If you like the idea of exercise but lack the motivation to do it, there are plenty of tricks to fire up your enthusiasm.
You know that you want to look and feel fitter and healthier. You know that you will feel better after a workout, yet you just can’t bridge the gap between lying on the sofa, thinking about exercise and actually doing it. “Knowing what is good for you and wanting to do it is, alone, not sufficient to make sustainable behaviour changes,” says Dr Falko Sniehotta, a psychologist at the University of Aberdeen. “The proverb, ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’, is backed up by science. There is often a substantial gap between our intentions and our behaviour.”
The problem for many of us is that exercise is not a habit or routine but an obligation or a chore and for that reason is readily pushed off the agenda. “The hard part about getting fit is starting,” says Amelia Watts, an exercise coach. “Once you get into a rhythm of regular exercise, it becomes a habit and you just get on with it.” A study from the University of Alberta found just that: people who exercise regularly don’t spend time weighing up the pros and cons of a workout.
It also helps if the activities you choose are easily accessible. Sniehotta says: “Planning is one of the most important strategies in instigating behaviour change. Planning in advance and in detail when, where and how you will exercise, and implementing coping plans (how to deal with setbacks and obstacles, such as bad weather) will increase the chances of successful behaviour change.” Simple strategies, such as laying out your running kit or packing the gym bag the night before, can help.
Some studies have shown that people who exercise in the morning are more likely to stick at it than those who leave it till later in the day, when there has been plenty of time to talk themselves out of it. Plus a recent study by Glasgow University found that morning exercise enhances mood 30% more than evening exertion. Exercise at any time of day, though, is better than none, and consistency is important. “Try to schedule your workouts for the same time each day,’ says Dr Costas Karageorghis, reader in sport psychology at Brunel University. “We are creatures of habit and having a regular routine is important.”
Stimulation and variety also help. “Working out on your own all the time is not a recipe for success,” says Karageorghis. “A training partner fulfils a basic human need for socialisation.”
One study at the University of Florida found that exercisers who repeated the same workout over and over were more likely to quit than people who rotated three varied workouts each week. “The gym can be a very sterile environment,” says Karageorghis. “If yours is part of a chain offering nationwide access, why not visit a different branch occasionally, for a change of scene?” he says.
Watts suggests: “Cycle one of your running routes. Go to an open-air pool instead of the indoor one. Drive somewhere beautiful to run or use a machine you’ve never used before at the gym.”
While you may not have your sights set on a marathon, it is still important to set goals. “A goal doesn’t have to be a race or reaching a specific weight,” says Watts. “It could be to complete three workouts a week.” Writing goals down to record how you progress is a useful strategy. Watts also suggests recording evidence to show how your body changes as you get more fit: taking measurements, for example, or even photographs.