tone up and feel great you need to decide why you are starting to exercise and the write it down.

Remember no one will be as excited about your health and fitness as you are. So take the time to decide what you want and "Why?" and hopefully that will be all the motivation you need.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
What matters to you in life? Just constantly think about what matters to you in life, and set a small goal of 10 minutes of exercise in the morning and evening and then do those everyday while thinking about what matters.
Robert S. Kaufmann, MD
Internal Medicine
The best way to get motivated is to make it fun.  I recommend you get an exercise partner so you have to be held accountable.  I have found running with a partner makes it more enjoyable and makes time go by faster.  The other thing that keeps you motivated is results.  When your pants are a little looser and your weight decreases that also helps with motivation.
Motivation comes in many forms. For me, I want to be able to play with my kids and their kids and their kids until my last breath.
I think motivation for all comes in the form of hope. Hope that tomorrow will be better than today, Hope that you can make a difference in someone else's life. What I do know is without your health, so if nothing else use that as your motivator.
Today is a great day to get better!
 
Howard Sichel
Physical Therapy

As a clinician in Chiropractic care , i have personally seen and treated individuals that at some point had to begin an exercise program to rid themselves of the chronic weakneeses that they suffer with. Some patients take longer than others to reach that point. At some point they have to  or they will suffer the rest of their life unnecessarily. The solution to most of our chronic woes are in the empowerment a person gets from beginning to move and eercise. Movement in a balanced workout that is done consistently is the solution to so many problems. What more motivation do you need.
More energy, better endurance, less visits to the Dr., the list goes on and on. Nike has it best... Just DO It!

Darren Treasure, PhD
Sports Medicine

When a person starts to exercise it is likely that it is for extrinsic reasons, namely reasons that have little or nothing to do with physical activity itself.  For example, many women start an exercise program in an attempt to lose weight and therefore improve their appearance.  There is no incredibly strong motive to exercise per se; the behavior is simply a means to an end.  Indeed, if the goal was to enjoy the behavior most sedentary people would never return after the first painful exercise session!!!  Research has shown however that, overtime, it is the person whose motives for exercising become more intrinsic and become to reflect on who they think they are as a person that stick with the activity.  What does this mean?  It means that after the initial stages of behavior change if people do not find an inherent satisfaction in physical activity they are unlikely to persist at it.  It also means that to stick with the behavior a person needs to redefine the way they view themselves and physical activity.  They need to see being physically active as a part of who they are as a person rather than simply as a means to an end.  As people begin to feel more in control of this aspect of their lives they will come to identify with and value the rewards of being physically active so that is becomes less of a chore and more freely chosen.  This does not mean that extrinsic aspirations are not important or motivating; it simply means that physical activity becomes more a part of who you are as a person.  By shifting your reasons for being active more intrinsic you will become inspired and become fully committed live the life you have only previously dreamed. 

Getting motivated usually doesn’t take much more than looking in the mirror.  Everyone has something they would like to work on, especially after the holiday season.  So take a walk over to the mirror and decide what your motivation is going to be…then write it down.  People that write their goals down tend to stick to them.  I would suggest taping it on the mirror you use the most as a constant reminder of what your goals are.  You also need to realize that exercise doesn’t have to be anything more than doing squats while you watch TV, lunging your way to the bathroom or going for a good walk.  If you make exercise a regular part of your everyday life it is easy to fit it in.  To help stay motivated, surround yourself with other people that have similar fitness goals.  Ask them to join you in a walking group.  It is so much easier to get out there and get moving when you have someone else to push you.  Your family is a great place to start because every member of a family can benefit from learning that adding exercise into your daily life will contribute to a longer, healthier future. 

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. 

Preparing for the first day of working out can be intimidating. Plan to spend your first day doing something you really enjoy and incorporate it into your day. If you are going to the gym, do some research ahead of time. What does your gym have that you are interested in doing? Pack your workout clothes the night before and leave them at the front door so you don't have to think about it the morning of. 

If you've never worked out before jumping into 4, 5 or 6 days of working out is probably not realistic. Realistic means doing some exercise but not too much exercise. To set realistic goals look at what you've in the past, think about how much time you can devote to exercise and what your goals are for exercising. Jumping in and doing too much leads to dropping out. 
Hire a personal trainer to motivate you, give you lots of encouragement, and schedule proper workouts for you. Call your local Y for referrals or check in the yellow pages of your phone book. You’ll need to interview several to find the right person, and consider paying for three months as you get into the exercise habit. Make sure your trainer has at least a bachelor's degree in exercise science or a related health-science discipline, experience, and a certification from an internationally recognized organization like the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. You’ll be surprised at how much progress you’ll make, and the trainer will make sure you stick with your required regimen for weight loss.
Motivation to exercise can be hard to come by at times, and that is completely normal. Regardless of your fitness goal, results take time. In our world of instant gratification, it is easy to have your moitvation wane when you do not achieve your goals or see changes as quickly as you would like. Remembering that body changes are a cumulative process that takes time. Adding strength, increasing muscle size, improving aerobic endurance, or losing weight will all happen if you continue to work at it, but it will not happen over night. The key is to find a way to stay motivated throughout the process and not get derailed before you acheive your goal. Maintaining motivation is incredibly subjective, and it all depends on what you need as an individual. Joining a support group, attending a group fitness class, working out at local gym, exercising with friends, and setting small goals can all help keep you motivated and making incremental progress towards your goals. However, there are some immediate benefits of exercise that might motivate you like stress relief, increased self esteem, and reduced risk of weight-related health conditions. Exercising can set good examples for family and friends, and many employers are beginning to offer perks for those employees who maintain an exercise regimen.

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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.