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10 Surefire Ways to Stay Motivated to Exercise

Amber Carlson
10 Surefire Ways to Stay Motivated to Exercise
Our bodies were built to move. Research consistently shows that we need regular physical activity to stay healthy, strong, and disease-free well into old age. It’s clear that exercise isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.

But staying active over the long haul takes real dedication and commitment, and it can be tough to find the time and energy (let alone the desire!) to work out. If you’re struggling to stick with your fitness routine, you may want to try these 10 scientifically-backed tips for keeping your motivation up.

1. Think about why being active is important to you.

If your motivation to exercise has taken a nosedive, check in with yourself. What do you want from an active lifestyle? How do you believe that exercise can positively impact your daily life? The more clear you are on why you care about exercising, the more likely you are to prioritize it and make time for it in your schedule.

Many people have health-related reasons for wanting to be more active, whether it’s losing weight, lowering blood pressure, managing chronic pain, or simply living longer (all of which are documented benefits). Other great reasons might include reducing anxiety and depression, sharpening memory, improving sleep, or building confidence.

Whatever your reasons are, I suggest writing them down and keeping them in your exercise area so that you can reread them when you’re feeling demotivated.

2. Identify your exercise blockers—and proactively get rid of them.

On any given day, we can find a million and one reasons not to do a workout, because let’s face it: a workout takes time out of your day, it’s a significant energy output, and it’s meant to be challenging. So if you want to stay motivated, make it as easy as possible for yourself.

One of the most common reasons people give for not working out is feeling tired. If fatigue or exhaustion is a blocker for you, one solution might be to plan your workouts for the time of day when you have the most energy. For example, you could wake up an hour earlier in the mornings and hit the gym before work instead of at the end of the day.

Having no time to exercise can be another major blocker. If your schedule is full to the brim, look at your calendar and ask yourself if there are any plans or commitments you could cut back on. If that’s not feasible, try to find quick breaks throughout your day where you can sneak in a few burpees or push-ups—one study found that even micro workouts of 5-10 minutes can improve your health!

Whatever blocker might arise, take note of it and think about how you can get around it in the future.

3. Don’t wait to be in the mood to work out.

Avoid letting your mood dictate your workout schedule. If you only work out when you feel like it, you’re going to deprive yourself of many opportunities to get the activity you need.

If you’re stressed, overwhelmed, or grumpy, exercising might feel like the last thing you want to do—but exercise has been proven to lower stress and boost mood.

On those days when you’re just feeling a little “meh,” it can be helpful to push through and do at least a few minutes of movement anyway. You don’t have to do a long workout, but you can get your heart pumping just by doing a few jumping jacks or taking a quick walk around the block. But if you’re truly feeling wiped out, your body may be telling you that you need to rest—listen to it.

And if you’re chronically exhausted to the point where any movement feels like too much, you may want to have a chat with your doctor to see if there’s something deeper going on with your health.

4. Set realistic goals for yourself

Do you have a sense of what your fitness goals are? Goals can be powerful motivators —they can give your workouts a sense of purpose, fuel your momentum, and inspire feelings of accomplishment. Many runners (myself included) love signing up for races because we get excited about them—and more importantly, having an event on the calendar keeps us on track with our training!

If running’s not your thing, you could also set a goal to ride your bike for 25 miles or bench press 150 pounds—anything you want! Just keep in mind that whatever goal you choose, it should be clear, actionable, and realistic for your level of fitness. When in doubt, start with smaller goals and work your way to bigger ones—with every small win under your belt, you’ll gain strength, fitness, and confidence in your abilities.

5. Monitor your progress over time.

When you start exercising regularly, you’ll notice some positive changes in your mind and body. Tracking your workouts over time lets you see how much stronger you’re becoming and how much you’re truly accomplishing—and seeing that progress can be really exciting. Logging each session also provides accountability and makes you more likely to achieve your goals.

There are lots of great fitness apps, smartwatches, and other gadgets that let you track your workouts and show you trends in your stats (such as your heart rate, workout duration, and pace). Seeing your stats change and knowing that you’re getting fitter with each workout can fuel your motivation to keep at it.

6. Pencil workouts into your calendar to make sure they happen.

When you have a packed schedule and tons of different responsibilities to juggle, it’s incredibly easy to start missing workouts. Personally, I’ve found it necessary to actively make time for exercise instead of just “winging it” and hoping I’ll find free blocks of time throughout my week.

So try this: grab your calendar (or phone, or planner, or whatever you use) and schedule at least one workout for this coming week. Again, if you’re crazy busy, it can even be 15 minutes or less. The key is to set aside a small block of time when you know you’ll be free—and treat it as a commitment to yourself. Because that’s exactly what is.

7. Enlist the help of friends or family.

Working out doesn’t have to be a solo venture—it can be a fun social experience. According to numerous studies, the support of your friends and family can help you stay more active over a longer period.

You could start by meeting some friends at your local gym for a morning yoga or spin class. Or you might schedule a weekly walk around a park with your sister. Making a commitment to someone else makes you more likely to follow through on your plans, and simply knowing that a friend or loved one will be there with you can help the whole experience feel more enjoyable.

8. Find ways to make exercise fun.

It’s much easier to stick to exercising if you’re doing activities that you enjoy. Sure, if you want your fitness plan to be balanced, it’s smart to include a mix of cardio and strength-building activities, but there’s still plenty of room for creativity.

If your current routine feels boring, try mixing it up with some different activities. How about dance fitness or swimming for cardio? Or perhaps some Pilates or indoor rock climbing for strength training? While you don’t have to do anything you’re not comfortable with, trying new things can make exercise feel more fun and exciting.

9. Reward yourself for completing workouts.

If you’ve been sticking to your workout schedule like a champ, make sure to reward yourself for all your hard work. Being rewarded doesn’t just feel great; it also makes you more likely to keep exercising in the future. That’s because rewarding yourself is a form of positive reinforcement that strengthens the behavior you want to continue.

What should you use as your reward? That’s up to you. Decide what would feel motivating and get you excited to work out—whether it’s a new gym outfit, a trip to the mall, a day at the spa, or a sweet treat that you don’t indulge in very often.

10. Cut yourself some slack.

Last but not least: don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s great to stick to a regular exercise routine, but we all miss a workout now and then. It’s okay. You’re not going to lose all your fitness from skipping one day—it’s when you start skipping multiple days or weeks that your body starts to adapt to a lower level of activity.

So if you need a day off, give yourself permission to do it without judgment or guilt—and then get back to your normal routine as quickly as possible.

Main takeaways

Exercise is vital to our well-being, but finding the motivation to work out can feel like an uphill battle. It’s natural not to always feel stoked about working out, but if you know why exercise is important to you, you can overcome obstacles and make it easier for yourself to stay fit.

When you set realistic goals, plan your workouts, and monitor your progress, you’ll be more likely to stick to a regular schedule. Finding the best fitness machines for your needs can also help you achieve a more tailored workout.

And finally, when you reward yourself and make your workouts fun by mixing up activities and involving other people, you’ll look forward to exercising for years to come.

Amber Carlson
Amber Carlson is a fitness and health writer with more than 10 years' industry experience. A certified yoga instructor going on 8 years, Amber holds additional certifications in massage therapy, Zumba, indoor cycling and herbal medicine, as well as a Bachelor's degree in psychology. In addition to writing for Top10, she's also written for publications like The Denver Post and Colorado Daily.