“How do you stay motivated to exercise?”
It’s one of the most common questions I’m asked. I know my successful clients and friends who are committed are often asked this too. The truth may be we’re not all that motivated. We committed to it and we go because we know there is truth in some social media memes.
I wish I hadn’t done that.
~said no one after a workout ever
You will feel better after an appropriate* workout even if you didn’t look forward to it. Your body chemistry changes within seconds after beginning exercise. Endorphins, serotonin, and appropriate levels of cortisol begin surging through you. The feelings of satisfaction and achievement that follow exercise stay with you long after the exercise is over. That kind of “fix” is how so many of us stay motivated to exercise even when life throws obstacles in the way.
By the way, I haven’t always been a regular exerciser. I had to start somewhere just like you. I didn’t go from being a rockstar athlete in high school (I wasn’t) right into running and lifting regularly. I have told more than a few stories about my days in “contract P.E.” in high school. I think we sat in the old wrestling room eating Oreos dipped in peanut butter. That is, after we’d snuck out to buy them. Nice, right? Picture of health.
Below I’m giving you some simple tricks I use to stay motivated to exercise in a way that changes my fitness level. By that I mean, in a way that follows a plan that increases my fitness level or positively changes me. I can write an exercise plan to take myself through 142.2 miles in one day but if I don’t followit and don’t do those workouts according to the plan I won’t have the same results.
Random exercise won’t reap specific results.
After 50 we have a little more urgency, a little less resilience to injury, and less time than we often thought we might in our 20s and 30s and 40s. So it is important to me to get it right. The biggest reason sticking to a plan makes sense is easy. Results make anyone of us motivated to exercise.
When you see and feel results, you will want to do more of what gives you results.
#1 Break Up to Make Up
I break up my workout time into chunks stay focused. It’s a no-brainer on longer workouts but I like this even for short ones. When you’re going to do it another 50 years even those short interval-training sessions get predictable. Just doing a workout does not make up for a lack of intensity.
I never want to take for granted just because I’m doing an “interval” workout I’m working harder. Here’s how to know if you need to bump up your focus: you finish thinking that you didn’t work that hard! [Intervals are supposed to be tough and get you to fatigue, or they just aren’t doing the job they’re known and loved for: boosting fat burn].
Here’s an example of a longer swim:
- 20 minutes of just letting my mind wander in a warm up
- 20 minutes of a ladder: 100 – 200 – 300 – 200 – 100
- 20 minutes of drills: one arm – buoy – catch up – breath ladder
Here’s an example of a long indoor bike session:
- 10 minutes super easy
- 10 minutes moderate
- 3 mins hard/2 mins recovery x 5
- 5-10 minute cool down
If the first example was increasing my focus on the workout itself, this one I can use either to distract or to focus. When I ran my first marathon I had a list of people I love to think about each mile (and .2 at the end) of the way. I am guessing many marathoners do similarly because crossing the finish line is emotional if you’ve ever watched runners come in.
I sometimes focus on an article, chapter, or a course I’m creating for a specific time during a longer, run, bike, hike or swim.
During intervals, I will use the recovery to do the same. I’ll focus on the activity as I charge uphill and then bring my thoughts back to the idea I want to develop. This works well for my clients who are corporate athletes. When you need to step away from your desk or have a difficult conversation with someone (or not) the movement and release of adrenalin can bring things back into focus and make your creativity flow. Brain-Derived-Neurotrophic-Factor (BDNF), which is enhanced by exercise increases productivity, focus and decreases depression and anxiety.
Those results are long term but there’s also proof that exercise during the workday, regardless of intensity, increases productivity and problem solving skills in the afternoon.
Most women have loved multitasking since we first learned the word. It’s how our minds tend to work anyway! But you already know that there’s plenty of proof to show doing multiple things doesn’t get more done at once and it doesn’t get the jobs done well compared to what you’re capable of when you focus on one.
Yet in this case you combine movement and thoughts about an issue, you’re taking advantage of kinesthetic learning as well as the reduced tension and adrenalin so you can focus. Then when you go back to the drawing board with ideas and breakthroughs from your enhanced creativity, you will have a better outcome.
#3 Cross Training
When I’m short on either time, or attention, I stay motivated to exercise by opting for short cardio and weight options in the same session. Instead of doing 40 minutes of running or weight training I’ll do 20 minutes of intervals and 20 minutes of strength training. The combined workout is higher in overall intensity than either one alone (the longer we go the lower the intensity).
When you have 20 minutes you pay attention. Face it, we baby boomers and over 50’s have an attachment to the more-is-better mantra. It’s been proven false over and over again yet what got in your head decades ago may be a hard idea to unlearn. When you give yourself just 20 minutes you don’t let your mind wander, you make it count.
When you make it count, you’re back to the real answer to how you can stay motivated to exercise. It works. It just flat out works.
It feels good to feel good.
At risk of stating the obvious, for many people paying for a program and committing to a coach or a group is a big motivator. Flipping 50’s STRONGER program is currently in beta and we’re testing it with a group of about 25 women. They’re committed to each other and to the study: we’re very dependent on their participation and their ability to be eligible at the 50% off rate hinged on sharing their results and doing all 16 workouts for 8 weeks.
So far as we enter week six, the comments have been fantastic. Women supporting women have made this a different experience. They share the completion of workouts, their comments on the difficulty or variety of each new week’s workout, ask for support in modifications and they’re feeling stronger! The accountability factor is a big motivator.
[The STRONGER program will launch in September. If you want to be first to get the announcement be sure you’re getting out emails by adding yours here.]
*An appropriate workout designed for your collective hormone, physical, and mental needs is not just any workout. Don’t ignore signs your best workout might be restorative yoga right now. The right workout is sometimes a recovery workout and sometimes a tough challenging interval workout. It’s rarely a middle-of the road zone 3 workout (also called No Benefits Zone). Unfortunately, for most women that’s where they’ve been exercising for decades.
Share your own tricks for getting or staying motivated to exercise.
One must for my motivation is eating well. While some might find they temporarily are motivated to exercise because they eat junk, I’ve found for me and my clients the better we eat, the better we feel, the more we want to exercise and just move general. When you don’t eat like a couch potato you don’t want to be a couch potato! Seeing this before the end of August? Hurry… stock up and save 10% on my favorite breakfasts, post-workout meal, and craving-killers (chocolate-nut butter smoothie anyone?) that taste great and don’t sabotage you! Use First50 at the store.