Exercise isn’t always an activity we file under ‘fun.’ (The treadmill is nicknamed the ‘dreadmill’ for a reason, right?)
Is staying in shape always something that gets bumped to the bottom of your list? I know many people that complain about not having enough time to exercise. I think they are lying to themselves. The real problem is that they hate exercising, so it will never be a priority.
Tips for How to enjoy Exercise
Adjust your focus
Many people have trouble learning how to enjoy working out because they are focusing on only one outcome: weight loss. When you view exercise only as a way to manage weight, it becomes a “should” or an obligation. As Tony says, don’t “should” all over yourself! Instead of viewing working out as a way to lose weight, remind yourself that your body is yours to take care of and that every single decision you make – whether healthy or unhealthy – has the potential to help or hurt you.
When you start focusing on energizing your body, improving your health and enhancing your life, you can view exercise as a healthy decision instead of an obligation. From here, working out becomes a natural extension of taking care of yourself. This shift in your mindset can also help you learn how to enjoy working out at home: when you are exercising for yourself and not for others, it’s much easier to feel inspired.
Find the right type of workout
How to enjoy exercise is all about finding the right type of workout. Take some time and think back to a time when you enjoyed physical activity. Were you with friends, on a team or going solo? In a beautiful outdoor environment? Participating in a sport? Working out does not have to mean going to a gym and running on a treadmill for half an hour. It can just mean participating in activities you like.
Taking a karate class or practicing your child’s cheerleading routine with them has the same health benefits as jogging or using the elliptical machine. Many people avoid exercise because they think it needs to look a certain way to qualify as “working out.” That said, any type of physical activity that elevates your heart rate is a form of exercise. When you find an activity that makes you happy, you’ll look forward to it instead of avoiding it.
Make sure you have the energy to exercise
Learning how to enjoy exercise is a pretty daunting task when you barely have enough energy to get through your normal daily schedule or if you have pain in your joints. If lack of energy or inflammation are keeping you from working out, you need to examine your overall lifestyle. Are you eating foods that are fresh and high in fiber? Are you drinking plenty of water and taking the right supplements? Do you have effective ways to manage stress?
Poor diet, lack of self-care and a build-up of stress can zap your energy. Working from home along with increased child care responsibilities can leave you feeling exhausted and irritable. How to enjoy working out sinks pretty low on your list of priorities when it’s all you can do to just get through the day. After a day of working from home, it’s not very inspiring to just walk into the next room for your workout.
Create time to workout
You can’t learn how to enjoy exercise if you feel rushed or that you’re sacrificing other parts of your life to get a workout in. Maybe you always fit your workout in on your way home from the office, and with remote work, your routine has gone haywire. Or perhaps you feel if you don’t have time to exercise in the morning and that you might as well not bother – but this isn’t true. While morning workouts are energizing and set a great tone for the rest of your day, working out at any time is better than not working out at all.
These are all just excuses that stem from limiting beliefs rather than an actual scheduling problem. The reality is, you must create time to do the activities you love. Don’t make excuses – instead, find a solution. Set up your elliptical in front of your TV and work out when you watch your favorite sitcom. Take 15-minute breaks at work and walk around the block. While your kid is at football practice, power-walk around the field. When you realize you don’t need to cut out important parts of your life to work out, you can learn how to enjoy exercise without feeling guilty.
Create an inspiring space
Want to unlock how to enjoy working out at home? Your space may have more to do with it than you think. While many of us don’t have room for an entire yoga studio in our living spaces, setting aside a corner of a room or using a room divider can work just as well. A basement is another great option for storing a few pieces of home gym equipment.
Music is another invaluable component of learning how to enjoy exercise. In one study, researchers compared three groups of participants: those who listened to music while exercising, those who listened to a podcast and those who listened to nothing. Music increased enjoyment by 28% compared to those with no auditory stimuli and by 13% compared to those who listened to a podcast. Researchers concluded that because music elicited a more positive emotional state during exercise, music is a valuable tool for learning how to enjoy working out – and you can use it whether your workout space is in your home or in the great outdoors.
Learn to be more adaptable
Humans crave certainty, even in our exercise routines. We’re also extremely social beings, hard-wired to work together and enjoy gatherings. When it comes to learning how to enjoy exercise, it’s even proven that there is strength in numbers. One study demonstrated that our social networks influence our exercise-related behaviors. Participants who spent time with fit friends were more likely to successfully lose weight and enjoy exercise than those whose peers were not oriented toward healthful living.
If you’re having trouble learning how to enjoy working out at home without your social network, work on cultivating a growth mindset that will encourage you to master new things. Variety is also one of our deep human needs, so switch up your exercise routine each week. Join a digital workout challenge or an online group where you can get support. Remember what Tony says: “Every problem is a gift – without problems we would not grow.” How can you use your current challenges to create growth in your life?
