Maybe we are all a bit fed up of hearing about the importance of exercise at times, mostly because we know the reasons, yet many of us still struggle to exercise on a regular basis. As a mental health professional, I have admittedly spoken about the significant role of exercise while realising I too struggle with lack of motivation. In reality, it is not a lack of information that leads to a lack of motivation, so I will try to take a different approach on this topic.
It is suggested that we engage in approximately 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on a daily basis, as part of a healthy lifestyle. Other suggestions include 150-300 minutes of moderate physical activity in a week or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity in a week. The question is, how does one get to this point? In a 2019 Eurostat survey, 47.8% of Maltese respondents said that they performed zero hours of exercise in a week outside of work compared to an average of 28% of the European Union. So, if you are struggling to find motivation, you are definitely not alone.
The tough pill to swallow is that in reality, we might need to stop waiting for the motivation as it may never appear. Try instead to focus on determination. Everyone has different goals when it comes to exercise, however even top athletes will tell you that many times it is a matter of determination and not just motivation. It’s not easy, and hearing that ‘we should all have 30 mins a day to exercise’ does not make it any easier! However, most of us can make time. The truth is, that yes, the multiple benefits you read about are TRUE! And the negative effects of not exercising are also true. So, for many of us, it’s a matter of putting motivation on the back burner and ‘forcing’ ourselves to exercise, at least at first!
From personal experience, I recently learned that once you start, you really do get motivated to continue, because you start experiencing the benefits and not just reading them and feeling even more demotivated! Not only did I start seeing physical results, but my body also started ‘speaking’ to me and letting me know what type of food it required to function better throughout the day. It was far from consistent and it may continue that way for some time, as life has its twists and turns. It started as, ‘I don’t feel like’ and went on to ‘just once a week’ then back to ‘I don’t like online workouts’ then to working out daily for a month, then to committing to compete in a race. I started because I knew I really should be doing it, then motivation popped its head in later on, or on some days not at all.
Once you do start, minus the motivation, here are some tips to keep in mind that may help you sustain a healthy exercise routine for the long-term!
- Figure out what you like! I personally realised that unless someone is following my progress, I will easily go back to being lazy. If you’re like me, a community approach might be helpful. There are many fitness groups, classes, instructors etc. across the island! Others like to go solo, maybe you miss riding the bike you had when you were 13?..Go out and buy one, start exploring the beautiful Maltese paths! Even starting off with a low cost fitness watch to track activity may help, as you will quickly start getting annoyed at days with 2000k steps when you compare them to a day where you did 8000k steps!
- Figure out your goal. You might start off just because you know you really should be exercising, then suddenly realise you would really like to increase strength in your arms. Go for it! See what you can do to reach that goal and once you do, I promise it will be a good motivator to find the next one!
- Increase your knowledge on exercise and food. If you start working out regularly, chances are you are going to be hungrier. It is wise to prepare for this by planning to have healthy snacks readily available during the day. You will also need the food to fuel your body, so listen to what it needs and get creative with recipes! Again, many online communities exist that can give you a boost in knowledge and ideas.
In other words, it might be difficult to feel motivated until you find out what really works for you, so you really have to just go for it, explore options, and ultimately you will find the correct formula that works for you!
Michaela Pace is a Psychology graduate from the University of Malta. She has worked with children and adolescents within the social sector and currently works as a Triage Officer and Volunteer Manager with Willingness Team, while pursuing a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy.
Persons performing physical activity outside working time by duration in a typical week, educational attainment level, sex and ag. (2019). Retrieved 17 April 2021, from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/web/products-eurostat-news/-/DDN-20190328-1