Increasing activity levels and including regular bouts of exercise is something that we can all do. What we specifically choose to do though will of course depend on our mobility levels, age, gender, social situation, time constraints and personal preference. There is no right or wrong way to becoming more active; as long as you are not sitting you are on the right track!
But once you’ve started to become more active, how do you stay enthused to keep it up? Here are some of my top tips on how to stay motivated to workout.
I originally wrote this article for Superfood Magazine.
When I’m talking to people about how to stay motivated to workout, I first of all like to talk about the difference between activity and exercise:
- Activity is any bodily movement and it includes taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking to the shops instead of driving and gardening when the weather is nice. Being active involves sitting less and moving more; it can easily fit into our day to day life without the need to plan for it.
- Exercise on the other hand is the structured part of the day or week that you dedicate to moving your body for the sole purpose of getting fit, feeling good and or losing weight. Exercise includes going to the gym, following a workout DVD or Youtube video or simply going for a stroll around the block; it generally needs to be planned in advance.
It is recommended that adults undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic-exercise a week, e.g. 30 minutes five times a week. This could be fast walking, jogging, aerobics (in the studio or in water), lane swimming, tennis, netball or football, in addition to resistance (weighted exercise) twice a week. If you do higher intensity exercise such as HIIT (high intensity interval training) then you may only need to do 75 minutes of exercise a week, in addition to resistance exercise twice a week.
Differentiating between activity and exercise makes it easier to set goals for both simultaneously, for example; I will park my car in the furthest spot away from the shops or at work, and I will go to the gym three times a week for 45 minutes. Working on lifestyle activity as well as exercise levels at the same time means quicker improvements to both your health and wellbeing and setting goals brings me nicely to my first tip to staying motivated with your fitness journey:
Set SMART GOALS & Celebrate your Achievements
Setting goals isn’t about saying ‘I want to get fit’, it’s about setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound both short and long term goals. Your aim may be to ‘increase your fitness levels’ but your goals should be behaviour change focused i.e. based on how you are going to get fit. A SMART goal based on fitness could be:
- S = I am going to go to the gym 3 times a week for 60 minutes at a time
- M = At the gym I’m going to follow the programme card written for me by an instructor
- A = I’m going to go on my way back from work on a Monday, Tuesday and Thursday as I don’t have other commitments on these evenings
- R = I’m going to include at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular activities e.g. interval training on the cross-trainer to improve my overall fitness
- T = I’m going to start on Monday and track my progress for the next month
Write down your SMART goal(s) in a diary or a journal; this is one of the first steps to remaining accountable.
Next, Brainstorm the Benefits of Working Out out Relevant to you
Write down all of the positive changes that being more active will bring you. It could be to do with energy levels, health or even how you look and feel. Look at your list every time that your motivation levels start to waver.
Here are some benefits to working out that you may not have thought of:
- Improves muscle tone which means a leaner and stronger body
- Increases the level of good cholesterol in the body
- Decreases risk of diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer
- Increases self-esteem (confidence levels)
- Improves mood (it boosts the feel good hormones)
- Increases energy levels
- Improves sleep
- Improves your immune function, reducing the chances of getting ill
- Helps to boost metabolic rate and burn calories
- Contributes to weight loss and more importantly, keeping weight off
- Improves reaction time and coordination
Do Activities that you Enjoy
The most important thing when it comes to activity and exercise is to do something that you enjoy. From going to the gym to following a workout DVD; you should only start a form of exercise that you know that you are going to take pleasure in. See if a friend wants to take up a new hobby or sport with you; If you have somebody else to go with then you may be more likely to keep it up (and not let the other person down!).
If you struggle to fit exercise into your daily routine every day, then why not make the following simple swaps (every day) to help increase your overall physical activity levels:
- Park your car further away at work or at the shops
- Always take the stairs and not the lift/elevator/escalator
- Make a rule that if a car journey is going to be 5 minutes or less, to walk it
- Get off the bus 1 or 2 stops early
- During the adverts get up and do some crunches, knee lifts or tricep dips, or simply walk up and down the stairs
Keep a Track of Your Progress
If you’re trying to get fit make sure to monitor your progress and record how you are doing. If you are exercising for weight loss think beyond the scales; track how much you can leg press, how long it takes you to run a 5K or how long you can plank for. It’s really motivating to see how your body is adapting and progressing week on week.
Make the Healthy Option the Easy Option
If you’ve got a spare space, a mini home-gym (or in my case my living room with a workout mat, dumbbells and kettle bell!) can transform your fitness routine, especially when it’s cold outside because it’s right there! No more excuses for putting off exercise because of the bad weather and you may find that a change of location brings a whole new level of motivation. If you’re not a fan of working out at home and prefer the gym, make sure to pick one that’s close to either where you live or work; you’ll be more likely to go if it’s not out of your way to get to.
Get inspired with Something New
Whether it’s a new gym top, pair of trainers, fitness tracker or even just a water bottle, treat yourself to something that will help you to achieve your goals. Getting fit isn’t about focussing on the end result, it’s about creating a fun and appealing lifestyle for the long term and adding in something fresh and new can often help with motivation levels.
Find a friend, family member, personal trainer or a group who will help you to keep on track and support you with your fitness goals; they are your ‘accountability partner(s)’. Talking aloud to someone about your goals and how you’re getting on can be really powerful and positive messages from your circle of friends and family can give you the energy to keep going to achieve your goals.
Plan Ahead & Keep it Fresh
Preparation is key when it comes to any health and fitness regime which means it’s a good idea to plan your workouts at least a week in advance. Plan what workouts you’re going to do when, and with who and don’t forget to change it up; doing the same workout week after week can get tedious, which is why every month you should experiment with a new workout regime or fitness class. Signing up to events such as Park Run can be great for motivation as it’s a new challenge each week; your personal bests are recorded on a personal home-page for all to see!
Stay Positive & Remember Why You Started
Turn off any negative self-talk. Learn to love and accept yourself as you are now, before you embark on making any more goals and changes. The more positive you are the more likely you will be to achieve your goals, always remember this. Remember why you started exercising. It takes on average 4 weeks for you to notice a difference in your body, 8 weeks for your friends to notice, and 12 for others so KEEP IT UP!
I really hope these tips help and I wish you all the best in your fitness journey!