Do What You LoveIf you hate your workout, it’s going to be difficult to feel excited or motivated to take it on. The lowest hanging fruit on the how-to-love-exercising tree is to pick an activity you enjoy doing. There are so many different kinds of activities and environments to perform them in, so if you haven’t found your groove yet—something you find relatively fun—keep dabbling. “You might be drawn to weightlifting in the basement or in a gym, rock climbing, contact sports, running, pilates, being in nature, or yoga,” says Eisner. “You might love an activity because you like going hard and getting your heart rate up, or you might like certain exercises because they’re calming. You might like a certain activity because you love how your muscles feel, or because you feel a sense of bliss afterward.” It’s important to think about what you love, why you love it, and where you love to do it. “Honor yourself by listening to your body and temperament, and don’t do something just because you think you should. The more you genuinely just enjoy something, the more you will be apt to stick with it,” explains Eisner.
Focus On the OutcomeOkay, so maybe it’s hard to love doing heavy squats or holding a plank when your muscles are trembling, but if you think about how good you’ll feel physically and mentally by completing your workout, it will help your brain push forward. “It becomes vital for exercise to stimulate dopamine in the brain to help people who struggle with motivation to look forward to getting to their workouts,” explains Eisner. “We want these people to associate exercise not with something they have to do and get over with, but with something that feels good in the body, boosts their mood or lowers anxiety, or in which they cultivate positive feelings about themselves for doing something healthy and taking care of themselves.”
Listen to Music or Podcasts
With wireless headphones, it’s fairly easy to exercise and listen to music or podcasts these days, which can provide entertainment, distraction, and prevent you from getting bored.
“Music can not only help you pass the time working out but [it can] also motivate you and make it that much easier to stay focused on your task at hand,” explains Goldberg. “Also, music helps constructively distract us from the inner [dialogue] of negative self-talk and self-doubts.” And, if you’re looking to make your sweat time double as learning time, consider podcasts. “Podcasts can provide you intellectual stimulation or a dose of comedy,” shares Eisner. To give you the push to work out, consider reserving your favorite podcast, show, or audiobook listening for workouts only so that you’re drawn to lace up your sneakers to enjoy the next installment and catch up with your favorite characters.
Incorporate PlayAs adults, we rarely “play” anymore, yet playing is not only inherently fun but also important for our mental health. According to Eisner, “Play can be something that allows you to move freely and experiment, such as putting on music and dancing in your room, or it could be something with a competitive vibe such as a sport.” When I used to ride the exercise bike with a virtual reality interface, the whole ride felt like one big game. “Play is often associated with the sought-after ‘flow’ state, in which you can get fully absorbed in an activity and be so immersed in the moment that you lose a sense of time,” explains Eisner. “The ingredients that lead to flow are having skill in the activity (you might have practiced it for years), yet you are still challenged by it to an optimal level (it’s not too easy nor too difficult), and you enjoy engaging in it. Consider going back to a sport you played as a child, such as soccer, basketball, or tennis, and joining an adult recreational or competitive team.
Make It SocialLooking back, I think part of what made my jam-packed fitness routine in my younger years so much fun was that I did most activities with different friends or took classes where there was a strong social component before and after the class. Camaraderie really does help. “It’s always easier to get motivated and push yourself out of your comfort zone when you’re not alone,” notes Goldberg. “Find a like-minded partner and your exercise ‘work’ will be that much easier.” Eisner agrees. “Finding a workout buddy will help you stay accountable and boost social connection and endorphins,” says Eisner. And, get creative. For outdoor activities, your buddy can even be your dog.
Remove the PressureSetting small goals helps remove any pressure or sense of overwhelm that a daunting or seemingly unrealistic goal might. Especially if you’re just starting out on your exercise journey, the goals can be really small—consider putting on your shoes and doing 20 jumping jacks, or take a 10-minute walk. “Setting small, accomplishable goals helps you to build up good feelings about yourself, establish trust with yourself, and make failure impossible,” explains Eisner.
Harness the Feeling of Pride“Make sure to connect with a sense of pride in yourself for small or large accomplishments in your exercise routine,” advises Eisner, who says these internal rewards can help keep the habit going. “This isn’t an ego or pride thing as in: ‘Look at me I ran eight miles!’ It’s more the smile of a toddler when she’s learning how to walk. There’s a natural and healthy pride that arises when we extend beyond our comfort zone, and it really serves us to fully take that in.”
Treat YourselfAnother thing that can get you out the door for your workout is knowing that you have something to look forward to when you return. Program a small “reward” or “treat” into your routine that immediately follows your workout. Only allow yourself to earn the reward if you complete your sweat session. “Leaving something like breakfast or coffee to look forward to after your exercise can be an extra incentive during your workout,” suggests Eisner. “This creates the association between working out and feeling happy and satisfied, which stimulates dopamine in the brain and helps you to maintain motivation for an ongoing exercise routine.” Or, reward yourself at the end of the week if you get all your workouts in. Perhaps there are some new songs you want for your pump-up playlist, a cute fitness top, or a manicure. Pick something fun that will motivate you to lace up and work out.
