Motivate yourself to complete physical activity

For many people, a barrier to physical activity is that they don’t want to do it. This could be because they view it as challenging or unenjoyable. You may feel the same way, even though you know physical activity of any kind is good for you.

If you struggle with motivation when it comes to physical activity, here are some tips to help get you excited about moving.

1. Set goals

Many people work better when they have something to move towards. The same is true of physical activity. By setting goals, you will be more motivated to complete activities.

Example: Sarah wants to be able to walk a 5 kilometre race route. Every time she goes on a walk, she goes a little further each time.

Example: Bill wants to be able to touch his toes. He does simple yoga stretches each week to help improve his flexibility.

Your personal goals can be set around time, distance, an action – whatever you want. And when you reach those goals, don’t forget to celebrate them!

2. Create a reward system

Rewards are a great way to motivate yourself, particularly if you find that other motivation tips haven’t worked for you. By incorporating rewards into your physical activity plan, you associate the activity with something you want.

Example: If Ian goes on a walk 5 days a week for a month, he’ll get himself a present he’s wanted for a long time.

Example: If Eleanor completes all her at-home exercises for 6 months, she’ll reward herself with a trip to see the Atlantic Ocean.

Rewards can be short-term or long-term, and they can be anything. This could include a take-out dinner, a new outfit, or an hour of television. The choice is up to you!

3. Pick activities you enjoy

You won’t like every activity, and that’s totally normal. Many people engage in activities they don’t love because they think they have to do it to be healthy. But that’s not true!

For example, if you don’t like running, you don’t have to run. There are plenty of ways to move. By picking the activities you enjoy, you’ll be more likely to exercise – and like it.

Example: Jamie feels good when they stretch, so they do yoga 3 times a week.

Example: Cynthia tried doing pushups, but they weren’t the right fit for her. She now uses small wrist weights.

4. Ask friends or family to do it with you

When you have someone completing activities with you, it’s another external motivator that can make physical activity enjoyable. You can set goals or set up a friendly competition, and spend some quality time with them.

Example: Joanna and her sister use Zoom to perform a series of exercises together.

Example: Glen and his son go on walks together.

5. Track your progress

It can be kind of discouraging not to see any progress when you exercise. Progress with exercise isn’t something you can see quickly or easily. It’ll take time.

One way to see your progress and keep yourself motivated is to track your exercise. You can use this downloadable physical activity tracker, or use your own system (like an app on your phone) to record your exercise. Over time you will see your progress: you may lift more weight, walk farther, or do something faster.

Example: Marcus started being able to walk 1 kilometre in 20 minutes. 6 months later he can walk 1 kilometre in 15 minutes.

Example: Sandra started lifting 3 lbs. weight, and 3 months later was up to 5 lbs. weights.

6. Use music to motivate you

Many people enjoy music. It can be incredibly uplifting and influence mood and attitude. By incorporating music into your physical activity, you can increase your enjoyment.

It also doesn’t have to be music. Some people like to watch television or movies or listen to podcasts while they exercise.

7. Adjust how you define successful physical activity

Physical activity can quickly become a chore or feel like an obligation. While it is an important part of healthy living and rehabilitation, you should not punish yourself if you miss a session or don’t reach a goal.

Instead, change how you view successful physical activity. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Any exercise is better than none. And if you miss a day? That’s okay!

8. Schedule your exercise, and pick a time when you have the most energy

Many people have full days with lots going on, and try to cram physical activity into an already packed schedule. This can lead to some stress and often a lack of motivation.

Scheduling your physical activity can help ensure you have the time for it. You should also pick the times you have the most energy: for example, in the morning after you have breakfast.

Ideas for physical activity

Physical activity has a broad definition, and there are plenty of ways you can move. And remember – any sort of movement is better than nothing. If you are concerned about what forms of activity you can engage in, speak with your medical/rehabilitation team. They will have recommendations for you.

Some examples of physical activity include:

  • Walking
  • Dancing
  • Running
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling
  • Online fitness classes
  • Yoga
  • Stretching
  • Lifting weights
  • Outdoor games like catch
  • Jump rope
  • Community sports clubs for soccer, basketball, baseball, etc.
  • Skating
  • Tennis
  • Cleaning/yard work

This is just a small selection of possible physical activities. And remember, exercise is not just for your physical health – it helps with your mental and emotional health as well. That’s why it’s important to find activities you enjoy and make sure you include them in your daily living.