If you are the type of person who enjoys exercise, working out and participating in sports, for fun and to stay in shape, good for you! Unfortunately, you are not in the majority. There has been little change in Americans’ exercise habits since 2001. About 6 out of 10 Americans self-report regularly engaging in moderately-intense exercise. However, only half as many (32%) self-report regularly engaging in vigorous exercise and even fewer (only 15%) claim to engage in resistance/strength training, according to a 2007 Gallup Health and Healthcare Survey. Since 2008, Americans appear to exercise even less: the percent reporting exercising at least once a week for 30 minutes went from 69% in 2008 to 68% in 2009.
The target regime for health according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is five sessions per week of moderately-intense cardiovascular exercise or three sessions per week of vigorously-intense cardiovascular exercise plus two weekly strength training sessions. Approximately 17% of Americans regularly achieve this target; why not more? Information on the benefits of regular exercise abounds, and there seem to be gyms and fitness facilities on every corner. Two main obstacles to regular exercise include a perceived (or real) lack of time and poor motivation. Finding motivation to work out has a lot to do with mental preparation and setting yourself up to succeed, as well as having plans and back-up plans (for obstacles such as inclement weather). Keep in mind that beginning or resuming regular exercise requires change—and change is hard for most people. Try these five tips for finding motivation to work out.
- Make it meaningful. Your reason for beginning or resuming an exercise routine should, ideally, go beyond ‘cosmetic’ reasons. Sure, you may wish to reshape your body to look better, but that might not be enough. If you really think about it, you can likely find more than one personal, meaningful reason to get fit. What matters most to you? Consider these external and internal motivators:
- External motivators: You want to be a good role model for your children. Working out reduces your risk of developing chronic disease (type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease) and enhances muscle tone for better overall function. It can also alleviate chronic pain.
- Internal motivators: Working out helps you let go of stress, gives you more energy so that you can be productive (get more done and have energy for family time).
- Set realistic, achievable goals. It’s important that you are aware of the recommendations for exercise frequency and structure according to sources such as the CDC and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). However, particularly for beginners, don’t try to meet the recommendations from the start. Doing so may overwhelm you, which zaps motivation. Start out slowly, gradually and regularly adding time and intensity.
- Failing to Plan may result in a plan to fail. This saying may be cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. You are more likely to overcome the ‘time’ obstacle with careful planning and blocking out specific times. Sit down with your planner or schedule and write it in, being as specific as possible. If you are likely to find excuses later in the day, plan for morning exercise. Consider adding physical activity to things you already do, such as watching your favorite television program for double duty and, if you have children, think about activities you can do together, such as ‘shooting hoops.’ Re-consider your weekly cocktail hour gathering with your girlfriends…how about a kickboxing class instead followed by going out for a healthy treat. Planning includes gearing up with the basics for safe, effective exercise, such as quality gym shoes and clothing, appropriate for your activities.
- Keep it fun, interesting, varied. Avoiding ‘time wasters’. Whether you are easily bored or not, vary your routine as much as possible. Mixing up your aerobic exercise staves off boredom and reduces your risk of developing overuse injuries. One day try a fitness DVD, another, go for a walk, run, bike ride and so on. Exercise indoors and, when weather allows, outdoors as well. Consider enrolling in a weekly exercise class. Your time is important. It might be worth your while to set up at least one session with a qualified personal trainer. He or she can develop a customized resistance training program that meets your needs and includes effective, time-saving exercises. Poor form on cardio machines or schlepping through ‘spot training’ exercises may be dangerous as well as ineffective.
- Don’t let setbacks derail you. So, you’ve done everything to set yourself up for success and still aren’t making it to the gym? Don’t let slips turn into the proverbial ‘slippery slope’, cause you to reflect on past failures and become your downfall. Before you completely lose your motivation, adjust your attitude. A few missed workouts doesn’t mean the week (or month) is blown…just resume where you left off. Think of yourself as a physically active person, not simply a person that exercises. It should be a part of your identity. And, keep in mind that knowing how to exercise isn’t just about performing the routine correctly (with good form) but learning how to use your mind to propel yourself forward, into action, using positive affirmations and adopting a can do, will do attitude.
- L Saad. “Few Americans Meet Exercise Targets.” January 1, 2008
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Physical Activity for Everyone: How much physical activity do you need?
- Mayo Clinic Fitness: Fitness Programs: 7 Tips for Staying Motivated