Monday, October 26, 2009

Get Moving! Staying Motivated to Exercise (Part One)

I think we're all on the same page that exercise pretty much rules. But you know just as well as I do that no matter how stoked we get about exercise, sometimes it's hard to keep up with. There are a million excuses: no time, no energy, no excitement, blahblahblah! Substituting excuses for actions is okay once in a while - hey, sometimes our minds are making excuses because our bodies need rest - but it's really important to make sure excuses are the rare, rare exception, not the rule. Exercise lulls are pretty normal, but if we don't handle them properly, we lose momentum. And if we quickly stop exercising, then why the hell did we start?

The easiest way to stay motivated to exercise is to recognize what typically de-motivates you. If you know what's holding you back, you can take steps to rectify it. Are you lacking some discipline? Are you constantly sore? Are you wondering what's fun about this 'exercise' stuff? I'll admit that my own momentum's not that consistent. I spent more time than I care to admit sitting in front of my computer playing Diablo, picking my nose, and eating pork egg rolls during early adolescence, so movement isn't exactly "natural" to me. For that reason, I know all the excuses in the book, and I've got some good ways to counter them. Here are some of the tips and tricks I've used over the years to keep myself in motion:

!!!HAVE FUN!!!
The number one way to keep yourself moving is to make sure you're doing something fun. So many people equate the word "exercise" with "gym," which makes them feel clammy and panicked, but more movement can (and does) take place outside the gym than ever could take place inside of it. Start thinking less about exercises that "incinerate those calories" or "give you those rock hard abs fast!" and start thinking about what's fun for you. I love zoning out on the treadmill with my iPod, but my roommate thinks that's insufferable. She'd much rather run outside because there's those scenery changes, that sense of adventure, the fresh air. (Of course, to me, running outside sounds like "knee aches" and "humidity"). I have another friend that thinks "hitting the gym" is laughable, so he skates and rides his bike - and not because he thinks he "needs the exercise" but just because, yeah, it's fun. I may be the one lifting weights and wiggling to Le Tigre on an elliptical, but I'm pretty sure my friend is way fitter than me. And by "pretty sure" I mean "positive" - because he's found movement that's fun for him.

Incorporate Exercise into your Everyday Life
... and, no, I don't mean, "Get daily exercise." What I'm really suggesting is turning up the volume on your everyday activities. A classic example is parking really far away from a destination so you're forced to walk further to get there, but there's tons of other ways to do this. For example, let's say you really need to clean your house. Now you could spend several days dreading this, then liesurely/begrudgingly sit around wiping down surfaces and sweeping across floors all the while wishing your were reading a good book in the park. OR you could turn on some loud, fast music, down a cup of coffee, and spazz out seeing how fast you can get it done. I've always thought parkour (alternately known as "free running") was an interesting approach to incorporating exercise into everyday life. As the wikipedia article describes it, all it is, is moving from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible, but in practice, this requires some ninja-level skills. No one could ever describe parkour practitioners as physically unfit, yet all they're doing to "exercise" is some routine travel. It's just, when they travel to the grocery store, they scale buildings along the way... Point being, there's always some way to make your life a little more active so exercise doesn't become this isolated activity that you have to "make" time for.

Start Slowly and Be Flexible
If you're just getting into some kind of workout routine, don't get too ahead of yourself. Apart from running the risk of injury, it quickly leads to burnout. If you have fond memories of playing softball in middle school but you've spent the last ten or fifteen years sitting at your computer instead, it's probably not wise to run out and attempt joining a minor league softball team. Instead, try meeting once or twice a week for small softball games with friends at a local park or join an intramural softball team. In the same vain, getting fit may have become your True Calling, but intense workouts five days a week probably aren't wise if your second address is in front of the TV. Even with the best laid plans, you may realize you've thrown yourself into an activity just a little too hard, and rather than de-motivating yourself, just be honest and reel in your ambition. If you're consistent with your effort, you'll get to where you want to be in no time, so just focus on being consistent and having fun.

Exercise produces endorphins, but did you know smiling produces endorphins, too? Even if we're producing as much endorphins as we are sweat, that doesn't mean we're psyched about the exercise causing both, but I find that smiling through the especially tough parts of workouts pulls me through easier. Maybe it's knowing that I look happy to everyone who sees me, so I start tricking myself into thinking this is more pleasurable than it is. Or maybe putting on a fake smile makes me want to make it "genuine" so I think of all the reasons I have to smile about exercise. Maybe it is just the double dose of endorphins, but for whatever reason, it helps. So the next time you're struggling through a really intense workout and you just want to give up, try smiling and see what happens.

Workout with a Friend
Doing anything with a friend is always better because it means you've got support and you're accountable to someone. It's also just more fun, and I think it makes it easier to expand how we think of exercise. For instance, you could hit the treadmill with your best gal pal and gossip about celebrity break ups while counting down the minutes on the gym clock OR you could head to the park with a group of friends and play freeze tag while pushing each other in the mud until the sun unexpectedly disappears. Your call.

Don't Take Too Many Days Off
I can't over-stress consistency. The more time you spend not doing something, the more inconsistent you'll become, and the faster you'll lose momentum. It's just that simple. This is an especially big deal if you've made a commitment like one rugby game a week. If that one rugby game is your Big Activity for the week and you skip it, the ol' heart won't have gotten pumpin' for fourteen or so days! Plus, if you blow something off once, it's that much easier to blow off again, and your body is very, "Use it or lose it," about these things. A good way to deal with extended vacations from exercise is to put a calendar where you'll often see it, like beside your bed. Mark every day that you exercise with something you find visually appealing - cuties, lol cats, whatever. Then mark every day you don't exercise with something you hate looking at - your boss' face, a hairy butt, maybe some pharmaceutical giants. Nothing says, "Go ride your bike!" like a picture of grandma in her bathing suit, so whatever visually motivates you to exercise, plaster it all over that calendar and stop skipping so many days.

Maintain Variety
Doing the same thing over and over again gets redundant. If you're doing something you genuinely love - and I don't mean enjoy, I mean love - this probably doesn't apply to you, but for the rest of us, we get tired of the same old things, especially if we're pushing ourselves to do them because we know we "should." For that reason, variety is key, so mix it up a little. We know I'm a gym rat (sort of), but this need for variety isn't just about exchanging the treadmill for the stationary bike once in a while. I get bored even with my more everyday physical activities. Like, I live in a city (town?) that doesn't even have a ten-mile radius, so traveling without a car is easy. Sometimes I ride my bike, but other times I walk, and when I get bored with that, it's right back on my bike. (And when I'm lazy, I get in the car. haha.) Even a rousing weekly kickball game gets boring after a few months (Steve's always going to kick a home run, Ellen's always going to trip on her shoes, Mikey's going to make everyone sit through an endless stream of foul balls), so instead of losing enthusiasm, just switch to four square. Like I've been saying, the activity isn't what's important; it's the consistency, so keep things fresh and interesting.

Ooo... Tomorrow I'll post part twooo...

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