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How to stay motivated to exercise: 10 tips for long-term success

One of the most common things I hear from people who don’t exercise regularly is, “I know I should do it, but I just don’t have motivation. How can I get motivated to work out?”

I understand how they feel, because that used to be me, too. It feels like a mountain to overcome. It feels like you must have something lacking inside. I used to think of athletes and fit people as some kind of unicorn, possessing innate magic and abilities that I just didn’t.

The truth is fit people don’t necessarily have more motivation or willpower than you. They have simply formed a regular habit of exercise. For some of us, this doesn’t come naturally and we may have to work at it, but it is absolutely within your reach.

That’s because exercise success isn’t dependent on motivation or willpower. Rather, it’s about habits.

Here are 10 tips to help you with motivation and establishing a new exercise habit.

Set a specific time in your calendar to exercise

This is perhaps the biggest secret to exercise success and forming a habit. The right time is whatever works for you, but set it in your schedule and stick to it religiously. Most of us are busy, so it’s probably going to be a matter of making the time, rather than having the time. If you do nothing else, do this. It’s critical.

Pick the right exercise for you

It’s nearly impossible to be motivated to do something you dread. When you’re starting out, pick an activity you enjoy or at least something you don’t hate.

If you’re not sure what you’d like, try new things. Keep an open mind. All movement counts as exercise. It certainly doesn’t have to be jumping jacks and burpees. Dance, walk, ride a bike, martial arts – whatever appeals to you.

Just because someone on Instagram does high-intensity bootcamp workouts doesn’t mean it’s right for you. Moderate-intensity exercise works just fine, too, and is far less prone to injury for beginners.

Start small but be consistent

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is they go from zero to 60, and they can’t keep that up so they drop out and feel defeated. If you are new to exercise, you don’t have to do a whole hour or even 30 minutes for it to be effective. Focus on starting with a small, doable amount that you can keep up with on a daily basis (for me, it was 15 minutes). Then, every week, add on a few more minutes until you eventually get to 30 to 60 minutes.

Don’t make exercise only about the way you look, or about the scale

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best. Exercise can definitely help with that. It can also help with losing inches if that’s your goal. But the benefits of exercise go beyond aesthetics or burning calories.

For most people, focusing only on appearance or weight doesn’t provide enough motivation to stick with exercise for very long. When you’ve exercised for a while and there’s no change on the scale, you may get discouraged and think it isn’t working. When that happens, there’s a high tendency to quit.

The scale doesn’t tell the whole story. If you are exercising regularly, then change IS happening within your body – even if you don’t see it yet. You’ll start feeling it before you see it.

Weight loss is also dependent on how you’re eating and other factors. However, even if you are doing all the “right” things, it takes time to lose weight in a healthy and sustainable way. Be patient and persistent. Don’t give up on exercise.

A text quote
A text quote

Motivation gets you started, but habit keeps you going. Focus on the habit, and the results will follow.

authors photo

Michelle Rogers

Certified Personal Trainer

Focus on how exercise benefits your whole body, mind and spirit

Think about how you will feel when you are stronger and healthier, and all of the things you will be able to do when you feel good and have more energy. How would your daily life be different?

Join a class

Whether online or in person, there are countless class formats available to choose from. With a class, you have an appointment to work out, and you don’t have to figure out what exercises to do. This helps keep you motivated and on track – you just have to show up. For many, the social aspect is as beneficial as the physical. You’ll have the support and camaraderie of a community.

Get support or an accountability partner

If you are the type that languishes on your own, work with a certified personal trainer or buddy up with an exercise partner. Even so, don’t rely solely on another person to give you motivation. It comes from within.

Exercise whether you feel like it or not

Some days you won’t. But get up and do it anyway. Just get started. Push through and get it done. You’ll be glad you did. Showing up every day helps cement a new habit into place.

It’s a lot like having a job. If you only go to work when you feel like it, you won’t be employed for long. In the same way, if you only exercise when you feel like it, it won’t happen and you’re killing your chances of success.

Really not feeling like it today? Commit to doing 5 minutes.

The hardest part really is getting started. Chances are, once you start, you’ll keep going. Even if you don’t have 100% to give that day, something is better than nothing. This doesn’t apply if you are sick, of course – in which case, rest.

Be willing to stick with it

This is key. Just like other things in life, exercise success is mostly about showing up and not giving up. It really comes down to “Just do it.”

The good news is, once exercise becomes a regular habit, it’s not so hard. It didn’t take long for me to get to the point that I looked forward to exercising, because I loved the way it made me feel better, physically and mentally. This time, I didn’t give up and it changed my life.

Remember: Motivation gets you started, but habit keeps you going. Focus on the habit, and the results will follow.

authors photo
Michelle Rogers
Michelle Rogers

Certified Personal Trainer

Michelle Rogers is a certified personal trainer who specializes in healthy living for adults over 40. She leads classes and workshops online at Reachable Fitness, her virtual exercise studio. Find out more at and connect on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook at @MRhealthyliving.

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