9 Tricks to Help You Start Working Out and Actually Stick to It
Whether you’re a pro athlete or just starting to exercise regularly, there are days when we all need a little bit of extra motivation to suit up. Here are a few tips for when you’re tired, it’s cold and rainy, or you had the most frustrating day at work.
You know you should exercise. But how do you keep up your dedication to the gym or a training routine when your schedule is overloaded with a million other things from work to household responsibilities to travel and other social engagements? Or how do you push yourself to start working out if it’s been years (or basically forever) since you last had a good self-imposed sweat?
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Understanding the big picture of why physical activity is critical for your physical and mental well-being, not just for weight loss, is a good place to start.
Ever experience that classic “runner’s high”? It’s not just in your head. Exercising releases hormones called endorphins that promote feelings of euphoria and help you focus. (1) Working out also improves cardiovascular health and sleep quality, both of which improve your energy levels throughout the day and reduce the risk of a variety of other diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and some cancers, according to research published in April 2015 in theJournal of Sleep Research. (2)
Moving your body more is also associated with a reduced risk of depression, according to a recent review of decades of research published in the January 1, 2019, issue of the journalCognitive Behavior Therapy. (3)
Pretty impressive. But the truth is, you may have all this knowledge and stillfind yourself wanting to hit the snooze button when it comes to those early morning workouts — or your couch if you’re an afternoon exerciser.
That’s why intentional, strategic habit changes, based on your personality, schedule, likes, and dislikes can make all the difference in whether or not you stick to your workout plans or get thrown off track.
We asked sports psychologists to share their top tips for finding a workout you’ll actually enjoy and sticking with it for the long haul. Here’s what they say.
1. Find a Workout You Enjoy and Look Forward To
Just because all your friends love spinning or CrossFit doesn’t mean you do, too. Finding a workout you genuinely like will make you that much more likely to stick with it over time, says Kristen Dieffenbach, PhD, an executive board member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and an associate professor at West Virginia University’s College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences in Morgantown.
“Begin by really thinking about the things you enjoy — nature, group settings, playing sports, quiet time, or being challenged. Then look for activities that meet one or more of your criteria,” she says.
Consider your personality, too, suggests Dr. Dieffenbach. Do you like competition? Then working out with a friend who challenges you or taking a group fitness class may be helpful. Do you like immediately seeing the results of your efforts? Then workouts associated with an app that tracks your progress, like Strava for running and cycling, may be very motivating.
2. Pick Workouts That You’re Good At
“We know from motivation research that humans have a desire to be ‘good’ at something,” says Brandonn S. Harris, PhD, an associate professor and the program director of Sport and Exercise Psychology at Georgia Southern University School of Health and Kinesiology in Savannah and Statesboro. “So I’d encourage people to not only seek out things they find pleasurable and enjoyable, but also things that they’re confident doing or would like to become more proficient in.”
That doesn’t mean the activity will necessarily be easy for you. Unless it’s an activity recovery day, every workout should push you in terms of endurance or muscle building. But, there’s no need to struggle through a Zumba class because you hate memorizing the combinations.
On the other hand, if you excelled in sports as a kid, joining an adult basketball or soccer league may be a huge confidence booster (as well as deliver all the health and fitness benefits of a workout). Or if there’s a physical skill you’ve always wanted to be able to do, such as self-defense, you may love suiting up for kickboxing or jiu-jitsu.
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