A group of seniors play basketball outdoors
A group of seniors play basketball outdoors
A group of seniors play basketball outdoors

Exercise Motivation Your Heart Will Love

Are there days when you have trouble getting motivated to exercise even though you know it’s smart for your heart? You’re not alone. Especially during the first three or four months of a new exercise program, it can be mentally tough to keep moving, says Kerry Stewart, Ed.D. , professor of medicine in the cardiology division at Johns Hopkins and director of Clinical and Research Physiology. 

Two soccer players standing in front of the goal

That’s because you’re still shaping the exercise habit. It gets easier to stick with it, Stewart says, as you begin to see results that benefit your heart: losing weight and inches around your waist, breathing easier, feeling stronger. As your confidence grows, so will your motivation and interest to keep moving—simply because it feels good.

What else helps?

Remind yourself of your big “why.”

Everyone has a different reason for wanting to exercise, beyond the general goals of “lose weight” or “lower my blood pressure.” It may be something you want to be able to do—participate in activities with kids or be around to see a grandchild grow up, for example. Others may be motivated by fear—such as a fear of heart attack, or a desire to avoid winding up in a wheelchair after a stroke or a serious fall, Stewart says. Envision your specific long-term reason for exercising and what it can do for you, then write it down on a sticky note or index card and post it on your bathroom mirror, atop your gym shoes or somewhere else where you can readily see it. Create a daily reminder for your mobile phone or computer as well.

Track your progress.

For some people, motivation lies in knowing that exercise improves key heart-health numbers. Try tracking and recording your blood pressure, weight or waist circumference to inspire you to keep moving.

Make it competitive.

If you’re motivated by a challenge, consider setting goals that you can use to compete against yourself or another person, Stewart advises. For example, a great self-challenge is to get a fitness-tracker device and work up to a goal of 10,000 steps a day. Newer fitness trackers offer participation in an online group where you can compete with others.

Take up a sport you enjoy.

For some people, motivation to exercise is higher when sports are involved, as opposed to just working out solo. Look for an intramural or recreation league (for example, basketball, soccer, softball or tennis) in your community by asking at such places as sports clubs or the YMCA/YWCA.

Unlock your blocks.

If it’s really hard to get motivated to exercise, something about the setup may be getting in your way. For example, perhaps you need to exercise at a different time of day and would have a better track record if you were to start getting into your gym clothes and working out first thing in the morning before any distractions hit. Or, if it’s difficult to get to the gym to use weight machines, purchase some hand weights or resistance bands for your home or pick an activity that doesn’t require special equipment.

Try It Sit Less Move More

Knowing you should exercise more can feel daunting, especially when you’re just starting out. Some people don’t feel they can fit in the full amount of physical activity their doctor recommends—and they give up on moving altogether. “But those recommendations are just guidelines,” says Johns Hopkins expert Kerry Stewart, Ed.D. “It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Try to focus on being less sedentary rather than more active. For example, you do not have to reach the goal of 10,000 steps per day in a week, but this should be the goal to reach over two to three months."

Research shows that sitting still for long periods of time can cancel out the effects of 30 minutes of exercise. “There’s good evidence that being too sedentary, such as prolonged time in front of a TV, is perhaps as harmful to your heart health as not formally exercising at all,” Stewart says. Prolonged inactivity is linked to obesity and diabetes, even in people who are active for part of the day.

Yes, daily exercise is important, but so is regularly getting up and just moving around throughout the day, Stewart says.

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