Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your physical and mental health. Physically, it helps you maintain a healthy weight, it lowers your blood pressure and resting heart rate, it strengthens your bones and muscles, and makes you less vulnerable to accidents and illnesses. Mentally, exercise improves your mood, concentration, working memory, and self-control. It makes you less sensitive to pain and gives you more energy. It actually helps grow neurons in the hippocampus, a part of the brain associated with creating memories. Exercise has been shown to help people struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, and chronic pain, as well as people suffering from diabetes and heart disease.
Exercise should be a part of daily life for anyone who wants to feel healthier and happier, but unfortunately, the people who would benefit from exercise the most find it extremely difficult to get regular exercise. For example, if you’re struggling with depression, regular exercise will almost certainly make you feel better, but it’s hard to exercise when you can barely get out of bed. Taking a pill is easy, but exercise requires effort. How are you supposed to muster the energy when you’re whole problem is that you’re constantly exhausted and nothing seems worth the effort? Here are some strategies for getting regular exercise when you really don’t feel like it.
Starting small means two things. First, it means if you’re not in the habit of exercising regularly, don’t try to go out and run five miles every day. Instead, try walking for 10 minutes every day and slowly build from there. You don’t want to injure yourself trying to do too much at once and you don’t want exercise to be a daunting obligation. It should be a moderate challenge, not a source of stress. Don’t worry that your 10-minute walk isn’t doing anything. Recent studies have found that 10 minutes is enough to get mood-boosting benefits from exercise. And it certainly beats doing nothing.
Second, starting small means taking a little bite at a time. If you’ve planned a 30-minute walk and it just seems like too much, first just think about getting your exercise clothes on. Then, remember you’re in control of your exercise. If you’re feeling that bad, you can just walk for five minutes and see how you feel. Usually, the hardest part is getting started and once you do that, you can just keep going. But if not, that’s fine too.
Schedule your exercise.
Have a definite plan for when you’re going to exercise. Make it about the same time every day if possible. Scheduling exercise instead of just saying you’ll do it keeps you from putting it off and it keeps other obligations from interfering. It also helps you prepare mentally for it. If you just wait until you feel like it, the time may never come.
Make it a habit.
It takes a little while to build a habit, but once you do, it makes exercising so much easier because it’s basically automatic. You don’t have to psych yourself up to get dressed and take a 20-minute walk. You just do it because it’s time for a walk. Scheduling exercise at the same time every day helps build a habit, as does tying it to something you already do. So maybe you get up in the morning, feed the cat, and put on your running shoes. Even if you don’t actually run at first, putting on your shoes will help build the habit.
Try something new.
Walking, running, biking, or doing calisthenics at home are all effective and convenient forms of exercise, but they get old after a while. Or maybe they don’t appeal to you at all. It’s hard to do something that’s both difficult and boring. Consider trying something new. If you’ve always wanted to learn kickboxing, sign up for a class. The excitement of trying something you’ve always wanted to do can help overcome your lethargy. You’ll be more mentally engaged while learning a new skill and hardly notice all the work you’re doing.
Exercise with friends.
Exercising with friends is one of the best ways to hold yourself accountable and keep exercising even when you don’t feel like it. Having a standing appointment gets both of you past those rough patches when you have no energy would rather be doing anything else. If none of your friends are interested in exercising, consider joining a class, such as kickboxing or yoga. You may also want to consider joining a running or cycling group, or maybe a recreational sports league. Studies have shown that participating in team sports is especially good for mental health. When you exercise with other people, you also add a social dimension that gives you extra benefit. It’s a great way to make new friends and bond over a positive activity.
Hire a personal trainer.
If you have the resources, consider hiring a trainer. A good trainer can save you a lot of trouble. She can start at your current fitness level and motivate you to improve. She can help you avoid injuries and beginner mistakes. And if you pay ahead of time, you will be reluctant to skip sessions.
At a certain point, you’ll notice you feel better after you exercise and you’ll want to keep doing it for that reason. Until then, you may need to find other ways to motivate yourself. One trick is to reward yourself after you exercise. Think of whatever it is you really want to be doing and make that your reward after your exercise. It could be watching a movie, listening to music, or just lying on the floor staring at the ceiling. Go for your walk, then stare at the ceiling for as long as you want. That way you’ll build a positive association with exercise.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or other mental health issues, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We incorporate exercise such as yoga, kickboxing, and personal training to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.