Mother and father walking with baby in stroller on neighborhood sidewalk.

Motivate Yourself to Work Out: Check Out These Helpful Tips

Physical activity, which includes both aerobic and muscle strengthening exercises, has a wide range of benefits for our physical and mental health.

Most of us realize how important physical activity is to our health and wellness, but staying motivated to do it is another story. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 25% of American adults get the recommended amount of physical activity, and the numbers get even worse as we get older.

Why? What’s stopping us from doing what’s best for our health? Many of us have excuses lined up when it’s time to start moving – like “I don’t have enough time” or “I’ll start tomorrow” or “I’m just too tired.” If it’s not one of these, it’s “too cold/too hot/too late/too early.” The list is endless.

But physical activity, which includes both aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises, has a wide range of benefits for our physical and mental health, so it’s important to put excuses aside, find activities that are right for you, and get started.

Learn more about the benefits of exercise and check out some tips for motivating yourself to do what’s best for your body and mind.

What Are the Benefits of Physical Activity?Grandmother dancing with granddaughter at home.

Regular physical activity is one of the best things we can do for ourselves. Here are some of the many benefits of activity, according to the CDC.

Exercise can:

  • Improve your brain health, including keeping your learning and judgment skills sharper as you age
  • Reduce anxiety and depression
  • Help you sleep better
  • Help manage your weight
  • Reduce your risk for diseases, such as heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes
  • Lower your blood pressure and improve your cholesterol numbers
  • Strengthen your bones and muscles
  • Improve your ability to complete everyday activities such as playing with kids and grandkids, grocery shopping and more
  • Reduce the risk of serious outcomes from infectious diseases such as COVID-19, the flu and pneumonia
  • Lower your risk for developing several common cancers, such as cancer of the bladder, breast, colon, kidney, stomach and more
  • Decrease your risk of falls or injury from a fall
  • Lower your risk for premature death
  • Reduce pain and help you manage chronic health conditions such as arthritis

What Kind of Exercise Should I Do and How Much Do I Need?Personal trainer teaching a man how to lift weights.

Getting enough physical activity looks different for everyone depending on your age, fitness level, mobility level, and overall health, but there are physical activity guidelines that everyone can use as a starting point.

Be sure to check with your primary care physician, and review your medical history, before starting any new fitness program or exercise routine.

Federal guidelines generally recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week for adults and two days of muscle strengthening activities. These guidelines may seem overwhelming if you haven’t worked out in many years, but here are some things to keep in mind:

  • 150 minutes can be broken up several different ways. You could look at it as doing 30 minutes of exercise five days a week or roughly 20 minutes a day seven days a week. You can also substitute 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week instead.
  • Moderate-intensity exercise includes walking briskly, doing water aerobics, participating in adaptive sports, taking a dance class or pushing a lawn mower – any activity that gets you breathing harder and your heart beating faster.
  • Muscle strengthening activities include lifting weights, doing body weight exercises such as pushups or situps, performing certain kinds of yoga and doing heavy gardening and yardwork.
  • It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Some physical activity is better than none. Adults who do any amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity gain some health benefits.

Tips for Motivating Yourself to Work OutTwo older men riding bicycles.

