Your fitness program: Tips for staying motivated
By Mayo Clinic staff
Have you ever started a fitness program and then quit? If you answer yes, you're not alone. Many people start programs but stop when they get bored or results come too slowly.
The following tips can help you stay motivated.
- Set goals. Start with simple goals and then progress to longer-range goals. Remember to make your goals realistic and achievable - it's easy to get frustrated and give up if your goals are too ambitious. A short-term goal might be to walk five minutes once or twice a day just to establish a comfortable tolerance level. The intermediate goal might be to gradually work up to 20 minutes three or four times a week. A long-term goal might be to complete a 10-kilometer (10K) race after you complete 12 weeks of training.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that you complete at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. The National Academies'Institute of Medicine suggests 60 minutes of exercise if you wish to lose weight.
- Start slowly. Common mistakes are starting a fitness program at too high an intensity and progressing too quickly. It's often not until the next day that you discover you've overdone it, and the resulting pain and stiffness can be very discouraging. It's better to progress slowly than to push too hard and be forced to abandon your program because of pain or injury.
- Choose an activity that fits your lifestyle. Do you prefer to exercise alone or in groups? If you prefer solitude, walking or biking may be more to your liking. You might also enjoy noncompetitive activities you can do on your own at your convenience, such as in-line skating or working out at a health club.
If group activities appeal to you, consider enrolling in an aerobic dance or water aerobics class, or joining a league or team for bowling, volleyball or softball. Walk or bike with a group of friends.
- Add variety. Vary what you do to prevent boredom. For example, try alternating walking and bicycling with swimming or a low-impact aerobic dance class. On days when the weather is pleasant, do your flexibility or stretching exercises outside. Consider joining a health club to broaden your access to different forms of exercise and meet new people.
- Have some fun. You're more likely to stick with an exercise program if you're having fun. If you find you aren't enjoying your workout, try something different. Exercise doesn't have to be drudgery.
- Fit exercise into your daily routine. If it seems hard to find time to exercise, look for opportunities throughout your day to slip in some physical activity. Go for a walk during your child's music lesson. Swim during your lunch hour. Take the stairs instead of the elevator at work. Pedal a stationary bike while you watch TV at night. Be creative.
- Weigh the pros and cons. People with chronic conditions - such as arthritis and diabetes - benefit from regular exercise. Have you started a fitness program because your doctor recommended it? Are you thinking about dropping out? If you are, make a list of all the benefits you'll gain by continuing your fitness program and the risks of dropping out. You'll likely find yourself motivated.
- Get some support. Exercise with a friend or make new friends who like to exercise by joining a group or taking a class. Consider inviting a friend or co-worker to join you when you exercise. You may also enjoy working out with your family.
- Track your progress. Assess your fitness level at regular intervals. You may want to record what you did each time you exercise, how long you did it, and how you felt during and after your exercise. Recording your efforts helps you work toward your goals and reminds you that you're making progress.
- Reward yourself. Work on developing an internal reward that comes from feelings of accomplishment, self-esteem and control of your own behavior. After each exercise session, take a few minutes to sit down and relax. Savor the good feelings that exercise gives you, and reflect on what you've just accomplished. This type of internal reward can help you make a long-term commitment to regular exercise.
External rewards can also help keep you motivated. When you reach a longer-range goal, consider treating yourself to a new pair of walking shoes or a new compact disc.
- Be flexible. If you're traveling or you're especially busy on a certain day, it's OK to adapt your exercises to accommodate your schedule. If you develop a cold or the flu, don't worry if you take a day or two off. Be gentle with yourself if you don't feel up to exercising. The important thing is to get back on track when you feel better.
Now that you're enthused again, get moving. Set your goals, make it fun and pat yourself on the back from time to time. Review these tips whenever you feel your motivation sliding.