Finding the Motivation You Need to Exercise
How many times have you decided to exercise and not taken action? You know exercise is good for you, yet the motivation hasn’t surfaced.
There is definitely a difference between knowing you should do something and wanting to do something, and exercise often gets pushed to the side because quite frankly no one really wants to do it.
The key to exercising, and wanting to exercise, is twofold. The first component to success is to find an exercise that you actually like. No joke, there are probably dozens of exercises that you would find fun and enjoyable. The second component of this is to align your newfound fun exercise options with your goals.
What do you want to achieve by exercising and how do you want it to improve your life?
Over the course of this article we’ll take a look at 15 ways that exercise improves your life. You’ll have an abundance of benefits to choose from. We’ll also talk about a wide variety of exercises along the way so you can begin to think beyond the elliptical and treadmill. Those are both great exercise machines, but there are more options to consider.
Rest assured, once you find an exercise or two that you enjoy and you begin to realize the benefits of exercise, you will become a lifetime exerciser. Let’s get started!
#1 – Exercise Helps You Lose Weight and Maintain Weight Loss
You know this already. You know that exercise burns calories. The more you exercise, the more calories you burn. A pound is 3,500 calories. So for every 3,500 calories you burn, you lose a pound.
Initially, when you begin exercising you may see the weight fall off. This is because you’re burning fat stores. If you add strength training to your workouts, you’ll also burn more calories throughout your day because your muscles need extra calories to repair themselves.
The great news is that all exercise burns calories. True, some burn more than others. You’ll burn more calories if you go cross-country skiing than if you play a game of golf. However, the bottom line is that you’re burning calories and moving your body. Do that every day and you’ll lose weight and control weight gain.
An Example of a Simple Weight Loss Exercise…
Let’s talk about walking for exercise. If you haven’t exercised in a while, or ever, walking is a great place to start. You know you can walk. It’s an exercise that allows you the confidence to start. As you begin to improve your health and fitness you can add exercises to your routine or increase your fitness walking goals.
An hour of walking each day, at a four mile per hour pace (15 minute miles) burns between 250 and 300 calories. Just this and you’d lose a pound every 14 days. That’s two pounds or more a month and all you have to do is walk.
Tip – If your goal is to lose weight or maintain your weight, don’t exercise hungry or you might eat more after the workout than you burned. Maintain your caloric intake so you’re able to burn more than you consume.
#2 – Exercise Helps Prevent Chronic Disease and Can Reverse Some Diseases
There are several chronic conditions that exercise can reverse, improve, or prevent. For example, many people suffering from arthritis are told to exercise daily. The movement helps reduce pain and improve mobility. However, let’s take a look at three of the most common conditions that people suffer from and how exercise can help improve the lives of people who are impacted.
Type II Diabetes
Type II Diabetes affects millions of Americans and it’s reversible. With proper diet and exercise you can regain your health. If you’re familiar with Diabetes then you know that it happens when your body becomes insulin resistant. Your cells no longer take in glucose for energy. The glucose stays in your blood stream. You end up with high blood sugar and low energy.
Exercise actually stimulates your cells to become more receptive to insulin. They need it to help you continue exercising. The blood glucose enters your cells and your body returns to a more normal level.
When you are active, your cells become more sensitive to insulin so it can work more efficiently. Your cells also remove glucose from the blood using a mechanism totally separate from insulin during exercise.
If you’re looking for an exercise that’s great for your body, try bicycling. It’s easy on your joints and you can ride at any pace that feels comfortable to you. If you struggle with bike seats and comfort, try a recumbent. The seat is more like a chair. Indoor bikes are an option if cycling outdoors isn’t easy for you.
Your heart is a muscle, so exercise automatically begins to help your heart get stronger and healthier. Additionally, regular exercise actually helps improve many of the risk factors that cause heart disease. Exercise improves blood pressure and reduces cholesterol, both of which are contributing factors of heart disease.
While any exercise is great for your heart, strength training improves muscle strength and endurance. Strength training can be anything from push-ups and sit-ups to weight lifting.
