How to Stay Motivated and Keep Your Exercise Plan Going

Great intentions can easily fizzle away, especially when you first start to exercise - here's how to keep it going until it becomes a habit you love

How to Stay Motivated and Keep Your Exercise Plan Going

By wlr Contributor Christina Neal Personal Trainer and Accredited Life Coach

We've all been there - full of enthusiasm and hope for that better body, and the mental health benefits of regular exercise. But a newly started exercise plan is fragile, it needs nurturing, time and commitment. That's quite a big ask. 

Here's PT Christina Macdonald's top 11 tips to help you stay on track

When you first start an exercise plan, it’s natural to feel enthusiastic. You have made a commitment to lose weight and get fit, and you feel excited and motivated.

However, as time goes on, you find yourself struggling to stick to the exercise plan.

Life is busy, you’re not completing all of the workouts, and keeping fit is taking up too much time. And it means spending time away from your family. You resent that. So you get demoralised and give up. 

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.

A 2013 study of one million people by the University of Bristol found that 80 per cent of adults in England were not meeting the government’s recommended exercise guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity each week.

A recent study from outdoor fitness provider British Military Fitness also showed that 75 per cent of people struggle to stick to a fitness regime.

So how do you keep it going? Here's my . . .

11 Tips to Keep Going with Your Exercise Plan


1 - Don't Expect Too Much of Yourself

Many people fail to stick to an exercise plan because they expect too much of themselves.

It’s easy to tell yourself you’ll aim to exercise for an hour every day, because you want results fast. But that’s not realistic for most of us.

Work with what you can realistically achieve and if the results take a bit longer, then so be it.

At least you’ll get results, rather than stopping and starting an exercise programme.

It’s time to take a long, honest look at your situation.

If you’ve gained a lot of weight, it won’t have happened overnight. It will have taken months, or even years, to gain that weight. You can’t expect to lose most of it in two weeks or two months. However, gradually progressing in the right direction is the best way to stay on track. 

Similarly, with exercise, less is more in the long run. If you can commit to just 20 or 30 minutes, three to five times per week, you will get results.

It’s better to exercise for 30 minutes four times a week than exercise for two hours once a week. You’ll keep your metabolism elevated by doing regular workouts, meaning your body will burn more calories at rest.

To get fit, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising three to five times per week, for between 20-90 minutes each time.

Even if you can only manage the lower end of this time, try it and stick with it. You’ll get results in the end.

2 - Remind Yourself of the Benefits You'll get from Exercising Regularly

On days when you feel tempted to stray from your routine, remember the numerous health benefits of exercise.

According to the World Health Organization, regular cardiovascular exercise will reduce your risk of coronary heart disease by around 40 per cent. It will also reduce your risk of stroke by 20 to 40 per cent. You’ll also increase your life expectancy by up to five years and will reduce your breast cancer risk by around 30 per cent.

You'll also get your body and mind in better shape. What’s not to love about exercise?

3 - Set Aside a Fixed Time

Many of us fail to exercise enough because we don’t plan it into our schedules.

Look at the week ahead and plan the dates and times when you will exercise. Write these in your diary and stick to them. Treat them like a meeting or an appointment that can’t be missed.

If you don’t ring-fence the time you’re going to exercise, the day will simply disappear and you’ll be more likely to skip a session.

4 - Use the 20-Minute Rule for Motivation

If you’re tempted to miss a session because you feel ‘too tired’, trick yourself into it.

Tell yourself you’ll only exercise for 20 minutes and if you still feel tired, you’ll stop after 20 minutes.

More often than not, once you get the oxygen and blood flowing freely around the body, you’ll want to do more than 20 minutes. 

5 - Make Exercise a Habit

it can take us at least 21 days to adopt a new habit, and exercise is no exception.

Humans tend to do better with a routine, so decide which days of the week best suit your schedule and make exercise a habit.

Maybe you want to do a class on a Sunday, when you have more time, and go for a walk or a run on Monday evening, Wednesday morning and Friday lunchtime.

Try to stick to pre-set times so that exercise is part of your routine - but don’t be too hard on yourself if you miss a session, just get back on track and do the next one.

6 - Stop Beating Yourself Up

We’re all very hard on ourselves, especially when it comes to missing an exercise session.

If you miss one session, don’t let it ruin your whole week and most importantly, don’t let it affect your motivation so that you feel tempted to give up altogether.

Life gets in the way sometimes; illness or family commitments can occasionally distract us. Accept it and move on.

7 - Make Exercise Fun

You may laugh at this if you haven’t yet found a form of exercise you enjoy.

But there’s bound to be something you can find that makes you feel good enough to want to do it regularly.

Maybe the gym isn’t for you – but you might enjoy the social element of exercise classes.

Hate Bodypump or Kettlebells? Try Zumba, or a martial art.

Perhaps you hate running but could love yoga. Or you may enjoy swimming or lifting weights.

Or an outdoor activity like walking, rock climbing or cycling may appeal to you if you enjoy scenery and fresh air.

Think about what you might enjoy and if you’re not sure, keep searching until you find that one thing that you’re happy to keep repeating!

8 - Don’t Expect to be Super-Fit Super-Fast 

If you’re new to exercise or you’ve had to stop for a while due to injury, you may find those first few sessions a bit uncomfortable.

They will get easier. The more regularly you exercise, the more your body will adapt to the demands of the activity.

You will gradually get fitter. But remember you don’t have to be fit to exercise.

9 - Make it Easier if Need Be

You don’t have to punish yourself with workouts that make you gasp for breath or feel sick.

If you find exercise difficult at first, then try reducing the pace or building in more rest periods.

If you’re brisk walking and you feel very breathless, slow down. Alternate periods of brisk walking with intervals where you walk at a comfortable pace to recover, and then repeat. As you get fitter, you will be able to decrease the duration of the slower intervals and eventually cut them out completely.

If you’re building up mileage while walking or running, start with a short distance or a run of five or ten minutes to begin with, then gradually increase the duration by a few minutes each time. This is a great way to build fitness while reducing injury risk. 

10 - Don’t Get in a Rut

Don’t let exercise become boring.

If you find yourself doing the same workout at the same speed or intensity every time, your body will adapt and after a while, you’ll get fed up doing the same thing.

Mix up your exercise sessions. Swim one day, cycle the next, or try a new exercise class. Have several training partners and exercise in different environments.

Keep it varied and interesting, and you’ll be more likely to stick with it. 

11 - Set a New Goal

When you get to the stage where you feel fitter, keep yourself motivated by challenging yourself even further.

If you’re doing a walk/run programme for instance, try to progress to running a set distance, without walking breaks.

If you’re doing bodyweight exercises like press-ups or squats at home, try to do as many squats as you can in one minute.

Sign up for something new, like a 5K run, a mini-triathlon or a swimathon. There’s nothing more motivating than having a deadline to keep you focused!

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