In ‘normal’ years, winter is a challenging time to stay motivated to exercise. Add a pandemic to that and it’s no wonder many people are struggling to do what they know they should for their health.
The things you used to do for exercise may not be available. You may have a different lifestyle, and gained some weight, lost some strength, stamina and mobility, and you may have developed some extra aches and pains. So how does exercise fit into that whole convoluted mess?
The answers are only found in one place. Right now, inside you.
In normal times it was much easier to be motivated to exercise by outside factors. We had social events, people next to us at the gym, weigh in’s at medical visits, and other social pressures that made us exercise. These are called external motivators. Studies show that on their own, external motivators do not lead to the kind of lasting motivation to keep you exercising during a pandemic winter.
Motivation scientists know that what keeps people exercising through winter storms and changes in their lifestyle is not some magic pill or genetic code, it is internal motivation. They do it because it makes them feel better in their body now. Their brain has made the connection between exercise and their body feeling better now.
So if your motivation to exercise has taken a vacation and left you at waiting for things to get back to normal so it will come back again, this is a great time to build your internal motivation. There are a few key factors to consider when finding something that makes your body feel better now.
First, what your body tells your brain is much more powerful than what the logical side of your brain tells your survival brain. Even if you know you will feel better knowing you exercised, if your body does not feel better from what you did, you will not build internal motivation. The key to internal motivation is listening to and trusting your body.
Second, be open to new types of exercise. Go on a search for all the possibilities for exercise that might make your body feel better now. That can be a challenge because of limited equipment, time, space and a body that feels different than it did eight months ago. It means thinking outside your usual go to types of exercise and knowing that the things you never thought you would enjoy might actually be enjoyable.
One patient told me how surprised she was that the group exercise classes offered only through her company are actually really fun. She was never a group exercise person before, but for some reason it has the right mix of what her brain needs to feel better now.
Start with short bouts. Only doing it for 5-10 minutes at a light intensity to start. Its much easier to get started and its enough to make you feel better physically and mentally. Listen to your body and make sure your body is feeling good from what you are doing.
In this new lifestyle you might find several shorter bouts a day work better for you. You might find you are a morning or noontime exerciser. You may discover you are a pretty good dancer or that you like strength training when you can do it at home.
Who knows what you will discover but the fact is, when you stay curious and open and listen to your body, you will find something that makes it feel better now. When you do, you have strengthened the kind of exercise motivation known to be much more likely to stick around, even through a pandemic winter.
Keep Moving, Be Well,