Get OutsideDo you remember the feeling of itching to go out for recess when you were a kid? Recreate that draw with your workout. Most of us spend the majority of our day inside, so instead of taking on an indoor workout and adding to that time, exercise outdoors for a change of scenery—and additional physical and mental benefits we all need.4 “[It’s] a chance to be mindful, get out of your head, and bring your attention to the setting around you—the sights of the trees and sky, the smells of the fresh air, flowers blooming, the sounds of birds,” shares Eisner. “Breathing natural chemicals in a forest/tree setting benefits the immune system, and visually taking in organic materials (with soft edges and curves, rather than sharp edges as is common in city settings) is calming for the nervous system.” Plus, it boosts the mood. “Chronic depression in our culture may be linked to increased separation from the natural world,” says Eisner. “Getting outside and in nature is an antidote to that, which can heal, de-stress, bring joy, and restore our spirits. Also getting sunlight, which contains vitamin D, is a good mood booster.”
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Keep It FreshEven if you’re a yoga fanatic or training for a marathon, make sure you’re introducing other activities into the mix as well. Adding variety to your workout routine doesn’t just make your fitness more well-rounded and help prevent injuries, but it also keeps your brain engaged and seeking more. “To increase dopamine in the brain around exercise, we want to make the exercise not feel tedious, boring, or obligatory, but [something] fun, exciting, and containing novelty,” advises Eisner.
Consider Your “Why”
“Remembering why you are doing this (I feel so good afterward; I am valuing my health; my anxiety decreases when I am exercising regularly), will help bring more meaning into the exercise practice itself, and help you maintain your workout routine,” says Eisner. You might even consider physically writing your “why” on a notecard and placing it somewhere prominent in your home or office so that you’ll catch a glimpse and remember what matters to you, even when your motivation is low.
Goldberg agrees that having a “why” you connect with makes your workouts more enjoyable because you are more consciously connected to the benefits of pushing yourself through them—thus, the work becomes worth it. “Motivation is all about having a specific direction for you to head towards,” explains Goldberg, who says you need to have a big enough “why” to sustain your motivation.
Use It For Stress Relief“Finding a workout that offers stress relief might lead to you to notice lowered anxiety, increased mood, a sense of lightness, feeling calmer, or feeling a greater sense of wellbeing,” notes Eisner, who remarks that these feelings can be deeply rewarding. “A common experience for [people who practice] yoga is post-practice ‘yoga brain’, wherein you’re feeling a sense of peace and even bliss—you tend to forget where you put your shoes or keys.” We could all use a nice dose of calm. By consciously acknowledging the stress relief and mood boost a workout will give you, you may be more motivated to hit the gym.
Use Positive AffirmationsIf you’re struggling through your warmup and dreading the workout, try to reroute your mind with uplifting quotes and encouragement. Goldberg says that nothing good comes from negativity. “It kills our motivation, undermines our confidence, and sabotages our intentions,” he says. “Use positive affirmations to keep yourself positive and moving towards your goals. If this sounds daunting or uncomfortable, Goldberg encourages you to push through and try it anyway. “Even if the positive statements you make to yourself are hard to believe in the beginning, they will form a bridge to help you get from how you think and feel now to how you want to think and feel in the future,” he says.
Set an Exciting Goal
Though small, achievable goals can provide a more immediate sense of pride and accomplishment, and develop a sense of self-efficacy, big, exciting goals have their place, too. “Working towards a race such as a 5K, marathon, or triathlon can be extremely motivating and you can celebrate your progress over time.” Consider setting a combination of smaller goals that lead stepwise to a “dream” goal. You’ll have more fun along the journey—during each workout—if you know it’s leading you towards a big adventure or something really exciting.
“You have to have a big dream or goal that you want to accomplish,” advises Goldberg. “And then to make this work, you must break that big goal into smaller ones so that every day you can see that you’re working towards the accomplishment of that big ‘why.’”
The Bottom Line
If you’re having trouble beginning an exercise plan or following through, you’re not alone. Many of us struggle getting out of the sedentary rut, despite our best intentions.
You already know there are many great reasons to exercise—from improving energy, mood, sleep, and health to reducing anxiety, stress, and depression. And detailed exercise instructions and workout plans are just a click away. But if knowing how and why to exercise was enough, we’d all be in shape. Making exercise a habit takes more—you need the right mindset and a smart approach.
While practical concerns like a busy schedule or poor health can make exercise more challenging, for most of us, the biggest barriers are mental. Maybe it’s a lack of self-confidence that keeps you from taking positive steps, or your motivation quickly flames out, or you get easily discouraged and give up. We’ve all been there at some point.