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Beginning a workout routine can be difficult, and sticking with it for the long term is even harder. Knowing where to start can feel overwhelming when facing countless exercise options with little explanation. While most of us understand that exercise brings benefits, both physical and mental, not all of us know what those benefits are or why we personally would want to exercise regularly — especially if we haven’t done it before. 

That brings us to our first step: identify your “why.” Why do you want to start exercising? What is your principal motivator?

Identify Why You Want to Exercise

Understanding the benefits of exercise and identifying your biggest motivating factors will help you stick to your plan to exercise regularly.

Let’s first consider some of the sweeping benefits of exercise. 

Regular exercise:

Being physically active and exercising is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to stay healthy, but without motivation, it can be difficult to stick to. So, it’s time to decide on your biggest motivation. What is your “why?”

Focus on the importance of making your “why” specific & personal. For example, if a middle-aged mother is reading this, her reason for wanting to exercise regularly might be that she wants to be able to keep up with her children or set a healthy example for them. 

The more specific the “why” is, the less likely you will be to stray from your ultimate goal.

Know How Much Exercise to Start With

Some people that want to begin an exercise routine and have never done so before may be tempted to jump right in and start out with grueling hour-long exercise routines. Unfortunately, this may cause burnout and make you feel so miserable during your first session that you never want to do it again. 

Thankfully, even a small amount of exercise has a positive effect on your health. For example, current physical activity recommendations in primary care suggest at least 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75-150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. 

That means that just 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise or 15 minutes a day of rigorous exercise would put you in the recommended range to see real health benefits such as cancer prevention, improved metabolism, and improved mental health.

Remember that physical fitness is a marathon and not a sprint. Consistency is more important than spending an excessive amount of time exercising on an irregular schedule. If you want to increase the frequency or duration of your workouts, try to do it in a way where exercise is still enjoyable. If you’re working out so hard that you need to rest for multiple days afterward, you risk losing your routine and motivation.

Be More Active in Your Daily Life

One great way to increase your activity level is to move more throughout the day and build healthy habits outside of a more structured workout routine. Beginning to exercise can be difficult, especially if you aren’t used to being active, so starting with increasing more physical daily activities is an effective way to ease your way into exercising.

Here are some examples of things you can do more to become more active:

  • Going for walks (bonus points if you go with a friend or a pet)
  • Cleaning the house
  • Gardening or doing yard work
  • Taking the stairs rather than the elevator
  • Putting on some music and dancing alone or with a partner

While the above list might not be things that you think of as exercise, they certainly help to raise your activity level. For beginners, this might be just what they need to ease their way into regular exercise.

Find Small Ways to Add Healthy Habits to Your Routine

Forming new healthy habits could be the key to a lasting workout regimen. Many who lose weight through exercise quickly gain it back when they lose motivation, so it’s important to make a lasting change. 

If your goal is to lose weight, you might want to add “and keep it off.” Rather than exercising just to lose weight, making a habit of regular exercise (that you don’t plan to stop once you lose weight) is a more sustainable way to go about it. 

One study found that using habit-based weight loss strategies was significantly successful at achieving long-term (12 months) weight loss maintenance — that is, not gaining the weight back.

So, what does this look like?

Forming a healthy habit could consist of going for a walk at a specific time every day, doing yard work on the same days every week, or having a firm gym schedule that you know you won’t get tired of doing long term.

Take Time to Warm up Before Your Workout

Most people don’t understand the benefits of warming up before a workout, but it has been proven to make a big difference. 

Warming up for a few minutes before your workout can increase your muscle performance and power. With better performance, you’re likely to get a better workout in — and maybe even enjoy yourself more.

On top of increasing your muscle performance, warming up can also prevent muscle soreness after your workout is over and even prevent injury. Significant soreness after exercise can serve as a major demotivator to continuing to workout — which we, of course, want to prevent. Even worse, an exercise-related injury could put you out of the gym over the course of weeks or even months.

Make Movement Fun

Since motivation is a significant factor when beginning to incorporate exercise into your routine, it’s important to exercise in a way that you find enjoyable.

There are a variety of options available to suit every lifestyle or interest level. These include structured workouts such as HIIT, yoga, pilates, strength training, and cycling, outdoor sports such as running, biking, hiking, and rowing, organized sports leagues for basketball, softball, volleyball, tennis, golf, or football, and low-impact options walking, stretching, or even water aerobics.

What is important is to find something that you enjoy, makes you feel good, gets you active, and that you will want to continue to do as part of your regular routine.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, it’s also important to focus on your “why.” What is important for you to get out of exercising? If you have a specific “why” you will find enjoyment even in your progress over time as you inch closer to your goal.

For added accountability (and fun) try working out with friends or joining group sports with a team or league of like-minded people who enjoy the same activities as you.

In one study, exercising in group settings was found to give participants a higher degree of enjoyment and intrinsic motivation due to social interaction during the activity. 

Beginning to Exercise Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

Exercise is always worth it, even if you don’t find it enjoyable at first. There are many benefits and types of exercise to suit your individual interests and goals.

On the days when you don’t want to exercise, you should come back to your personal “why” and reflect on how far you’ve come. This can give you motivation when you start to waiver.

Think of exercise as a way to do something fun for yourself each day. This will help you remain consistent with your routine while enjoying the process. Always keep in mind that you don’t have to make yourself miserable in order to get more active, see meaningful progress, and receive the benefits that exercise has to offer.

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