Several studies have shown that exercise impacts dementia risks. People who exercised daily were least likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s. In fact, it may be the most important thing you can do to prevent dementia. Regular exercise may hold the key to maintaining not only a healthy body, but also a healthy mind.
Try jogging or running. You can cover a few miles in about thirty minutes and it’s a great way to get your heart pumping and your blood flowing to all organs, including your brain. Finding the right shoes for your foot and stride are critical to running pain free.
Tip – If you’re suffering from one of the diseases discussed, make sure to gradually ease into an exercise program. Give your body time to adapt to your new routine.
#3 – Exercise Improves Your Mood
You’ve heard of the “runner’s high.” It’s what happens when runners experience a surge of chemicals that are released by the body. The chemicals are called endorphins. They react with the receptors in your brain and accomplish a few wonderful side effects.
One side effect is that you feel less pain. The other is that you begin to feel an intense state of calm. The effects are often described as euphoric and are similar to the feelings generated from the drug morphine. You feel positive and energized. And the good news is that unlike morphine, endorphins aren’t addictive.
Exercises that Improve Your Mood
Moderate exercise is best. Low intensity exercise doesn’t tend to release enough endorphins to create a significant change. However, low intensity exercise has other mood boosting benefits so don’t discount it. High intensity exercise can deplete your energy initially and negate the effect of the endorphins. So what’s a moderate exercise? Consider swimming, playing tennis, or low impact aerobics.
Tip – Pay attention to how you feel when you’re exercising and afterwards, too. If you feel exhausted and tired, then you may be exercising too hard. Look for a moderate level of intensity where you feel energized when you’re done.
#4 – Regular Exercise Boosts Your Energy
Exercise shouldn’t make you tired. It should be something that you do each day that leaves you feeling good both physically and mentally. In fact, exercise forces your body to create more energy. Literally.
Your cells create more mitochondria; they’re the little organelles that create energy in your cells. The more aerobic exercise you enjoy – exercise that uses oxygen to create energy – the more mitochondria your body makes. It actually creates more available energy.
Example of Exercises that Create Energy
Want to receive maximum energy benefits? Enjoy low to moderate intensity exercises. For example, yoga is a low intensity exercise, as is golf or hula hooping. Housework also falls under the category of “low intensity” exercise, but it’s not much fun.
Tip – Try to find a handful of moderate or low intensity exercises you enjoy. For example, attend yoga three days a week and walk the other four days.
#5 – Regular Exercise Helps You Get Better Sleep
We just talked about how exercise increases energy. This extra energy production can initially impact your sleep. Some people who begin exercising find that for a short time their sleep worsens. One reason is that they may be exercising too hard. They may be stimulating their “fight or flight” response, which can leave you feeling jittery.
However, over time – even if you’re embracing intense workouts – your body begins to mute the stress response. Your body learns to adapt to the changes and you’re able to relax and sleep better than ever before. This response can take a few months, but if you commit to a daily exercise routine, you’ll begin to enjoy deeper, more refreshing sleep.
Exercises that Help Boost Sleep
Cardiovascular exercise is the best type of exercise for long-term sleep improvements. Any exercise that’s performed outside has the added benefit of helping to give you exposure to the sun. This helps regulate your circadian rhythms and also provides a nice daily dose of Vitamin D. Consider hiking during the summer months or snowshoeing or skiing during the winter months.
Tip – Don’t exercise right before you go to bed. It can affect your ability to fall asleep. Try to exercise at least three hours before bedtime, more if you’re a light sleeper or have trouble falling asleep.
#6 – Regular Exercise Helps Improve Your Sex Life
While an improved libido and sex life may not be at the top of your exercise goals, it’s surely a nice perk. Men and women both receive benefit from regular physical activity, though the impact is different. For women, it makes them more sensitive to touch, and men experience improved function and better orgasms.
We’ve already talked about endorphins, and they play a role in libido as well. They also stimulate the release of sex hormones, which lower your heart rate and blood pressure, lower stress effects, and improve your digestion. The ultimate experience makes you feel relaxed and ready for some love.
What Types of Exercises Boost Libido?
Cardio exercise is one of the best types of exercise to improve your love life because it stimulates those endorphins. Consider rollerblading, basketball, or softball – or any sport you can play with someone you desire.
