You know you need to exercise, right? But where do you find exercise motivation when you have 99 valid reasons not to?
Thankfully for us, science has done some work to crack the motivation code and has come up with a few tips for all of us procrastinators.
Finding Exercise Motivation
How do you find the motivation to start exercising when….
- you hate going to the gym.
- you’re too tired.
- you have zero time.
- you have no energy.
- you have no money.
- you’re too self-conscious.
- exercising is boring.
Did I miss any?
“Just Do It” is a great slogan that sells a ton of workout gear, but it really doesn’t work for me.
Fortunately, I stumbled across an NPR LifeKit podcast on getting started with exercise, and this great book by University of Michigan sports and health psychologist, Michelle Segar. The following tips are based on these two great resources. I highly recommend checking them both out!
Tip #1: Everything Counts
Let’s take a little quiz, shall we?
- You have to sweat for exercise to count. FALSE!
- You have to exercise in 30-minute uninterrupted stretches. FALSE!
- You have to feel the burn for it to count. FALSE!
I grew up in the era of high impact aerobics, running and weightlifting gym rats.
Feel the burn. No pain, no gain. Remember that? I used to think that unless I had sweat running down my face, I wasn’t really working out.
Science now tells us that not only are those ideas outdated, they are also FALSE!
The first step in finding exercise motivation is to reframe what you consider as exercise.
All movement counts.
Anything is better than nothing. Anytime you move your body, it counts. Walking counts. Doing squats at your desk a couple of times a day counts. Taking the stairs instead of the elevator counts. Anytime you can move your body, it counts as exercise.
Here’s the good news….it’s easier than you think to get a beneficial workout.
Science now says that 150 minutes of moderately intense activity each week can have HUGE health benefits. Like helping to ward off:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- And even some cancers
Moderately Intense Activity
So what the heck is moderately intense activity anyway? Thankfully, scientists have compiled a pretty complete list of activities called the Compendium of Physical Activities. This big database lists specific activities (think gardening, dancing, walking, dusting, step aerobics, etc.) along with their intensity or MET (metabolic equivalent) value.
One MET is roughly equivalent to the energy it takes to sit quietly, or work at a desk. It’s basically your resting metabolic rate. So an activity, like slowly climbing the stairs, with a MET value of 4.0, means you’re burning 4 times the calories of just sitting.
Moderately intense activity is activity with a MET score of 3.0 to 6.0. So the magic number you need to shoot for to get health benefits from exercise is an activity with a MET score of at least 3.0.
So here’s the good part….it’s super easy to find activities that meet that minimum value of 3.0 METs. Here are a few totally doable activities that count as moderately intense activities:
- A leisurely bike ride – 3.5 METs
- Walking your dog – 3.0 METs
- Pushing a stroller – 4.0 METs
- Basic moderate effort calisthenics – 3.8 METs
- Raking leaves – 3.8 METs
- Salsa dancing – 4.5 METs
- Brisk walking – 4.3 METs
- Vacuuming – 3.3 METs
See how many opportunities you have every day to get to a MET of at least 3.0? Now if that isn’t exercise motivation, I don’t know what is!
Tip #2: Think of Exercise as a Ladder
Think of exercise as a ladder: the more you do, the more you can do. Start at the bottom rung and work your way up as you gain more confidence and stamina.
For years, I thought I had to commit to the gym for a 90-minute workout to get health benefits.
Even short periods of exercise can help you build up your fitness and your health. Little bits of movement really can add up.
Since time is one of the biggest excuses that people use when they say they don’t exercise, the ladder analogy really comes in handy.
So what can you do if you just don’t have the time to exercise? Think about climbing a ladder, rung by rung.
- Ladder Rung 1: Take a 5-minute walk, or stand up and sit down several times each hour. When you’re feeling comfortable with that, move on to the next step.
- Ladder Rung 2: Find three 10-minute moments in your day to walk around the block, climb some stairs, or just walk around the office.
- Ladder Rung 3: Keep upping your goals and upping the time you are moving your body.
- Ladder Rung 4 and up: Who knows, you may even find yourself overflowing with exercise motivation and signing up for a 5K or joining a fitness class.
Tip #3: Change Your Focus
Get ready for this one because it sounds counter-intuitive!
Don’t exercise because you want to look better or be healthier.
Instead, focus on how exercise makes you feel.
Science has shown that the best motivator is to focus on the short-term benefits of exercise: like the way you feel when you have moved your body, or the extra energy you feel after taking a walk, or the fact that a stroll around the block can help you clear your head.
These benefits are things you feel immediately, which is why they act as such good exercise motivation.
Focusing on exercising for your health or to lose weight just doesn’t work because it takes SO long to feel and see the results.
Instead of dreaming of that 15-pound weight loss, focus on all the immediate rewards you get from exercise, like more energy and a better attitude.
Tip #4: Figure Out What Kind of Exercise and Location is Best for You
This one is key! But it does take some trial and error to find just the type of exercise, and the place that works best for you.
If you absolutely hate going to the gym, don’t go there! Maybe get a video to work out at home and some hand weights.
If you hate exercise videos, maybe try walking at the park.
If you hate walking alone, try a group fitness class.
Keep trying until you find that sweet spot.
Once you find an activity you like and a location you’re comfortable with, you are more likely to stick with it!
Exercise Motivation Tips Wrapup
Follow these research-backed tips to help you love exercising, or at least like it enough to keep it up!
- Everything counts when it comes to movement so choose to move every chance you get!
- Think of exercise as a ladder: start at the bottom and work your way up. The more you do, the more you can do!
- Focus on feeling the immediate benefits of exercise to stay motivated.
- Keep trying things until you find an activity you actually like.
And the biggest tip of all….keep trying, don’t give up, and be proud of your baby-steps in the right direction!