You likely won’t be surprised when we say: exercise is as much of a mental fight as it is a physical one. We’ve all been there before – our workout clothes are neatly folded in our gym bags, we’ve remembered to pack sneakers AND socks, and a full water bottle is waiting to be guzzled. But then somewhere along the line we find that momentarily satisfying excuse for not hitting the gym, or skipping out on that run, or passing on a strength training circuit at home so we can watch just one more episode of that show on Netflix.
So it makes sense that the hardest part of working out isn’t actually that peak moment when our heart rate is upwards of 150, or when we’re trying to push through that last repetition… the hardest part is lacing up and getting out there.
That’s why we want to talk about exercise motivation today – and the mental game we all play when trying to find a fitness routine. Earlier I mentioned the momentary satisfaction that comes along with skipping a workout. Yes, it’s OK to admit that when you make that initial decision to pass on exercise, it tastes like sweet relief. But more often than not, that taste sours quickly, and thoughts about “should have” and “could have” start to pop up. The toughest part about this is that it leads into a negative thought generating cycle that can be hard to break out of. But we think notions of fitness and healthier living should be filled with only positivity and confidence.
So, we’ve got three simple steps you can follow to help revive your fitness routine and feel amazing while you’re at it. We’ll call them the Three R’s of Exercise Motivation:
Three R’s of Exercise Motivation
- Repetition: Keep at it! Consistency is everything in building routines. But here’s the big secret, you don’t have to pack in an intensive workout every time you exercise. The best way to approach it is to start small and make fitness a part of your everyday life. It can be a 15 minute walk around your neighbourhood every other morning, and maybe a 10 minute ab circuit two hours before bed, and then yoga on the weekends! Feel free to mix it up, and even if the workouts are short, you’ll get in the habit of working out every single day. You may be surprised to find that when you get to that point, you won’t want to go back.
- Reassurance: Be your own biggest cheerleader – especially after those small workouts on days where it was the last thing you wanted to do. Recognize your achievements and build that confidence. When you feel good about what you’re doing, it will be so much easier to keep at it. So, whether it’s completing a 5-mile run, or doing 5-minutes of squats – after you’re done, look in the mirror and say “I’m proud of you”.
- Refresh: Your refueling, refreshing, and rebooting stage is just as important as the middle of your workout. Here’s why: if you’ve ever felt woozy or absolutely exhausted after a workout, or overheated during a run, or cramped up in the middle of a circuit – you’ll start associating exercise with bad feelings. But if you make the most of your ‘refresh’ step – from proper hydration, to eating the right things before and after, to making sure you stretch effectively and get enough rest – then you’ll start enjoying exercise more, because it will feel better – and exercise should feel amazing!
At the start of this post we mentioned that staying active is both a mental and physical task – and of course exercise is closely associated with the positive physical changes: from getting toned, to losing excess weight, to feeling stronger in your everyday activities. But since it’s a mental task as well – it makes sense that there are mental benefits that you can get out of exercise. So, if you’re in need of just a bit more exercise motivation, here are the top 5 non-physical reasons to lace up, and get going.
Top 5 Non-Physical Benefits of Exercise
- Natural mood boost: It has been shown that regular exercise can treat depression as effectively as most anti-depression medications. How so? Exercise releases endorphins (the feel-good hormone) and spikes brain activity that can distract you from negative thought patterns – helping your mind recover.
- Reduce anxiety: Exercise acts as a natural muscle relaxant, which can release pent up tension in areas such as your neck and shoulders – where many people hold stress. Reducing this tension can actually lessen feelings of anxiety that we associate with manifested physical stress.
- Sleep better: Insomnia affects about 1 in 3 people, and even if the effect is minor it can have major consequences for your mental health. Exercise is a natural and effective way to defeat those nights lying awake in bed. The more active you stay throughout the day, the better you’ll be able to sleep at night.
- Improve your focus: Another surprising benefit is that exercise has a huge effect on the efficacy of your memory and concentration skills. The release of hormones such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, all play a part in retaining information and improving focus.
- Benefit your long-term mental health: Unfortunately as we age, our cognitive abilities begin to lessen, and can accelerate into more serious issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. However there are ways in which one can reduce our likelihood of developing these diseases; exercise is one of them. Keeping our blood-flow strong and regulating the release of key hormones such as dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin keeps your mind active and helps to ward off potential illness.
Remember – exercise can come in many different forms. You don’t have to set out to run over 5 miles a day or lift weights for hours on end to get your blood pumping. Start small and try simpler forms of exercise to get your heart rate up: give your garden a good tending to, or take the dog for a nice extended walk, or dance around in your living room with your kids or partner. Make a point to stay as active as possible every single day, and enjoy all of the benefits – both physical and mental.