Tip – Plan your workouts accordingly. There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling ready for action and having to shower for work instead. Exercise with a love interest or spouse to enjoy this benefit.
#7 – Exercise Brings More Fun Into Your Life
We started off discussing how exercise should be fun. One of the reasons so many people struggle to create a daily exercise habit is because they fall prey to an exercise magazine’s idea of what exercise should be. They think they need to run to exercise or that they need to create a home gym to motivate themselves.
All you really need to do is to find an activity or two that make you smile. Exercise shouldn’t be a chore. If you find yourself saying, “I should…” then there’s a very big chance that you won’t. However, if you find yourself saying, “I want to…” then your shoes are on and you’re exercising before you can finish the thought. So how do you find exercises that are fun?
Tips for Finding Exercises that Are Fun
Think about what you liked to do as a child. Did you love to climb trees? Try the rock climbing gym. Did you enjoy jumping rope or playing ball? Guess what, that’s exercise. Try it now, as an adult.
Try something new. There are new exercises popping up all the time. For example, the sport of Quidditch didn’t exist until Harry Potter and now there are leagues all around the world. Find something that looks fun and interesting to you and give it a try.
Embrace your passions. Do you love to dance? There are exercise-dancing classes like Zumba, or you can simply take dance classes. Dancing is definitely exercise. What about ice-skating, football, or hockey? Give yourself permission to pursue activities that you are excited about.
Find a friend. Sometimes exercise is just more fun with a friend. Join a running club or walking club. Take a CrossFit class with a friend or join a sports team. Make exercise part of your social life.
#8 – Regular Exercise Gives You a Boost of Confidence
How do you feel when you accomplish a goal? What does it feel like when you look in the mirror and like what you see? Confidence is the direct result of committing to an exercise program and following through. You begin to realize that you’re capable of anything you set your mind to.
And yes, vanity plays a little role in your confidence boost too. As you exercise your body will begin to change. You may lose weight, tone muscle, and start looking fantastic. However, those are only some of the cosmetic benefits.
A good night’s sleep and a healthy metabolism also help you achieve a glow that you just cannot get without exercise. Your complexion will improve, your eyes will look brighter, and there will be an energetic spring in your step.
Sure, the confidence boost is a side benefit and probably not the primary reason to exercise. However, it’s also a benefit you wouldn’t want to give up.
What Exercises Boost Confidence?
To be honest, any exercise program will have the added benefit of boosting your confidence. However, if you’re good at a particular sport, for example weight lifting or volleyball, then you may enjoy a confidence boost when you do something well.
#9 – Exercise Can Help You Improve Your Discipline and Determination
When you begin exercising you’ll be at a certain fitness level. Your body will adapt and you’ll get stronger, faster, and fitter. You’ll be able to do more and thus will likely set new goals that challenge you. The desire to achieve your goal will help you develop discipline. That is, you’ll stick to your exercise program even when it’s challenging and frustrating, because you are determined to achieve your goal.
And failures only help lock in that sense of determination. This benefit will begin to be part of your life. As you move through your fitness goals, your sense of discipline and determination will take hold. You’ll notice that you may be more determined at work. Your personal life may change as you become more aware of what you’re capable of and determined to live the life you want.
An Example of Exercise Discipline and Determination
Jenna was a couch potato who had visions of getting back to her old running form. She was a competitive runner in high school and loved it. She dreamed of being able to compete in running events and set her first sights on a local 5K.
Jenna started by walking three miles every day. After a couple weeks she added a few minutes of jogging to her daily walking routine. As her fitness improved, she transitioned from walking most of the time to jogging most of the time. Eventually she was jogging the full three miles. She would be able to compete in a 5k, but she would be slow.
So Jenna began setting time goals for herself. She aimed to run ten seconds faster per mile each week. So the first week she cut 30 seconds off of her time. The second week she cut 40 seconds and missed her goal. Jenna continued working on her pace until she attained a respectable 10-minute mile. She entered her 5k, and because of her discipline and determination, she cut her time by a full thirty seconds per mile during the race.
