As the days get shorter and the holidays are now almost in full swing, I understand how hard it is to get motivated to exercise. It’s likely, however, that in January, many women will find themselves wanting a fresh start. The new year is always a great time to get back to an active lifestyle.
If you’re one of the people trying to make a change, I want you to be successful. Last week I talked about ways that you can deal with the issue of not having enough time in your schedule for physical activity. Today, I want to help you get over the second most-cited barrier to exercise; lack of motivation.
In a really interesting study looking at women who adhere to exercise long-term versus those who don’t, the researchers found some impressive results. The first issue for those who didn’t stick with exercise was attributed to them not having good enough fitness classes to attend. When researchers looked at why the classes might be an issue, they found that classes that didn’t meet more than twice a week or classes that were cancelled with short notice made a big difference to whether the women got into a habit.
The second issue was the failure to lose weight. Sadly, many women reported that they didn’t see the point of exercising if it wasn’t going to help them to lose weight. I’ve heard this same sentiment often from clients.
Exercise can help with weight loss but the process can be slow and steady as opposed to the weight-loss that many women have experienced using restricted calorie diets. If you can be patient, exercise (and especially strength-training) can help you to reduce and maintain your weight long-term, especially when combined with a healthy diet.
When the researchers further examined the positive motivators for exercise, the women who stuck to a program truly believed in the “quality of life” benefits from being regularly active. They also understood and respected that their lives would ultimately be worse long-term (e.g., lack of mobility as they aged, higher chronic disease risk) without maintaining their programs.
One of the key takeaways is that those who exercised regularly liked the way that it made them feel; this is important because we know from related research that people who stick with exercise are almost always internally motivated while those who don’t are typically externally motivated (e.g., they want to look better, be thinner, or someone else has told them to get into shape).
So, what’s an Age Sister to do when motivation wanes? Here’s a combination of my observations in the field and related research recommendations.
1. Rule number one is to not think too much before doing. I hate running in cold weather, but if I spend time thinking about the cold prior to getting out, I will put off going until I talk myself out of exercising. My rule is always don’t overthink it – just go. I visualize a giant red stop sign every time the voice tells me all the reasons that it would easier not to get outside. Just remember, “I really regret exercising,” said no one. Ever.
2. Find a workout buddy (as long as that buddy is motivated 😊). It’s tough to jam out when someone is waiting for you to show up. Get an accountability partner and schedule in your times to exercise together. Like, in your Outlook calendar. The best case, according to the study results, is more than twice a week.
3. Let go of weight loss for now. I used to train folks to run marathons who had never run a mile (and yes, almost every single one of those hundreds of people crossed the finish line in their chosen race). They dedicated months and months of their lives to hard training (which was awe-inspiring in itself) and would be ready to go by race day. An unfortunate decision that many people made in their programs was to set a finishing-time goal.
Why is this a big deal? Because inevitability, their time goal wouldn’t be entirely realistic, and they would take longer than expected. And they would be disappointed in themselves – even though they had just gone from being sedentary to RUNNING 42 KILOMETRES!!!! All because their focus was on their time rather than their incredible achievement.
Similarly, if you approach exercise with the expectation that you will lose weight, and then you don’t see some quick results, you will also be disappointed and will likely give up. Focus on your commitment, progress, and how exercise makes you feel (that’s how you feel after the session) to stay motivated.
4. Look at the big picture. Putting money in the exercise bank now will pay significant dividends later. From someone who works closely with older adult populations every day, trust me on this one. Exercising now is the best investment you can make in your future.
5. Accept that not all days will feel good. I had a coach once who called it, “embrace the suck.” It’s an understanding among many of my friends who regularly exercise that “this sucks” is okay to say on some days. Just realize that the next day will likely be better. Or the one after that. Keep showing up often enough, and it will actually start being enjoyable.
6. Make a deal with yourself. I used to trade my with my kids - screen time for exercise time. Yes, you would see two kids doing laps up and down our street, sometimes for 30 minutes or more. What can you promise yourself in return for making good on your intentions? Just remember, don’t make the reward food.
In the end, motivation will get you started, but habits will keep you going. Motivation gets you over the hump to begin to form a habit. Habits are the secret to making a long-term commitment that will truly stick. If you want to learn the four steps to creating a habit, join me on December 28th for my free Healthy Habit Challenge.
Let’s do 2020 right.
Your sister in health,
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