Put your exercise down on your calendar.
Never make the mistake of assuming that structured exercise will happen just because you claim that you want to do it a certain number of days per week or month. Actually schedule the exercise by writing it down in your agenda or calendar as you would for other appointments or activities. Break up your larger goals into stepping-stone goals, by the day, week, and month, and if you miss one of your goals, try to make the rest of them happen anyway. Making exercise goals less concrete and open-ended (like saying that you are going to exercise three times a week without trying to schedule the days in advance) often sets you up for failure.
Trick yourself into being more active all day long.
It’s too bad that motivation is not available in pill form along with directions: “Just take one in the morning and never lack a moment’s motivation all day.” In reality, motivation comes in many forms, and the easiest way to stay motivated is to simply trick yourself into being more physically active without giving it much thought. That way, your former unmotivated self won’t have a chance to convince your new self–the one with the new and improved fitness goals–to revert back to your previous lifestyle.
Trick yourself by doing any of the following activities on a daily basis: if you have a sedentary job, get up and walk around the office, building, or block on your short breaks, and take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever you can. Walk to someone else’s office or house to deliver a message instead of relying on the phone or e-mail. Park your car at the far end of the parking lot and walk a little extra to get to your destination. (Stop being one of those people who will wait ten minutes for a spot up close to open up when they could have just parked a little farther away and walked there faster instead.) Your activities don’t have to be done at a high intensity to be effective.
Tips for keeping your exercise motivation strong
• Get yourself an exercise buddy (or even a dog who needs to be walked)
• Use sticker charts or other motivational tools to track your progress
• Schedule structured exercise into your day on your calendar or “To Do” list
• Break your larger goals into smaller, realistic stepping stones (e.g., daily and weekly physical activity goals)
• Reward yourself for meeting your goals with noncaloric treats or outings
• Plan to do fun physical activities that you really enjoy as often as possible
• Wear a pedometer (at least occasionally) as a reminder to take more daily steps
• Have a backup plan that includes alternate activities in case of inclement weather or other barriers to your planned exercise
• Distract yourself while you exercise by reading a book or magazine, watching TV, listening to music or a book on tape, or talking with a friend
• Don’t start out exercising too intensely or you’re likely to get discouraged or injured
• If you get out of your normal routine and are having trouble getting restarted, simply take small steps in that direction
Check around for fun activities in your community.
As far as becoming more involved in structured exercise programs, check around to find out what exercise programs are located in your workplace or nearby in your community. You can often find groups of individuals who walk together during lunch breaks, or you may be able to join a low-impact aerobics or other exercise class offered at your workplace or a nearby recreation center. Other activity programs that you may not be aware of might be available in your area, including formal or informal dance classes through community centers or other recreation-oriented groups. In some regions of the country (such as Louisiana and Virginia), mobile gyms based out of an equipped RV are now being funded and taken around for weekly use by older people and other underserved populations in lower-income areas to give them access to exercise equipment that they would not likely have otherwise.
Get yourself a reliable exercise buddy, or bring the whole family along.
There’s no need to go it alone. Having a regular (and reliable) exercise buddy increases your likelihood of showing up (since someone else is counting on you to be there) and also makes your activities more socially oriented. Get your spouse, other family members, friends, and co-workers to join in your physical activities, especially during your leisure time, as having a good social network to support your exercise habit will help your adherence over the long run. Across all cultures, ages, and sexes, social support from family, peers, communities, and health-care providers results in modest improvements in exercise motivation and adherence. Even people with diabetes living in rural settings in the Midwest are reportedly more likely to exercise regularly if their physicians help them devise plans to increase their daily exercise and then follow up with them to keep them on track.
Come back next week for some more tips.