Tip – Become aware of times when you feel like quitting. Ask yourself why you want to quit and what you can do to work through this feeling. What needs to change for you to stick to your goals?
#10 – Exercise Improves Your Ability to Set and Achieve Goals
You might think this is a minor benefit; however, the vast majority of people are terrible at setting goals. What usually happens is they set tremendous goals that are nearly impossible to achieve. For example, they decide they want to run a marathon when they’ve never run before, or they want to lose 100 pounds yet they have no idea how to begin.
Exercise helps you learn how to set goals that are challenging yet attainable. As you cultivate this skill, you’ll see it applied to other areas of your life, including your personal and professional life. And as you begin to achieve your goals, you’ll gain the confidence to continue setting and achieving goals. It will become part of your life.
Tip – When you’re setting goals for exercise, consider the SMART approach. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. A SMART goal for a fitness program might look like this: “In three months I want to be able to jog three miles a day, four days a week.”
Small steps are better than big ones to achieve fitness goals. Your body needs time to adapt, and your lifestyle needs to make room for your new habit. You might start by jogging a half mile the first week or two and gradually add on distance until you reach your three-mile goal. SMART goals give you the ability to make a reasonable plan.
#11 – Exercise Helps You Enjoy Improved Self-Care
An interesting thing happens when you begin to exercise and take better care of yourself. You learn the benefits of making your health and well-being a priority. And you also learn that the world doesn’t crumble around you when you make your health a priority – in fact, it often stands up to support you.
Many people say that they’re too busy to exercise. They put everyone else’s priorities ahead of their own. When you take back your life and claim a few moments each day for your health, you quickly realize that it’s more than worth it, and that you have more to give when you practice good self-care.
This awareness begins to impact your life in other ways. You may find that you’re eating healthier. You might begin to explore other ways to feel healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and perhaps even spiritually.
Tip – Make a list of the habits you’d like to change and the areas of your life that you’d like to improve. For example, maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to meditate, or maybe you want to change your job to something you’re passionate about. As you begin to enjoy a daily exercise program, it will open you up to the possibilities of your life.
#12 – Regular Exercise Helps You Lead a Better Lifestyle
What does the ideal lifestyle look like to you? In your vision are you healthy, energetic, calm, and engaged in life? Are you happy and smiling? This may sound like a dream, but exercise can actually be the path to the life you envision.
When you create a life that is full of activity and regular exercise, you’re also taking significant strides to improve your health. As discussed above, the health impacts are far and wide. From enjoying a better sex life to reducing your risk of dementia, exercise helps you live a better life. Your organs, tissues, muscles, and cells are all healthier.
Your mood is improved and your stress level is reduced. It all adds up to a better life. You’re able to pursue your passions, ignore the stresses that used to get you down, and focus on the positive aspects of your life. More importantly, you’re able to set goals and priorities and take steps to reach for the things you want for your life.
You may even find that you have more energy at work and are promoted because of your new lease on life. It may sound silly, but daily exercise really can have a dramatic impact on your life.
Tip – Find exercises and activities that support your personality. If you don’t enjoy routine, then find several activities that you can engage in. If you do like routine, then find a class or create a structure that supports you. For example, you may go for a run every day at the same time.
#13 – Exercise Helps Improve Your Brain Power
We’ve talked about how exercise reduces your risk for dementia, and the truth is that doctors aren’t exactly sure how it works. It may be something as simple as the fact that your brain gets more oxygen when you exercise. However, they do know how exercise helps in other areas of your brain function.
Exercise improves focus, memory, and clarity. Studies show that exercise increases the number of cells in a few key areas of the brain, including the memory centers. A study with older women who had mild cognitive impairment found that weight training helped improve cognitive function. Women were able to improve their recall.
Higher energy levels combined with the feel-good state that endorphins produce also help improve cognitive function, clarity, and focus. You’ll be able to think more quickly and to focus on tasks and activities for longer periods of time without getting distracted.
What Types of Exercises Improve Brain Power?
It appears that a combination of aerobic and strength training exercises work best to provide broad-scope brain function improvements. CrossFit is one activity that embraces both on a regular basis. It’s an intense form of exercise that may not be for everyone. However, it also has wide appeal because of the community that’s formed at a CrossFit facility. If you enjoy a diverse workout and learning new things, CrossFit may be an option for you.
