What Motivates You to Exercise?
Real Simple readers share more tips that help them keep moving.
My very good friend Kathy calls me and tells me to get my butt off the couch and take a walk with her. That’s all the motivation I need.
I sign my son up for hour-long classes at our local YMCA. That way, I have no excuse not to exercise while I wait for him. It gets me in the gym, my son gets some fun time with his preschool friends, and I get my workout done and over with.
I used to try to exercise to keep in shape, but that would last about half a week. In the last year, I finally figured out I could do it to spend time with my husband. With our psychotic schedules, we don’t see each other that often, but hiking around the neighborhood or visiting the gym together makes for pretty great use of our time.
Bre Vander Art
Los Angeles, California
My five-year-old son surprised me the other day by asking, “Mommy, did you go to Pil-a-teez today?” This reminded me that he’s keenly aware of my daily exercise routine, and it refueled my motivation to work out every day. I’m not the only one benefiting; my two young children are also learning about developing good exercise habits. As a bonus, now they’re learning new words, like elliptical and Bosu.
Voorhees, New Jersey
My grandson was so anxious to play with me one day that, when I told him I was getting old and couldn’t run anymore, he offered to play “walk tag.” How could I turn down such an offer? My motivation was to get moving so I could play tag with him for real. In the past year, I have lost 25 pounds and started walking on the treadmill three to five days a week. Now we play outside, go to the park, and enjoy our active times together.
When my nine-year-old asked me to run a two-mile race with him on Mother’s Day weekend, I had a hard time turning down the opportunity to make a memory. I’m not a runner, nor do I have a desire to be one, but knowing that my son, Noah, will happily have me by his side for two miles has driven me to make the treadmill my best friend every night after work. I keep a picture of him running last year’s race taped to the machine. This year I’ll be in the picture with him ― and I’ll be a healthier mom.
To celebrate our 10th anniversary this summer, my husband and I are dropping off the kids at their grandma’s and taking a tandem-bike trip through the Finger Lakes region of New York. It’s wasn’t so easy for me to exercise in the dark mornings and evenings of winter while training for a big bike trip, but the idea of seeing the sights from a bike and traveling at a human pace, alone with my husband, got me going even when I would have preferred to stay curled up in bed.
Mary Anne Van Zuyle
Westlake Village, California
My yellow Labrador, Lulu. No matter what the weather is like, she’s always ready to go running. When I really don’t feel like going for a run, I just look at her dancing around my running shoes and know it is time to go.
Last year I got a dog. Not just any dog, but a springer spaniel that has more energy than a classroom full of first graders. I’ve found that the key to keeping peace and quiet at my house is a good, long walk with my dog, Olive, every day ― even through freezing Minnesota winters.
My husband and I have four dogs and a membership to a fantastic dog park. Their wagging tails and excited whimpers are enough to motivate me to do just about anything.
After years of wondering why I don’t love working out the way most of my friends seem to, I realized that it was the act of going to the gym that was the problem for me. The expense and the commitment, the urge to stay home instead, and the need to buy workout clothing were all major deterrents. I have since started recording Denise Austin’s daily half-hour workout. Much to my surprise and excitement, I now look forward to exercising. I wear what I want (even nine-year-old maternity leggings and an old T-shirt), do it when I want, and don’t worry how silly I look. Plus, I don’t have to add on travel time, socializing time, and so on.
Ardsley, New York
My beautiful, young 78-year-old mother. She plays tennis several times a week and works out at the local health club, always completing two one-hour classes in a row. I can barely keep up! She is a true inspiration and my role model.
Newport Coast, California
I keep my dad in mind. He survived a stroke in 2001 and now has limited ability to move. Watching him recover motivated me to run a marathon in 2004 for the American Stroke Association, and every time I don’t feel like exercising, I remember that he can’t and I can. Also, keeping up this healthy lifestyle will help me prevent a stroke later in my life.
My motivation to exercise is the simple fact that I want to set an example for my three children. They see me run, lift weights, and do cardio kickboxing. I can do more push-ups (real ones ― on my toes, not my knees) than any other woman in the class. I don’t diet or own a scale. I don’t worry about how thin I am but how healthy and strong I am, and at 41 I’m stronger and healthier than I was two decades ago.
