Exercise: Nine tips for staying motivated to exercise.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Nine tips for staying motivated to exercise.

Everyone knows that exercise is a KEY element to good health. The trick is keeping yourself motivated to exercise, if you’re a person who naturally relapses into the couch-potato pose.

It took me years of prodding, but I’ve finally managed to turn myself into a dedicated exerciser. I never push myself very hard (at all), but I do manage to stick with a routine.

Personally, I find it more motivating to think about short-term gratification like “I’ll sleep better” than long-term considerations like “I’ll live longer” or “If I have surgery, I’ll recover quicker.”

Here are some things to keep in mind, if you’re trying to keep yourself motivated to exercise:

1. Exercise boosts energy. It took me a long time to notice that I’d drag myself to the gym, work out for forty minutes, and leave feeling far more energetic than when I went in.

2. Exercise provides an outlet for feelings of pent-up hostility, irritation, and anger. I always find that I’m far calmer and more forbearing on days when I’ve exercised. I have a jittery, high-strung nature, and exercising takes the edge off.

3. Repetitive, rhythmic motion of exercises like walking and running brings a serene mood and clarifies thinking. I’ve had all my best writing ideas when walking or running, and sometimes assign myself a particular problem to think over during a walk.

4. Sticking to an exercise regime raises your self-esteem for the very fact that you’re sticking to an exercise regime.

5. Exercise offers a chance to be alone and uninterrupted—a relief if, like me, you’re often surrounded by distractions. Or, if you prefer, exercise also offers a chance to get together with other people–a relief if, like me, you spend a lot of time working alone. I have both kinds of exercise during my week.

6. Regular exercise helps to keep your body chemicals in balance. When you experience stress, your body prepares for “fight or flight” with a huge number of biochemical reactions. A stressful event these days, however, is more likely to require a phone call than a sprint uphill. The potentially damaging byproducts of the stress response, such as cortisol, nevertheless continue to pump through the body, and exercise helps offset that effect.

7. Exercise helps you fall asleep more easily and sleep more deeply. The Big Man really notices this in himself.

8. Pure vanity can be a good motivator. Remember that people who exercise move more easily and energetically, and appear more youthful.

9. When I don’t feel like exercising, I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to move easily and without pain—no wheelchair, no crutches, no brace, no trick knee or bad back.

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  • Great post. Exercise is also extremely beneficial to the mind. Here is a good resource on this topic…

  • Tabletoo

    A big motivator for me is if the exercise is actually fun to do while I’m doing it. I’m not into sports and the first exercise that I personally found that was fun was yoga. Recently I have found NIA classes which are even more fun. NIA is a combo of yoga, dance and martial arts. Going to a Nia class is sure to raise my spirits and I always leave class grinning like a kid!

  • Nice post.
    I think tip 9 is excellent. Not only for exercise but for many situations we come across that we find challenging it is important to take a step back and remind ourselves how lucky we are.
    Finding time and motivation to exercise can be difficult but is always worth it.

  • Thanks for the reminder, Gretchen. I’ve gotten out of the habit of exercise. I’m going to step away from the computer and go do a whole bunch of stretching right now.

  • Debra

    Most of my exercise is dancing. But I need to do other things – it’s too expensive to take dance classes all the time, and too time consuming. So I tell myself that I’m doing pushups, or running, or playing volleyball (which I like, but am not always in the mood for) to improve my dancing. That short term, very direct goal is more effective for me than some vague idea of long-term health.
    I have hip problems and have spent a long time on crutches. So I also remind myself how grateful I am to be able to walk at all.

  • Thanks for these great reminders! I’ve been in the ‘couch potato’ mode and have been ‘thinking’ about what I want and need to do. Now I’m going for a walk! Thanks!

  • Ah, this is just what I needed to hear. Have fallen off the fitness wagon recently! Thank you!

  • I have been a regular exerciser for over a year now & the key for me has been “every day.” I go to the gym every day even if I don’t feel great – if I work out for 10″ & I am miserable, I can go home. Usually though, I feel better just getting out of the house & getting it done. My weight hasn’t really changed but everything else about me has.

  • Tim

    OK this is becoming spooky… I got back from holiday and should have got back into my regular running schedule this week.
    I used to be able to bike 18k to work (work relocated, drat them) and I have never lost weight so easily or had a few colds as then, even though I biked through a very windy wet winter.
    For an additonal tip (credit due to David Allen) it is worth tricking yourself into beginning by “just putting on your sport clothes”. You can also promise yourself (as long as you keep the promise) that you will stop exercising after five minutes if you still want to. I never wanted to.

