How can I stay motivated to exercise regularly?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

Every few months I start a new exercise program with the best of intentions. But before I know it, I’m back on my couch. How can I stay motivated?

DEAR READER:

There are two ways to be motivated to exercise: to think about the good it will do for your future health, and to think of how good it will make you feel when you do it.

Most of us are not very good at making sacrifices today in order to achieve a theoretical benefit in the future. I’m not, anyway. So when I started my regular exercise routine several decades ago, I prayed that I would feel great after exercise. I wasn’t so sure at first, but after about two weeks, I really did start feeling more energetic and even happier. And people told me I looked better. My weight didn’t change much in either direction. But after starting to exercise, the weight was more where it should be — in my muscles, not in my belly.

For me and for most people, it’s important to make exercise as routine as eating or sleeping. But, as we all know, that can be difficult. Here are some tips to help you stay on course:

  • Customize your exercise plan. Find activities that suit your interests, lifestyle, time constraints, budget and physical condition. Most important, find something you look forward to doing.
  • Write down a detailed schedule of your week. Look for blocks of time when you could exercise. Be realistic. Don’t plan to exercise before work if you’re not a morning person.
  • Set a long-term goal, but start with a shorter term one. For example, set a long-term goal of walking for 30 minutes five days a week. Start by walking just three days a week for at least 10 minutes. Gradually add an additional day per week. Then steadily extend your walk by five minutes at a time until you reach your goal.
  • Once you’ve set your goal, record your performance. Write down what you did and for how long. If you see yourself backsliding, zero in on the problem and address it.

We have a lot more information on staying motivated in our Special Health Report called “Exercise: A Program You Can Live With.”

If you find yourself backsliding, try these tricks to rekindle your motivation:

  • Remember what you like most about exercise, such as feeling strong and healthy.
  • Give yourself a reward for successfully resuming your program.
  • Line up walking partners for your next few outings.
  • If you feel bored by your routine, mix it up: brisk walks one day, using weights the next.