Tip – Choose exercises that you can commit to on a daily basis. Even if you can only squeeze in ten minutes at a time, it adds up. For example, you might do ten minutes of yoga in the morning. Go for a brisk ten-minute walk at lunchtime, and spend 10 minutes at the end of the day doing bodyweight exercises like squats, push-ups, and sit-ups.
#14 – A Better Outlook on Life
If you or someone you love has suffered from depression, you might already know that doctors and psychiatrists often prescribe exercise as part of the treatment for depression. In fact, many times exercise can reverse mild to moderate depression.
Exercise fights depression and anxiety in three key ways:
Endorphins ease depression symptoms. They induce a sense of calm and well being. They may help balance the chemicals in the brain that can cause depression.
Immune system chemicals are reduced. The stress response and chemicals released into your body during stress, anxiety, and depression are often an immune response. Exercise strengthens your immune system and may squelch the tendency to release these chemicals that can make depression symptoms worse.
Your body temperature increases. When you exercise, your body temperature goes up just a bit. This is caused by the energy your body burns. This increase in body temperature can have a calming effect.
Additionally, outdoor exercise has been shown to reduce anxiety related behaviors in children. You are able to learn healthy coping skills and manage your stress and depression.
Exercises that Help Boost Mood
Any type of exercise helps boost your mood. However, it’s a good idea to focus on exercises you enjoy. And activities like gardening, washing your car, or playing with your children or grandchildren are all mood-boosting activities.
Tip – Start adding exercise into your day in small and subtle ways. You don’t have to join a gym to exercise. Walking more, dancing, and simply moving your body is a great start.
#15 – Exercise Helps You Enjoy the Benefits of Competition and Camaraderie
Many types of exercise have the added element of competition and camaraderie. For example, if you’re on a team then you practice, win, and lose together. You also get to enjoy the benefit of feeling competitive and pushing yourself to do your very best. Competition can bring out the best in us. It can make you push yourself in a way that you never would otherwise.
Just about any activity has an element of competition or camaraderie if you are looking for it. For example, if you like to walk you might join a walking club or enter a race walking event. If you enjoy dancing, you could take a dance class or compete in a dance competition. There are amateur leagues and events for many sports. All you need to do is find one that you’re interested in.
How to Fit Exercise into Your Life
We’ve talked a lot about a wide variety of benefits and exercises. You may feel a bit overwhelmed. Let’s wrap this up with a few steps that will help you take the information you’ve received and use it to create a plan of action.
1 – Make a List. Write down a handful of exercises or activities that you’re interested in trying or returning to. For example, you might write down snowboarding, rock climbing, running, and mountain biking. Or you might write down yoga, hiking, ballet, and rowing. Don’t judge yourself or look for reasons why an activity may not be realistic. Just write down what sounds good to you right now.
2 – Research Your Options. Begin researching the possibilities. For example, if you’re interested in rock climbing, maybe there’s a climbing gym in your community. If you want to start hiking, you might make a list of trails and their distances and difficulty levels. You might also look for hiking groups or clubs to join. Explore the possibilities.
3 – Start Small. Identify one thing that you can do today to start adding your activity into your life. Can you go on a small hike? Are you able to rent or buy a ballet video and learn a few moves in your living room? Does your rec center offer a basketball league and court? Can you head over there to shoot a few hoops?
4 – Set Your Goals. What do you want to achieve? Remember the SMART goals? Use that guideline to help you identify something that is challenging but possible for you to achieve.
5 – Create Your Plan. Use your goals to help you create a regular exercise plan. Remember to start small and gradually increase your time and goals. The keyword is “regular” exercise. Starting small allows you to gradually acclimate your body, your mind, and your life to your new program.
Finally, be patient. You’re probably not going to reap the benefits of your exercise efforts in the first couple days. However, with time, dedication, and persistence you will change your life. Give yourself the commitment of exercising regularly, 4-6 times a week, for at least three months to experience the benefits. You’ll be glad that you did.