How to exercise when you're not motivated

Learning how to motivate yourself to exercise can definitely be a challenge. Everyone different when it comes to our drive to stay fit and healthy, but we have summarised our best tips for figuring out an exercise routine that works for you.

This can help if:

  • you don’t like exercising

  • you need motivation to get you moving

  • you want to be fitter and healthier.

Girl waxing surfboard

How to get motivated to exercise

  • Switch your mindset: if you dread the ‘e’ word, find a different way to think about it that feels right for you.

  • Create a personalised routine that works for you.

  • Exercise by doing things you enjoy – if you despise running, try dancing or a pilates class instead.

  • Know that you don't need to love exercising.

Why exercise?

There are hundreds of good reasons why it’s worthwhile to be active. You’re probably heard plenty of them, but here’s a few lesser-known reasons:

  • It charges you up. Thirty minutes or more of vigorous exercise releases endorphins (the good stuff) in the brain, giving you energy, vitality and an intense natural high.

  • It helps your positivity. Studies show that exercise is a great way to help manage depression. It not only releases those happy hormones, but also helps clear your mind of stress, confusion and worry.

  • It helps your social life. Exercising with others, going to the gym or playing sports can be a great way to meet new people and keep each other motivated.

  • It helps you sleep. Working the body and clearing the brain ensures a good night’s sleep, and can help regulate problematic sleeping patterns.

Switch your mindset

If you really hate the idea of exercise, it’s important to try and switch your mindset; otherwise, you’ll never get up and get active.

If you’re really resistant to the idea of ‘exercising’, avoid using the dreaded ‘e’ word and instead try thinking of it as ‘being active’ or ‘feeling healthy’. A great way to get started is to increase the overall amount of movement and activity in your day, like walking to the next bus stop from your regular one, or by taking the stairs instead of the lift.

There are heaps of apps that can help you track your overall daily activity or motivate you to get in as many steps as you can. if the average number of steps you should be doing terrifies you (if you’re curious, it’s 10,000) you can turn off those notifications, and just take it at your own pace. Remember, you can set targets that work for you, and any increase in activity is an improvement.

Create your own personalised routine

The first thing to keep in mind is that in order for something to become ‘routine’, you need to stick at it. Once you’ve set up a system for when/how/where you’re going to exercise, keep at it, even if it’s tough at first. It’ll become easier over time and will eventually become a habit that you don’t even need to think about.

Here’s some ways to get started with creating a personalised exercise routine:

  • There’s an app for that. In fact, there are gazillions of them. From the more pricey wearable tech, to a simple and free pedometer app on your phone, technology has got you covered when you want to get going.

  • Think about how much you want to spend. Exercise can be an added expense, particularly if you’re signing up to a gym or program. But if the cost of exercising is discouraging you, know that exercise doesn’t have to cost lots of money. In fact, it doesn’t have to cost you anything at all. Outdoors activities like going for a walk, hiking, kicking the footy round with a mate – they’re all free. Or if you’re not an outdoorsy person, YouTube is an amazing resource for free, guided routines for all sorts of different exercise, like yoga, pilates and more.

  • 30 minutes is the magic number. While we should all be aiming for 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day, only you can decide how much time you can devote to it. Decide on specific times that you can exercise, and make a date with yourself. Those 30 minutes don’t have to be done in one big chunk, either – you can break it up into shorter sessions.

  • Write it down and mix it up. Write down as many different kinds of activity as you can think of. Keep your list handy when it’s time to get moving. Having a wide ‘menu’ of activities to choose from will keep you interested and motivated. A good tip is to save your favourite activities for those days when you really don’t feel like doing anything.

  • The ideal. Any exercise is good for you, but if you want to know the ideal workout, here it is: a routine that includes strength (weights), flexibility (things like yoga, pilates or simple stretching) and aerobic activity (such as running, walking, cycling).

Exercise by doing things you enjoy

Exercise doesn’t have to be in a sweaty gym. If the idea of exercising in a room with lots of mirrors and strangers isn't your jam, you don’t have to do that.

You could:

  • go for a walk or a run.

  • go for a hike, or discover some new walking trails around your neighbourhood.

  • take your dog for a walk throw a frisbee around at the park.

  • organise a friendly game of footy with your mates.

  • head to a local basketball or netball court and shoot some hoops

  • sign up for a dance class, or just dance around with your headphones in at home (or organise a dance party with your friends!).

  • go for a swim, or just go for a play around in the surf.

  • go for a bike ride or sign up for a local spin class.

  • try a yoga or pilates class, or follow a free guided routine online.

  • give rock climbing a go – if there’s no cliffs near you, head to a bouldering or indoor rock climbing gym.

  • get out your old jump rope or hula hoop, and see if you still have your primary school skipping or hula skills

  • try something you’ve never done before but have always wanted to e.g. paddle-boarding, kayaking, trampolining, a flying trapeze class, umpiring – there’s so many options!

So if you’re ever feeling unmotivated, remember that exercise isn’t just ‘going to the gym’ – everyone’s fitness journey is different, and all these activities all count as exercise.

You don’t have to be in love with it

Okay, here’s the thing. Ideally, you’ll identify a way of exercising that you can enjoy and will want to do. But not everyone enjoys exercising – and that’s okay!

But if you’re struggling to find anything you like doing, think about getting active the way you think about brushing your teeth – you don’t love it, but you do it anyway, because it’s good for you. Accepting that it’s a bit of a chore, but keeping at it for your health is a positive step.

Just do your best to keep at it, try new methods and new activities, and don’t give up. Who knows, maybe over time you might learn to like it! But if you’re not an exercise fan, that’s okay.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to your doctor to assess your health before you kick off your training regimen.

  • Start small and work your way up to a regular exercise routine.

  • Download an exercise app, or find a YouTube workout that appeals to you.