Summerville, South Carolina
Any time I try to come up with an excuse to skip exercising, I think of my grandmother, Theresia. She exercised well into her 80s, walking almost every day and averaging 10 to 15 miles a week, many times even more. She is a true inspiration and someone who has led life by example, showing what a healthy lifestyle can do for your heart, body, and soul.
Brooklyn Park, Minnesota
I look to my three-year-old daughter for the motivation. Her energy inspires me, and I want to be a positive role model for her. I want to put myself in the position of being as mentally and physically healthy as possible so I can be around to see her grow into a woman and become a mother herself one day. This is my greatest wish, so I exercise (at least a little) every day.
I feel more justified watching bad/trashy TV shows if I’m on the treadmill.
Astoria, New York
Audiobooks. I get a lot of “reading” done on my treadmill, and I find it easy to go the extra mile with a good book and a talented narrator.
King George, Virginia
I watch the Food Network while I’m on the treadmill. I love finding new recipes and learning different ways to cook. As long as I’m working out, I don’t feel as guilty about trying out some of the delicious foods that are featured.
If I get the right music going, I am either an athletic teenager from back in the 80s or a single, midriff-baring club-hopper from the 90s.Whether it is the Psychedelic Furs, the KLF, or Usher, it involves a beat that gets me moving to exercise.
Exercise unsticks the wheels of my mental machinery. If I’m feeling down, I take my dog out for a long hike in the woods. If I’m feeling uncertain, I work out to earn a sense of accomplishment. If I’m feeling lonely, I grab a friend and go for a bike ride. Exercise has many physical benefits, but for me it’s really about being able to train my brain to get moving.
When I asked for a treadmill for Christmas a couple of years ago, I wasn’t prepared for the exercise bug to hit. My husband’s only request was “Don’t turn it into a laundry rack.” I didn’t. I began using the programs, and before I knew it, I started to lose weight and become obsessed. I continued to exercise even while pregnant with my second child, and I recovered from the pregnancy faster. I found the motivation in the way I felt, in the way I wanted to be a good example to my children, and in the fact that I found more confidence in myself.
Ramsey, New Jersey
Bag of Tricks
I am so bad at sticking to exercise, but I think I’ve found a small motivation that works. I keep a jump rope on my kitchen counter. Every time I go into the kitchen, I have to use the rope enough to get my heart rate up. Not only is it a quick cardio burst but it also makes me think about grabbing a glass of water instead of a soda.
I think about how many people I whacked with my gym bag while I was on the subway. If I don’t go that day or night, I have to lug my gym bag with me again the next day. I exercise away all the dirty looks I got that morning. That does it for me.
New York, New York
I sleep in my workout clothes, roll out of bed in the morning, and go straight to the gym. I don’t actually wake up until about 10 minutes into my workout, and by then I figure, What the heck, I might as well keep going!
To Your Health
Three years ago, my doctor said, “Your sugar levels are elevated. To avoid becoming diabetic, eliminate refined sugar from your diet and start exercising.” That was motivation enough. Now I don’t feel well if I haven’t worked out at least three days a week.
Brielle, New Jersey
What motivates me to exercise is knowing that the Food and Drug Administration requires at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, just to lead a healthy lifestyle. I exercise not to lose weight but to keep my body functioning in the best way that it can.
As sad as it is, my family’s medical history now motivates me. It was so easy before to think about how much I wanted to lose a few pounds…and then never do anything about it. My dad’s heart attack in October was a huge wake-up call for my entire family, and a few months later I started hitting the gym again. Now, when I’m trying to push myself to run that extra minute on the treadmill, I no longer think of how many calories I’m burning. Instead, I think about how much healthier I’m making my heart.
What usually jump-starts a healthy lifestyle for me is an upsetting photograph of myself. All I need is one bad picture of double chins or a fat arm and I miraculously find my way back to the elliptical machine. And the great thing about exercise for me is that it also leads to healthier eating. (I don’t want to do all that work for nothing.)
New York, New York
Put on a tight pair of jeans and look in a full-length mirror ― it gets me every time.
Simple. I look at pictures of myself before I had the baby. It’s inspiration enough to get off the couch and get moving.
I keep in mind my last box of “skinny” clothes I refused to give up in our recent move.
Bainbridge Island, Washington
I’m older than most of the mothers in my son’s kindergarten class. I look at the other mothers in the auditorium at PTO meetings and in the parking lot when I pick him up and think to myself that I don’t want to look like the old, frumpy mom. And then I hit the gym.
Laurens, South Carolina