Exercise: How to Gain Motivation

Published on March 22, 2023

By Jaclyn Martinez, LMSW - Long Island EMDR

People’s motivation to exercise can vary so significantly depending on their personal values, goals, hobbies, and ways they take care of themselves. 

My Journey with Exercise

On one hand, there are people like me who struggle to get motivated to work out. I know it’s good for me, and I’ve seen amazing results in the past. My close friend Jessica Lopez is a personal trainer who helped me lose a significant amount of weight, tone up, and improve my overall mood, energy, and confidence after giving birth to my first child. I never felt better, and was so grateful to her for her guidance and expertise! But over time, I noticed that with additional responsibilities and a second baby on the way, I slowed down my exercise routine to the point of being out of commission for at least 2 years. My energy is always low, I’m always grumpy, and then I get all butt hurt by the fact that I’m fluffier than I prefer these days. And whose fault is that?!

But anyway, there are other people who dedicate their lives to exercise, not just for the desired physical outcomes, but because it’s like a high for them (ugh I wish I had that!). People like my friend Jessica base their lives around wellness rituals such as exercising, nutrition, and grounding to maintain positive energy in their lives. 

As reflected by Jessica Lopez, Personal Trainer, “Reaching your fitness goals is such an excellent tool to see exactly what you’re capable of with unrelenting focus and dedication. Along the way you develop habits that will allow you to keep the results. Exercising and eating a healthy, balanced diet will boost your overall mood, it’ll positively affect your decision-making skills, and even raise your own standards and expectations for yourself”. 

Benefits of Exercise

Multiple studies have shown that regular exercise can significantly improve overall mood as well as clinical symptoms of depression and anxiety. According to Mayo Clinic, ways that exercise improve mental wellness include the endorphin (a cannabis-like brain chemical) releases, distraction from stressors, improved self-confidence, socializing (meeting new people at the gym or having a consistent work out buddy) and promotes healthy coping rather than turning to substances or overeating. 

The National Center for Biotechnology Information notes that with aerobic exercise, anxiety and depression symptoms decrease due in part to increasing blood flow to the brain, stimulating parts of the brain such as the limbic system, responsible for motivation and emotion; and the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory, mood, and motivation. This blood flow in the brain helps to foster improved mood, energy, and motivation to keep up with regular exercise and fitness goals for both physical and emotional wellness.

So why do mental health providers recommend exercise? It’s not just to torture you, I promise. It is because exercising, even just taking 30 minute walks out in nature with beautiful scenery 3 days a week not only gets your blood pumping, but it can be quite relaxing and grounding to have that self care. It helps you to be able to get out of your head for a little while and just focus on the present moment. You can notice your surroundings, how your body feels, and just observe your thoughts and let them pass without judgment. Incorporating these pieces of mindfulness alongside working out can be very emotionally empowering in addition to having improved self confidence.

How do we get motivated to create and maintain the habit of working out? 

So here, we need to get creative. Motivation is not a one-size fits all. We have to take a look at what our reasons for increasing physical activity are; whether that be to improve physical health conditions, bodybuilding and/or toning, losing weight in general, or coping with emotional symptoms such as those that come with depression, anxiety, grief, and/or trauma. 

After establishing your motivator for working out, it’s time to create a schedule. Figure out how many days per week and at what times will be the most realistic for you so that you hold yourself accountable to your exercise goals. You’re doing this for a reason, so find ways to keep yourself in check and stay consistent. It gets easier and more routine when you maintain the consistency of making these new changes. 

Next, it’s time to figure out what form of exercise your body and mind need to have the best possible self care. Whether that be 30 minute walks, jogging, zumba, weight training, crossfit, body lifting, yoga, barre, pilates, or whatever floats your boat. Find your groove and stick to it. Make sure that whatever form of physical activity you choose is something you actually enjoy, otherwise it's easy to come up with a million excuses on why “I’m too busy to work out today”. 

Working out and engaging in wellness does not have to be a drag. We can find ways to fit this into our daily routines at least 3 times per week to have a noticeable change to our mood, energy, cognition, and productivity in our lives. I highly recommend hiring a personal trainer to help you assess your current needs to ensure your fitness goals are being properly and safely addressed as they have the expertise to help you reach your goals safely. You will feel a world of difference with a little added consistency and encouragement from others, such as personal trainers, or fellow work out buddies to improve physical health and have an emotional outlet. 

By Jaclyn Martinez, LMSW - Long Island EMDR


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