  • I agree, exercise is important for one’s health not only physically but psychologically. I know for myself my mood is improved after working out due to the release of feel good hormones, like endorphins. I believe, people have to make exercise a priority in their life, despite their busy schedules. They can’t look at working out as an “extra” thing during the day, but something that is mandatory. Exercise will bring them happiness and health. Once they make it a routine, they won’t think twice, they will just do it.

  • Exercise has always been a demon for me. Lately I spend a half hour or so every evening reading blogs (like yours) on fitness, health, weight loss, cooking, vegetarianism, happiness… anything that focuses my mind on who I am ‘becoming’. I go to sleep at night and the last thing on my mind is my goal. When I awake the first thing I think of is my workout. I (hope I) have slayed the dragon at LAST!
    Awesome blog, great info. I’ll be back!

  • You got me with the last line! I’ve fallen off the exercise wagon but am more inspired when I think about how lucky I am to have my health and to able to walk and run.

  • This is so true Gretchen. I just stumbled across your site and read a few posts. I will be back

  • Thanks for bringing up this subject,
    I am a strong ‘believer’ in the (health) benefits of ‘Excercise’ If you like to create some momentum and like to find some ‘Insiration for Motivation’ you might like to have a look at a ‘Photo Video’ with photo’s I made ‘along the way’ during ‘Jogging on Gran Canaria’.
    With amung other things a stunning photo of an up comming morging sun at the beach!!!
    You can find it at:
    All the Best,
    To your Happy – Excersise – Inspiration,

  • Also a Gretchen, but still in KC

    I would add that for me, I enjoy making my body do things that I know it can (or discover it can). While step aerobics and pilates weren’t essential to survive in the hunter/gatherer days, I feel that making my muscles work hard is reinforcement that we are created to do something….as opposed to the nothingness of sitting in my office everyday.

  • Great blog, and a good list! I’d also add that people should find exercise that they enjoy doing. Forcing yourself to spend 30 minutes on the cardio machines at the gym isn’t nearly as fun as an hour of racquetball (which is an awesome workout) or kayaking or bicycling on a great trail, etc. Exercise programs are a lot easier to stick to when they’re enjoyable!

  • “3. Repetitive, rhythmic motion of exercises like walking and running brings a serene mood and clarifies thinking. I’ve had all my best writing ideas when walking or running, and sometimes assign myself a particular problem to think over during a walk. ”
    I can really relate to this. It’s not really exercise, but we have a firewood company. This includes using a ‘splitter’ and if there’s two people using it at once I usually get stuck just using the handle…up and down, up and down. Over and over. Bores the brains out of me but if I go into a days work doing this with a particular problem, or something I need to plan or get my head around, 99% of the time I go home with a solution or idea.

  • I’m working to get back to a consistent exercise routine. One of the things that gets me motivated most is #9, remembering that I’m blessed to have the choice of walking, moving, exercising. This reason is very close to me because I have a sister whose gradually lost use of her body due to MS until she died.

  • These tips are just what I need – I was just blogging today about how tough it is to motivate yourself and the perils of writing as a lifestyle!

  • Every time I click on the link for tips to know if you’re boring someone, I get this set of tips instead. Is there something that can be corrected with the link? I really want to know if I’m boring people!

  • Fiona

    I just wanted to make a reference to your comment in my own life; “…When I don’t feel like exercising,I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to move easily and without pain—no wheelchair,no crutches,no brace,no trick knee or bad back.”
    I do have a bad back and use a walking stick, so when in pain I have to try really hard to remind myself that I don’t have to do everything and be like ‘everybody else’.
    But when it doesn’t hurt and I can walk and swim I remind myself that I know what it is like to be in pain and that, that moment without pain is like a present from all my favourite friends.

  • Halfway through your book. Amazing how much research you referenced- makes the suggestions very doable by giving you a reason to do them.
    One thing that has helped me, and is not in the book, is ending my physical pain through getting in better alignment. This article explains this rather obscure concept pretty well:
    The basic idea is that when you are in better physical alignment (which you do through a series of exercises over a period of months) you start to move more easily.
    When you are out of pain, you move more because of the lack of pain.
    And when you move more you are happier!

  • Bretthall00

    Thanks for these great reminders! I’ve been in the ‘couch potato’ mode
    and have been ‘thinking’ about what I want and need to do. Now I’m going
    for a walk! Thanks!
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