How can I motivate myself to exercise?

John Preston, PsyD
Some people read or hear the word "exercise" and conjure up visions of sweaty gyms, groups of people in body-clinging outfits, or a yoga mat with people twisted into seemingly impossible positions. Others think of having to buy equipment and gear, such as new running shoes or weights. However, for our purposes, exercise simply means regular physical activity or movement.

Our goal is not fitness, but fitness will be a by-product of increased activity. Although there's no workout plan, there's an activity plan for getting the benefits of an active lifestyle -- a term that may make you think of hard-core gym rats -- but an active lifestyle means one spent moving versus sitting or sleeping. Something is better than nothing. You don't need to be an athlete to reap the physical, psychological, or emotional benefits of regular body movement.

Look at those words, and for each one, write down the reason you feel this way. Understanding why you have negative or positive feelings about exercise will help you plan a physical activity routine that you can maintain. You'll know why you feel good about it (hopefully there was something good on your list) and the source of your negative feelings. These are the areas you'll need to address to get, and keep, you off the couch, bed, or chair. For each negative feeling, think of a way that you can create a more positive feeling. For each positive word, think of ways to get more of that positive feeling. Every time you notice yourself thinking a negative thought about exercise, consider the positive aspects and you'll stay motivated.

Write the five positive words on sticky notes and post them in various places in your home where you'll see them every day. They'll affirm your positive feelings toward exercise and reinforce your decision to increase your activity level and manage your symptoms through the benefits that exercise brings. Possible locations include your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, closet door, computer screen, and daily calendar.
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Edward Phillips
Physical Therapy
Often, the hardest part of a workout is digging up the motivation to do it. While exercise is great medicine, it only works if you incorporate it into your regular routine. Here are a few tips:

Find the time. Skip several half-hour TV shows a week or work out while watching. Get up half an hour earlier each day for a morning workout. If big blocks of time aren't falling into your lap, break it up. Try 10-minute walks or half a workout in the morning and half in the evening.

Build active moments into your day. Start small and build up by choosing among options like these: Take stairs, not elevators. When commuting, get off the bus or subway a stop or two ahead, or park farther away from your workplace. While on the phone, try a few stretches, pace, or do simple exercises like lunges, squats, and heel raises. Bike or walk to work. When running errands within a reasonable radius, park your car in one spot and walk to different shops. Replace your desk and desk chair with a standing desk or treadmill. Try substituting a stability ball for your desk chair a few hours a day. Rake leaves and shovel snow instead of using a leaf blower or snow blower.

Find a workout buddy. Workouts with a friend are more fun, plus you're less likely to cancel on the spur of the moment.

Brainstorm solutions. Understanding likely bumps in the road and planning solutions can help keep you on track:

Need the okay to start exercising? Call your doctor today. It may help to fax or send a copy of your workout and walking plan, then follow up with a phone call to discuss it.
  • Bugged by bad weather or early darkness? Buy equipment necessary for exercising at home, join a gym, try a class in your community, or walk the mall or an indoor athletic track at a local school.
  • Feeling sick? Take time off to recover, then start at an easier-than-usual pace and work back up.
  • Bored? Join a class, change up your exercise routine, or find a workout buddy.
  • Just don't feel motivated? Remind yourself of your goals, plan small rewards, ask a friend to check up on you, or consider working out with a personal trainer. Also be mindful of the immediate reduction in stress resulting from even short bouts of moderate activity.
Paula Greer
Midwifery Nursing

When talking about getting motivated to exercise or to begin anything new a key ingredient comes to mind. I think to be motivated to exercise you need your " AHA moment”!

Motivation is a key to helping you change. Having an “aha” moment can be a great motivator. In looking at the word motivate I have come up with some key components I think you need to either get motivated, stay motivated, or get back on track and make as the YOUdocs call it a legal u turn.

M is for move. Take your first step. Stop being paralyzed with fear of change, or just staying in your comfortable rut. Motivation must comes from within.

O is for organize. Get rid of the 5 felons in your fridge and reorganize your kitchen and meal plan and schedule time for getting your exercise. Removing the five food felons will give you the energy you need to exercise.

T is for think. You need to make conscious decisions about how and when and why you exercise. Exercise with a purpose in mind.

I is for inspiration to initiate. After you start moving you need to initiate. Hopefully reading this will help you get motivated.

V is for visualize. You must stop picturing yourself as hopeless or unable to do this. You must visualize success.

A is for ask. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a team to make lifestyle changes. You need to be willing to ask for help. Ask your physician, ask your family, ask your friends, ask your YOUnurse, ask for an e-coach.

T is for try. Just trying is a first baby step. It is moving and initiating and making a conscious decision to see if it can work and not just deciding you cant do it. 

E is for eliminating negative thoughts and eliminating the stressors in your life that block your success. E can also be for energizing and exercising which fall into place with you have positive thoughts and energy. Moment that helps you realize all the benefits this new behavior will bring to you.

If you have trouble staying motivated to workout try and find activities that combine things you enjoy and a social aspect to help make exercise more enticing to you. Group exercises classes you can perform with friends can increase exercise motivation and improve adherence. Find an activity you enjoy and bring your friends along, or join a recreational sports league like soccer, softball, ultimate Frisbee or volleyball. This way you can combine social activities with exercise.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

There are two factors that are crucial to the success of your physical activity plan. One is that you truly enjoy the activities that you do. There are enough choices that virtually everyone can find an activity he or she genuinely loves. For example, if you walk, find someone you enjoy walking with -- soon the walks will be the most fun parts of the day.

The second is that you have the support of your family. Talk to your spouse or partner about the need for physical activity and its importance for both of you. Each of you can set physical activity goals. When one of you reaches a goal, have the other cook a really tasty saturated-fat-free celebratory meal or give some other reward. It may sound corny, but encouraging someone to stay in shape is the best way to say, "I love you." It means you want that person to be around for a long time. Use physical activity as a way to be together in spite of busy schedules. You can tell each other about the day's events just as easily walking together or exercising on bikes at the gym as you can in front of the TV at home.

Sometimes motivating yourself to exercise can be very challenging.  However there are many things you can do to motivate yourself to exercise.  Sometimes it is just finding things you enjoy.  Remember exercising doesn't always mean going to the gym.  It could be running, hiking, biking, swimming or even playing sports on a league.  Other things like having a workout partner can also help motivate you to exercise more.  If all else fails there is nothing wrong with hiring a personal trainer to give you that motivation and guidance to help you achieve what you are looking for.  Bottom line just look for something that best fits you.

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