Exercise Encouragement: 5 Science-Backed Methods for Staying Motivated

Exercise Encouragement-featured image

The cycle of wanting to exercise, finding a reason not to exercise, and feeling guilty about not exercising can be a hard one to break. If that sounds like you, know you’re not alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2018 that less than 25 percent of Americans get the recommended amount of aerobic and strength-training exercise recommended in the National Physical Activity Guidelines. For many adults, time is often the constraint, but exercise is also often perceived as monotonous and arduous, making it unappealing and easy to forgo.

If you are looking for easy ways to trick your brain into motivating you to exercise every day, don’t miss these 5 science-backed methods:

Find a Workout Buddy

workout buddy

Want to feel extra accountable in your exercise routine? Try having another person counting on you to show up. A workout buddy doesn’t just provide emotional support and social interaction, but research shows that their very presence may also motivate you to exercise more.

University of Aberdeen researchers split up a group of study participants, asking half to find a new “gym buddy” and the other half to continue with their routine exercise. What they discovered was that the participants who were joined by a friend exercised more than the participants who simply maintained their normal exercise schedule alone.

Break It Up

If your idea of daily exercise is one hour a day or bust, you could be circumventing your will to work out with daunting expectations. Turns out, even small bouts of exercise can have a positive effect on your health and well-being. A 2016 study on older adults specifically found that just 15 minutes of physical activity a day was associated with a 22 percent lower risk of death.

For adults under 65, the 15-minute marker can be an advantageous approach to exercise, too. Incorporating smaller periods of exercise into your day—i.e., 15 minutes of bodyweight work in the morning, a 15-minute walk during lunch, and 15 minutes of resistance band work in the evening—can quickly add up.

Have a Backup Plan

backup plan exercise

Planning a super fun outdoor exercise jaunt of hiking and kayaking only to have your day sidelined by bad weather? Finding yourself unenthused by the hotel gym on a business trip? Research says you should make sure you always have a plan B in place so that you can keep up with your physical activity goals no matter the circumstances.

Lightweight and portable exercise equipment can always provide a helpful assist in situations like this—think resistance bands, balance boards, dumbbells, and pedal exercisers. Another idea is having a few favorite workout videos you can access on the internet, like free instructional HIIT or yoga videos on YouTube.

Choose Exercise You Enjoy

Many adults think that a workout has to be a sweat-busting, pain-inducing hour in the gym. No pain, no gain, right? Wrong. There are so many alternatives to a typical workout that actually add mental benefits in addition to physical ones.

Hiking in nature, for example, has been shown to help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. And dancing (like you might in a Zumba or hip-hop fitness class) has been shown to slow down the aging process in the brain. Other fun workout ideas include yoga, rock climbing, paddleboarding, cycling, Nordic pole walking, and more!

Listen to Music

exercise and music

A growing body of research has illumined the powerful effects music can have on a person’s workout. Listening to music while you exercise can actually reduce your perception of how much effort you are putting in, leading you to exercise harder and longer. Music is also a great distraction from your fatigue and can boost your mood.

Tempo and rhythm response play an important role in garnering you the most powerful experience during your workout, so create a playlist full of stimulating synchronous beats that help you develop a rhythm while you exercise. Knowing your playlist is ready and waiting can also provide that extra kick you need to get your early morning exercise in, too!

Final Thoughts

If you have dealt with a fitness injury that required time off for recovery, getting back on the exercise horse may feel exceptionally formidable. Try the tips listed above as well as other research-based ideas like writing down goals, prioritizing convenience, and telling others about your new fitness commitment. Building confidence in yourself and your abilities will ultimately help you succeed.


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