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Five ways to stay motivated to exercise

Get energized for exercise! Starting a new fitness program is exciting, but it takes effort and planning to stay motivated to stick with it for long-term benefits.

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Maintaining a healthy exercise routine is a key factor in heart disease prevention and managing chronic health conditions. However, this can be easier said than done, as barriers, such as a lack of motivation or procrastination, can get in the way.

Exercise staff with the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative at Women’s College Hospital explain the importance of taking the time to develop successful exercise goals and share their top five tips for maintaining regular exercise.

1. List three reasons.
List your top three reasons why you want to exercise – not why you should. By establishing intrinsic motivation behind your exercise plan, you’ll be able to better understand your personal goals and to prioritize your exercise program. Everyone’s motivations are unique. People exercise for many different reasons (enjoyment, improving fitness, being social, boosting mood, managing illness, rehabilitating an injury, etc.) and have varied goals and limitations. For this reason, try not to compare yourself to others. Use only yourself to measure your success.

It’s also important to understand the difference between short- and long-term benefits. Weight loss, for example, can be a motivator for some but losing weight is a long-term result. Instead, reframe your measures of success, and you’ll notice other outcomes quicker like increased energy and fitness, improved sleep or better-fitting clothes.

2. Schedule exercise time into your calendar.

Try to make time for exercise as part of your normal daily activities. By scheduling specific days and times into your weekly calendar or associating exercise with activities you’re already doing such as commuting to work or school or as part of your errands or house/yard work, you’ll be more likely to stick to your plan. Others find that scheduling an exercise session in their calendars makes them feel more accountable to showing up – it’s as important as a work meeting, dentist or doctors’ appointment.

3. Find an exercise buddy.

Being accountable to someone forces you to stick with an exercise plan. By relying on each other, you’ll each be more likely to stay committed. If you don’t have an exercise buddy, encourage your friends or family to go for a walk or organize an activity with your work colleagues. Some people will seek assistance from a qualified exercise professional or personal trainer or join a fitness class, sports team or walking group.

4. Try things more than once.

When beginning a new exercise or class, keep an open mind. Don’t write off exercise completely because you’re not enjoying a specific workout. Give it a good try – we don’t always like new things right away. But if you make an effort to try an exercise program consistently or return to a sport or activity that you used to do, you will become aware of what you enjoy or what works for you. For example, you may prefer exercising on your own, or you like company or feel more motivated to be with a group. Experiment with different exercises or equipment. If you prefer having an instructor, try out different types of classes. Or you might find that walking or cycling to work can be very effective. By exploring possibilities, you’ll find something that fits your needs and preferences.

5. Set SMART goals.
When setting goals, using the SMART guidelines can turn too big goals into smaller more manageable goals. SMART is an acronym for: 
• Specific: Knowing what do you want to do?
• Measurable: Can you measure, track and monitor your goal? How much are you going to do? When are you going to do it? How many days are you going to do it?
• Attainable: Make sure your goal is something that you can achieve.
• Realistic: Every person is different and making a goal that’s realistic based on your body is important.
• Timely: Decide how long you will take to reach the goal; choose a time frame, i.e. one week or three months.

Ask yourself, how confident are you on a scale of zero to 10 (zero = not at all; 10 = totally confident)? If you are at eight out of 10 or higher, you’ll most likely achieve your goal, if you are below eight out of 10, perhaps your goal is “too big” and you will need to modify your SMART goal to gain more confidence! Even when you achieve small but realistic goals, you’ll become encouraged and motivated to keep on track.

Faith Delos-Reyes, registered kinesiologist and program coordinator, Women's Cardiovascular Health Initiative, Women's College Hospital

This information is provided by Women's College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on July 10, 2020.

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  • Women's College Hospital