7 Ways to Get Motivated to Exercise

How to get past the excuses and meet your fitness goals

Brant Secunda and Mark Allen—A number of studies have corroborated the fact that exercise has a positive and significant effect on people with depression. The act of moving your body, and doing it consistently, helps to counteract negative emotions that get in the way of your happiness.

That’s all well and good, you say. But if you’re feeling down in the dumps, how do you get motivated to exercise?

Sometimes the biggest obstacle to working out is the inspiration to get started. Often it’s not that we dislike exercise, but rather that we dislike the idea of getting going. Yet once we do, more often than not we really enjoy working out. Why? Because it makes us feel better and it boosts our mood. It’s a virtuous cycle—the better you feel, the more you want to keep going.

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Simply beginning your workout is one of the most important short-term goals. Once you start your exercise program, other goals, such as the intensity or duration of the workout, will become your focus. But you cannot begin to achieve those if you never get started. If you want to get happy, you have to get moving. Here are some tips to getting motivated.

1. Time it right
Plan to do your workouts at a time that has the highest probability that you will actually do them. Some people need to exercise in the morning, others at night. Whenever is best for you, in terms of free time, energy, and ability to get the exercise done, make that the committed time for your exercise.

2. Engage a friend
It’s easy to skip a workout when it’s just you who will be doing it. It’s less likely to be a failed attempt if you know your friend is waiting at the trailhead for the walk.

3. Let opportunity knock
Be prepared to work out whenever the opportunity rises. If you don’t know when you might have time to exercise, have your workout clothes with you at all times. This can mean having a gym bag with your gear in the trunk of your car so when that long meeting get cancelled late in the day, you can quickly switch gears and get in a workout, whatever kind it may be.

4. Take five
Commit to doing the first five minutes of your planned workout. There may be a valid reason why you are resisting an upcoming workout. You could be too tired to exercise and really need the rest. But often, once you start the workout, whatever was holding you back dissipates and you feel the joy of finally doing the exercise.

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Commit yourself to exercising long enough to at least break a small sweat, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes. At that point, the joy may have come back and you can give yourself a big pat on the back for creating another fitness success!

5. Get some solar energy
Take at least one moment every day to charge up your soul outside, in nature. An easy way to do this is to swap an indoor workout session with an outdoor one. Walking, running, biking, or swimming outside gives delivers a motivational two-fer. Not only will the exercise make you feel better, but fresh air and sunshine are mood boosters as well.

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Scientists are learning a lot about the power of sunlight, greenery, and fresh air to stimulate our moods and manage stress. Let the earth replenish your spirit and you’ll feel more relaxed, more positive, and more energetic.

6. Break it down
One of the reasons people lose motivation is because they try to do too much too soon, and it’s unsustainable. Running 5K may be a goal that’s out of reach for you, but walking one mile isn’t. What’s most important for motivation is accomplishing and completing a task on a consistent basis, not the size of the task itself.

7. Schedule your workouts
Many people respond well to a structured schedule. Set a time and place for your workout and write it on your calendar. Hold yourself accountable to your fitness appointment. If you’ve scheduled a run but it’s raining, then pull out the mat and do floor exercises and isometrics in your living room for 30 minutes instead. A written fitness schedule becomes a tool for tracking your consistency and commitment.

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Shaman-healer Brant Secunda and world champion triathlete Mark Allen are nationally esteemed body-soul health experts known for blending ancient shamanic wisdom with the latest scientific findings on nutrition, fitness, mood, and stress. The two of them speak and teach at workshops all over the country and have just penned a new book about the successful approach they developed, called Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You (BenBella Books).