I am not a naturally athletic person. I was never one of the first kids picked for the team in gym class, and I dreaded the days in elementary school when we had to run a mile. Aside from one less-than-stellar summer of softball when I was eight, I didn’t play sports. In my early years, I was slow, clumsy, and had poor hand-eye coordination, and I felt terribly self-conscious on any kind of court.
By adolescence, teen magazines, school health classes, and daytime television had convinced me that fitness was something for which I should strive, for the sake of my image and my health (mostly the former). I’d occasionally do a workout video or set some kind of running goal, but it was hard and I’d eventually give up and move on to other things. Four years in the color guard (practicing and performing with the marching band in the summer and fall and in indoor competitions in the winter and spring) kept me relatively active throughout high school, even if I couldn’t run very far. Gym classes were usually spent half-heartedly walking the track while gossiping with friends.
Fast forward about fifteen years, and exercise is now a critical part of my life. I’m not exactly sure when the habit formed–gradually, I suppose, with several stops and starts–but these days, I can’t stand NOT to be active. In 2012, I did the Couch to 5k program and ultimately ran an entire 5k race without stopping. Considering that I started out running about one-minute intervals, I kind of amazed myself. I still don’t enjoy running, but I love knowing that I CAN run. Don’t mistake me, I’m no marathoner or masters athlete, but I feel antsy if I don’t exercise for a couple of days. Though my routine changes from time to time, I presently aim to do two to three cardio sessions a week, two strength training workouts, and a yoga class or two, often preceded or followed by a walk.
Aside from my now-ingrained desire to move my body, why do I exercise regularly? A gym membership costs money, after all, and there are certainly other things I could do with my time. Despite what my gym and numerous health professionals, magazines, and advice columnists repeatedly preach, research has shown that exercise is not a very good weight loss tool. And while we all know that exercise is good for our health and may allow us to live longer, research indicates that those kind of vague, long-term effects usually don’t motivate us to change our habits. So what’s my motivation for dragging myself to the gym in the evenings and spending my weekend afternoons running or hiking instead of napping?
Mostly, I exercise for its effects on my brain and my mental state. Exercise increases my energy level, clears my mind, reduces stress, improves memory, and perhaps best of all, it’s great for idea generation. A good workout can allow me to break through mental blocks and get my creative juices flowing again.
Are you lacking motivation to incorporate regular exercise into your life? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. It’s perfectly fine to start slowly. Do what your body can do. If you aren’t in very good shape and all you can do is go for a walk, then go for a walk. The more you do it, the greater your endurance will become. Pushing yourself too hard to soon can make you feel bad physically and can lead to discouragement, so don’t overdo it at first.
2. Short workouts count, too. If you can’t fit a 30-60 minute workout into your day, you can squeeze in several mini workouts and still reap the benefits of exercise. Have ten free minutes but no time to change clothes or shower? Go for a walk. Need a midday boost of energy? Do some push ups or burpees in your office. Standing in the kitchen while your dinner cooks? Do a few jumping jacks between stirs, or turn on some music and dance around while you prep your meal.
3. Do what you enjoy. Unless you have amazing willpower, you probably won’t stick to a fitness activity unless you actually enjoy doing it. Don’t feel obligated to do the latest fitness trend. Find something you like and do that. If you hate being in a gym, do something outdoors. If you’re a competitive person, join a team of some kind. This winter, I’ve been using the elliptical machine at my gym once or twice a week. The elliptical machine gets a bad rap–a guy once told me he thinks using it is basically cheating, because in his mind, it isn’t as challenging as running. You know what? I don’t care what he thinks or what anybody else thinks. I crank up the resistance and incline, and I get a good workout. And I enjoy it, so I’m going to keep doing it.
4. Entertain yourself. If you work out alone, use your workout time as an excuse to watch TV, listen to an audiobook or podcast, or rock out to your favorite music. I find that listening to something makes my workout more fun and less boring.
5. Make it social. If you’re busy and you worry that regular workouts will take time away from other aspects of your life, try combining your workouts with social time. Workout with your friends. Go for walks or active outings together instead of going out to eat. Want to make new friends? Sign up for group exercise classes, visit a yoga studio, or join a hiking group (meetup.com is a great place to find active groups).
6. Try something new. If you’ve hated working out in the past, don’t go back to doing what you despised before. There are so many ways to move. Challenge yourself to try something new. Sign up for dance classes, check out a rock climbing wall, or take some tennis lessons. Learning a new skill has its own rewards, and it might be just what you need to get moving.
What tips do you have for incorporating regular exercise into your life?
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