Let’s face it: our culture has an obsession with working out. Everything from Nike commercials to controversial Peleton ads to Carrie Underwood on the cover of Women’s Health, tells us we should not only have a daily (intense) workout routine, but should also have toned abs, perfect glutes (thanks, Khloé K), and maybe even a personal trainer (or insert any other expensive fitness equipment that costs $$$ here).
We’re so caught up in what we’re “supposed to” do to look good that we forget the purpose of exercise is to make us feel good. Even if exercise so isn’t your thing (or if you’re active just because you feel like you need to be), here are nine ways to embrace working out and maybe, just maybe, use exercise as a method to bring you joy.
1. Start by improving other areas of your wellbeing
Being healthier is a decision that comes from the belief that we deserve to be healthier. Even if some of us want to have more energy, eat healthier, or be more active, it doesn’t mean we truly believe that we deserve it. Therefore, practices, intentions, and resolutions don’t often stick. Train your brain to believe you deserve a healthier lifestyle by making small changes to other areas of your life that make you feel good. Eat more greens, replace your regular pizza crust with a cauliflower crust, and take up meditating.
2. Make it social
If your friend group religiously meets for Saturday brunch, suggest a HIIT class beforehand, or ask a friend you haven’t seen in a while to go for a walk instead of meet for a drink. Turning workouts into social plans not only holds you accountable (you can’t skip a workout when someone is expecting you to show up! Hello #accountability), but it’s more enjoyable. Plus, you’ll be inspired to be more adventurous with the workouts you try when you have a buddy to do it with, and it might just spark your competitive side and make you work harder (but you don’t need your friend to know you’re internally competing with her).
3. Move your workout outside
Most of us spend our time sitting indoors at the office all day. The last thing we want when 5pm rolls around on a sunny day is to go to a stuffy gym and spend more time indoors. So why not take your workout outside? Think of it as mental and physical health multitasking: one study found that even just 20 minutes outside can make you happier. If you crave being outdoors, you’ll look forward to your workout, rather than dread it, so grab your sneakers (and a jacket if it’s still chilly out) and go on a jog, hike your local trail, or bring your yoga mat to a local park and go through a flow. Just don’t forget the SPF.
4. Take rest days whenever you want
Self-prescribed strict rules and high expectations will make you dread workouts and put them off or skip them altogether. Instead of rules you think you’re supposed to follow, become good at listening to your body. Just as intuitive eating drastically helps with your diet, intuitive exercise drastically helps you stick to exercising. If your body is feeling drained, cancel your kickboxing class, and instead, take a bath and read a book.
When deciding if you need a rest day, don’t focus on how you feel at the moment (chances are you feel tired because don’t we all?); focus on how you’ll feel after the workout (will it give you more energy and release, or will you leave feeling hurt and exhausted?). If you would feel worse after the workout than before, give yourself a break.
5. Make sure your workout is restorative, not draining
To be a “good workout,” it doesn’t have to leave every muscle achingly sore and exhausted (I learned this the hard way after years of self-induced torture I call Orange Theory). If you’re not leaving the workout feeling energized and relaxed, it might not be the right workout for you.
Our bodies respond differently to movement, so while one person might feel their best and look forward to CrossFit or a tough HIIT circuit, you might feel better when doing Pilates or restorative yoga. Or perhaps you need something a little more stimulating like a Zumba class or aerial yoga to really excite you. No matter what’s best for you, make sure you’re leaving your workouts feeling energized and restored instead of exhausted and drained. You’ll be much more likely to keep up with an exercise routine when you’re excited about how you’ll feel afterward.
6. Invest in your fitness
You put time and effort into the things you invest money in. If you enjoy a motivating spin class or feel your best at a yoga studio with scented face towels, consider signing up for a membership. Don’t think of it as wasted money (“why spend that when I could get the same thing at home?”); think of it as an investment. The right membership for your lifestyle and preferences can not only transform your fitness routine, but can also transform your mental health (looking at you, scented face towels), so it might be worth making room in your budget.
If you prefer working out at home, invest in equipment that will make you look forward to working out: a cute yoga mat, set of weights, booty band, pilates ball, etc. No matter your workout style, you can also invest in workout clothes that you feel good in. Not only will having the clothes, equipment, and membership make you feel your best, but having money on the line means you’ll want to get the most of the money spent.
7. Make it a habit
Full disclosure: I haven’t always been giving advice on fitness and exercise. In fact, I’m a reformed couch potato. No matter how much I looked forward to dance classes or how good I knew I’d feel after barre, it was so hard to get myself there after a long day when all I wanted to do was lay on my couch and watch reruns of Vanderpump Rules. The tip that reformed my couch-potato-self is turning exercise into a habit.
If you know you’re not yet in the habit of working out, don’t give yourself the option of whether or not to go to the gym. 80 percent of success is just showing up (thanks for the quote, Woody Allen), so plan on just showing up. If you’re tired, do fewer reps or leave early, but make sure to “show up” more days of the week than you don’t. As Nike says, just do it. Eventually, regular workouts will be a habit you look forward to.
8. Fit in shorter bursts of movement
The only reason we need exercise to be healthy is because most of us live sedentary lifestyles (looking at you, desk job). Scheduling time to work out ensures we’re moving our bodies to get all the benefits that come with being active. If you don’t have time for a 60-minute boxing class every day or a 45-minutes jog seems exhausting, then guess what: don’t do it. Don’t force yourself to do anything you don’t really want to do.
If you don’t love working out, don’t feel like you have to schedule a chunk of time in your day to get to it. Instead, fit in smaller bursts of enjoyable movement throughout the day. For example, go through a yoga flow to wake you up in the morning, take a long walk on your lunch break, bike to work instead of taking the train, and have a mini dance party while making dinner. Live an active lifestyle, and you’ll never have to schedule time to exercise if you don’t want to.
9. Change your reasons
If you’re working out because you want to lose weight or because you’re “supposed to,” it will never be something you look forward to. Exercise to reduce stress and anxiety, boost energy, improve self-esteem, promote better sleep, reduce disease risk, or to be healthy enough to run around with your grandchildren when you’re older. There are dozens of motivating reasons to workout, but looking a certain way is not one of them.