You don’t need us to tell you that, if you want to stay healthy you gotta get up off your butt and start exercising. This is not news. But the fact that exercise can have a massive impact on your mental well-being in addition to your physical health isn’t as widely known.
Beyond the feeling of accomplishment and the sense of empowerment exercise engenders, there’s a scientific component that explains this phenomenon: exercise triggers the release of endorphins in the brain – neurotransmitters that some refer to as “feel-good hormones” – thereby elevating your mood and mitigating the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Physical activity can also improve the quality of your sleep – and let’s be honest, who doesn’t feel better after some solid sack time?
The irony is that the people who could benefit the most from exercise, the people who are suffering from depression and anxiety, who could really use a mood boost, are the people who have the most trouble motivating themselves to actually get the ball moving – and the heart pumping.
If that describes you, rest unassured, you aren’t alone. That’s why we put together these five strategies to help you meet your exercise goals.
5 Ideas to Help with Motivation
- Commit to a schedule. Identify days and times throughout the week when you typically have time to exercise and add them to your calendar, like you would a doctor’s appointment or work event. If you are a morning person, try to be active earlier in the day; if you’re a night owl, look for a gym that stays open late.
- Start small. Failure is motivation’s mortal enemy: that’s why you mustn’t set yourself up for a fall. Start small and set realistic goals; if you have trouble getting up the energy to exercise, plan to work out 1 or 2 days a week for 15 minutes. Consistency is more important than intensity, and the emotional boost from following through on even the most modest goals can inspire you to push harder in the future.
- Try a class. Barry's Bootcamp, Pure Barre, Orange Theory – all these outlets offer group classes especially designed for beginners. Surrounding yourself with like-minded (and like-skilled) people may alleviate feelings of anxiety associated with doing something new and leaving your comfort zone. Also consider recruiting a friend to go with you. Not only will it make you feel comfortable, it’ll give you someone to hold yourself accountable to – a great way of making sure you keep active.
- Combine exercise with entertainment. Some people find exercising to be monotonous, a sentiment that depression might exacerbate. So try to distract yourself. If you work out at home, consider watching TV or listening to music or a podcast to help redirect your attention. Or try going outside to exercise; the sensory shift that occurs when you leave your home signals to your body – that it’s time to get moving.
- Be Kind To Yourself. We know it’s really hard with something like exercise to avoid beating yourself up or getting down on yourself. Progress can be slow, especially at first, which makes it incredibly easy to get discouraged. That’s why it’s so important to be kind to yourself. Just because you have a setback, that doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
If you’re having trouble motivating yourself, a tracking app like Fitbit, Accupedo Pedometer, or MyFitnessPal can help. But even writing down what you did on any given day in a notepad can be great motivation. Not only can you see your progress and look back at your accomplishments, but you can plan ahead and set goals for yourself. It might also help you recognize that you feel better after a workout, inspiring you to keep up the habit.
Recipe: Chocolate Protein Shake Minimalist Baker
This is a great recipe to try after a workout. Hemp seeds and chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, shown to help elevate our mood. Bananas, oats, and cacao powder help raise serotonin levels which ease symptoms associated with depression and anxiety.
- 1 ripe banana
- 2 Tbsp hemp seeds
- ¼ cup oats
- 2 Tbsp natural salted peanut butter (can replace with almond butter or cashew butter)
- 1 Tbsp chia seeds
- 1-2 Tbsp cacao powder (to taste)
- 1½ - 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
- 1-2 pitted dates or maple syrup (optional)
- To a high-speed blender, add banana, hemp seeds, oats, peanut butter (or whatever you choose here), chia seeds, cacao powder, and almond milk (starting with the lower end of the range) and blend on high until creamy and smooth, scraping down sides as needed.
- Taste and adjust flavor as needed, adding more cacao powder for a more chocolate flavor, nut butter for creaminess or saltiness, almond milk to thin out consistency, or dates or maple syrup to sweeten (optional).
- Take a moment to be proud of yourself!
Stephanie Feldman, MS, RD, CDN, is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Health Coach, and a Nutritious Life Master Certified Nutrition and Wellness Coach.