StockSnap.io, used with permission.
Source: StockSnap.io, used with permission.

If you haven’t been exercising for some time but would like to start, the first thing you need is motivation. If you’re good at coming up with excuses not to exercise, start replacing those excuses with motivational thoughts and affirmations. For instance, instead of telling yourself “I don’t have time,” tell yourself “I will look at the calendar right now and find or make time to exercise this week.” If you view exercise as too much work, do a little research and find an activity that you think will be fun. If you just don’t like to exercise, remind yourself that you need to participate in some form of physical activity most days if you want to live a longer, healthier, and happier life. Which, of course, you deserve to do!

Remember: What matters the most is not the type of exercise you do or how intense an activity you choose (those come next). What matters most, especially when you’re not feeling highly motivated, is that you just keep moving. Here’s a plan for right now. (Print this out and hang it on the fridge, or near your desk or front door—wherever it will serve as a daily reminder.)

1. Start off slow. A 15- or 20-minute walk is better than no activity at all, because that’s 15 minutes you won’t be sitting around trying to find your motivation. Walk to a store that’s at least 10 minutes away, give the dog an extra walk around the block, or take a walk outside during your lunch break.

2. Choose a safe and comfortable location to get your exercise. A well-populated park, riverside, boardwalk or rail trail is a great place to walk, jog or ride a bicycle (if allowed), especially if you live in a city or work in an office, because you not only get fresh air and exercise, you get to give your eyes and mind a break by enjoying the natural surroundings.

3. Start off with something fun. If you like to be alone, you might choose to walk, jog, bike or swim. If you want to be part of a group, you might prefer to join a gym or take up a recreational sport such as golf, racquetball, or tennis, or join a group of walkers, hikers or swimmers. You’re much more likely to stick to an exercise you enjoy, so don’t bother with any activity you dislike or that is in an inconvenient location.

4. Pick the best time of day. Whether you most like to get your exercise first thing in the morning, during your lunch break or to release stress at the end of your workday, try to plan and stick with exercise you can do at a time of day that’s best for you.

5. Make it manageable. If you can’t find one time to get in at least 45 minutes or an hour of exercise, break your exercise routine up into mini-workouts that you can mange throughout the day.

6. Set goals. Write down an exercise plan for yourself that includes short-term goals (Walk for 20 minutes every day after lunch), medium-term goals (add another form of daily exercise by the end of the month), and long-term goals (Work up to a variety of exercises for an hour a day, at least 5 days a week).

7. While you’re exercising, remind yourself how good it feels, once you’re done! Remember, you have goals, and it’s going to feel great when you reach them.

8. Do only what you can. Don’t set yourself up for failure by doing too much too soon or setting unrealistic goals.  If you’re sick, or very tired, take a day off.

9. Find an exercise buddy. Find someone else who is also determined to get and stay healthy, and help each other stay motivated. Ask friends, family, workmates, schoolmates, and gym-mates, until you find someone who is interested and reliable. You may even end up forming a group!

10. Look to the past. If you’ve started and stopped exercising in the past, figure out how and why you lost your motivation to continue. Did you get distracted by other obligations and simply fall out of the habit? Did your gym or exercise studio close down? Did you run out of money? Come up with a plan to deal with these and other obstacles in the future. Get back on track, start slow, and find alternatives to obstacles you can’t control.

Adapted from Breaking the Bonds of Food Addiction. © Susan McQuillan