Ask anyone who’s worked out regularly for years, and they’ll tell you it takes effort, planning, and flexibility to make exercise a lifelong habit. Paying attention to key factors that influence your motivation to exercise is also essential.
Whether you’re a fitness newbie, an exercise enthusiast, or a competitive athlete, set yourself up for long-term success by considering these three questions:
Where do you exercise?
Being physically active in the presence of nature — near a forest or park, or alongside a lake or river — offers mood-boosting, stress-reducing benefits beyond those experienced with indoor exercise. And here’s the bonus – undergoing green exercise also makes you more likely to work out again. Don’t get me wrong; indoor exercise still offer tons of well-being perks; but I encourage you to work some outdoor walking, biking, hiking, and other activities into your weekly mix. And if you use home exercise equipment, place it in a cheerful part of your home, preferably next to a window; not in a dark, cluttered basement. Please.
Who do you exercise with?
Do you like to sweat it out on your own, or do you prefer working out with a friend or family member? If your dedication wavers with the weather, exercising with a partner or two offers distinct advantages. The power of social support is proven; hanging out with others who make physical activity a top priority reinforces your own commitment. The camaraderie and fun of a shared experience as you work towards your goals strengthens friendships as well as resolve. But if your fitness buddy is a complainer, slacker, or saboteur, her negative attitude could sway you to start skipping workouts. Tune in to how you feel when you’re around her; does she lift you up, or bring you down? If need be, find a new exercise partner.
How do you think about exercise?
Focusing on far-off, intangible benefits like preventing heart disease or cancer just isn’t that motivating for most people. One study found messages touting more immediate behavior-change benefits are far more inspiring. So zero in on the mood-enhancing, energy-elevating, stress-reducing benefits of a good workout. Creating a cost-benefit table is another way to shift your attitude towards exercise; list what you stand to gain from regular exercise (physically, emotionally, quality of life, etc.) and compare with what it will cost (time, effort, discomfort, money, etc). You could also list the pros and cons of remaining sedentary — what will it cost you, short-term and long-term, to do nothing?
As you become more active, train your brain to normalize your exercise habit. Think of it not as something extra that you’re adding into your too-busy schedule; but rather as just something you do now, like eating lunch or washing your face. By carefully cultivating your fitness routine — and your thoughts — to fuel a positive outlook on exercise, you’ll create your own success story.
What’s one thing you’ve done to foster a positive attitude towards exercise… and make it more likely you’ll do it?
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.