  • Identify the excuses you use most. Think about what’s stopping you from exercising regularly and find a way to combat it. If it’s that you’re too tired to exercise after work, make it a priority to exercise in the morning or at lunch. If it’s because you don’t have enough time, start by finding 10-minute windows where you can move your body in some way.
  • Find a cause. Motivate yourself to exercise by tying it to a cause you’re passionate about. Look for a run or walk in your local area that supports Veterans organizations or raises awareness for a health condition you care about. Train for it and feel extra motivated knowing you’re doing something good for others.
  • Be flexible. It’s always good to have a backup plan in case your original plan for exercising doesn’t work out. For example, if it’s too hot outside to take a walk or run, switch over to a gym workout or an at-home yoga video. If you had a horrible night’s sleep and can’t stomach an hour at the gym, consider an evening walk instead.
  • Take care of yourself and learn what’s best for your body. We aren’t all the same age or at the same fitness or mobility level. Learn what activities make your body feel best and avoid exercises that leave you feeling worse than when you started. For example, if you’re suffering from knee pain, try swimming or yoga instead of running. If you hurt your back every time you lift weights at the gym, try body weight exercises instead. It’s hard to get motivated when something doesn’t make you feel good.
  • Make little moments count. You don’t have to spend hours at the gym to meet physical activity guidelines. Breaking it up into little pieces can help you stay motivated. Take three 10-minute walks throughout the day. Do pushups and crunches before getting into the shower. Try a five-minute stretching video before bed. All of this adds up.
  • Hold yourself accountable. When you’re held accountable, you’re more likely to complete your exercise. Consider using social media or a fitness forum as a way to check in with others online. Find an accountability partner, like a friend or coworker, who expects a text when your workout is done. Download an app that helps you track your fitness or use this tracking diary to record your daily activity. Accountability is a great way to stay motivated.
  • Make it enjoyable. It’s easier to get motivated to do things you enjoy. If you’re making up reasons to skip the gym, maybe you’d be more motivated to hike outside in the woods. If you’re finding reasons to skip your run, consider something different. Ask a friend to join you or listen to music or a podcast while you’re moving. If you don’t like typical exercise, you can get a lot of moderate-intensity activity by doing chores, gardening or yardwork.
  • Build exercise into your schedule. Just like an appointment that gets a set time in your calendar, build exercise time into your calendar. For example, search for five 30-minute time slots where you could add exercise. Or block off the hour right after or before work, for example. Having it as part of your “to-do” list may make it more motivating for you to complete it.
  • Reward yourself. Tie your exercise to “rewards” that’ll motivate you. Watch your favorite show when you’re on the treadmill or listen to a funny podcast while you walk. Meet a friend at the gym to work out, but then head out to your favorite coffee shop afterward.
  • Set a goal. Short and long-term goals can help us stay motivated, especially when we feel excuses creeping in. Sign up for a marathon, set a miles or minutes goal each week or month, create a personal weight loss goal or anything else that may motivate you when you need an extra push.
  • Set yourself up for success. Eliminate any potential obstacles that might stand in your way. Set your workout clothes out the night before. Pack a workout bag or shoes the night before if you plan to work out on the way home from work or an appointment. Avoid checking email or answering your phone while you’re exercising to avoid distractions.
  • Be kind to yourself. It’s normal to have ups and downs as you work on your motivation to exercise consistently. Be kind and allow yourself setbacks and some inconsistency. You may have days where you are mentally or physically exhausted, and sleep or rest may be more helpful than exercise. Remember, any amount of movement is better than nothing. Tomorrow is another day to try again.
  • Get the support you need. If you’re really having a hard time starting or sticking with an exercise routine, get some support. Talk with your health care provider about what’s right for you. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers the MOVE! Program, which is a weight management program designed to help you lose weight, increase your physical activity levels, change your eating habits and more. In addition, you may want to explore VA’s mental health treatment options. When you’re unmotivated to exercise or would rather stay in bed and sleep all day, it may be a sign of something more. You may be suffering from a mental health condition such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that is impacting your ability to take care of yourself.

Resources

  • NASA developed DeskFit, 20 essential desk exercises you can do without leaving your office or home workspace. These are good exercises for anyone who has mobility issues or a health condition that prevents them from standing for long periods of time or doing vigorous movement.
  • The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion has a short video with tips for easy, practical ways to get more physical activity into your busy days.
  • The CDC is a great resource for information on physical activity. Learn more about the physical activity guidelines, how to get more active at work, how to measure the intensity of your activity and much more.

Use these tips and resources the next time you find yourself with no motivation to work out! Your body and mind will thank you!

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