Sustaining motivation to exercise

Dr Christina Tran is a Trust Doctor working in ED and paediatrics at Derriford Hospital. Here she outlines the value of exercise in maintaining positive wellbeing and what steps you can take to incorporate it into your daily routine.
a peaceful scene looking out a window to a beach with surfboard on a balcony

Sustaining motivation to exercise can be challenging, particularly when a lack of routine and persistent sense of stand still can often leave us feeling uninspired. Physical inactivity has a negative burden on our mental wellbeing, which compounds the effects of prolonged self-isolation. With gyms closed and sporting activities cancelled we have needed to find new and creative ways to keep fit.

For me, exercise has been a major outlet and means of meditation. It provides us with focus and distracts our mind from the stresses of everyday life. Importantly, it is valued time we take out of our daily schedule to look after ourselves.

So how do we maintain our drive to exercise, particularly when new lockdown measures are enforced and rules are constantly changing? What steps can we take to make our motivation sustainable in the long-term?

1. Re-structuring our home environment

During quarantine there has been a surge in fitness influencers promoting home workouts accessible online and on mobile phone apps. High-intensity interval training (HITT) has become a popular trend involving alternating bouts of explosive exercises and periods of recovery in between. There are a number of exercises you can do at home without special equipment: jumping jacks, burpees, lunges, mountain climbers. Incorporate them into a six station circuit, with a one minute rest in between. Alternatively, follow an online workout. I have enjoyed participating in a number of live workouts as part of an inspiring online community.

2. Staying connected

Supporting and uplifting one another through our everyday challenges is empowering and strengthening. It provides a sense of unity and reminds us that we are not alone. Exercising with friends can be both enjoyable and inspiring. When we arrange to workout with a friend, we are also less inclined to make excuses. In socially distant times, doing a home workout together on a Zoom meeting or Skype call can be just as motivating and allows us to remain connected with our loved ones.

Share daily challenges with each other, such as a 30-day skipping challenge or 30 days of push-ups! Keep track of each other’s progress and develop new skills in the process.

Dr Christina Tran on the beach

3. Taking a step on the wild side

Exercising outdoors can be energising and invigorating. I purchased a guidebook on walks I could do around my local area and was surprised to discover hidden coves, valleys and coastal walks on my doorstep. It can feel liberating hiking through a scenic landscape on a clear day, trail running on countryside footpaths or swimming open water. Enjoy the freedom and adventure but remember to prepare well before you embark.

4. Set new goals and remain accountable to them

Incorporate exercise into a weekly schedule so it becomes routine. Make a list on your phone, in your diary or on the fridge - and follow this through.

Making excuses for why we are not able to fit in a 30-minute workout is far too easy. Reflect on the benefits of completing your goal compared to skipping it altogether. The most difficult step is getting started: put on your gym clothes immediately without hesitating. Stick to your plan and reward yourself after.

5. Finally: soothe the mind, body and soul

Remember to incorporate recovery and self-care as part of your routine. Listen to your body and be kind to yourself. Yoga and Pilates are great complements to other sports, promoting positive self-awareness, mental clarity and improving overall concentration.

Exercise is a welcome escape from the pressures of everyday life. Even with the current limitations in place, we can still find imaginative and stimulating new ways to remain focused and keep moving.