Inspiration to maintain an exercise habit
July 20, 2014 3:43 AM   Subscribe

I am going through yet another slump in my regular pattern of exercising, not exercising, exercising, rinse and repeat. I'm looking for some inspiration in the form of books, podcasts, twitter accounts to follow, facebook groups, etc.

I am getting sadly familiar with my pattern of becoming inspired, deciding I am going to be fit/become a runner/lift weights, doing this thing for months, and then getting sick or having some sort of minor life upheaval, and giving up on it all (despite the fact that I always feel better and happier when I'm exercising). I know this is hardly a unique problem.

This time, as part of trying to create better habits for myself, I want to find some things to read and listen to remind me of the benefits of regular exercise, and to cocoon myself in a "everyone exercises, join the herd" bubble (as an attempt to emulate the "surround yourself with people who exercise" sort of advice).

I've previously read and found inspiring "What I Talk About When I Talk About Running" and "Born to Run". I enjoy blogs like "Fit and Feminist". I was part of a 30 day facebook group doing a fitness challenge, and enjoyed seeing celebratory posts of achievements pop up on my facebook feed. Can you recommend other things along those lines that I might enjoy - exercise related books, blogs, podcasts, twitter accounts that you find inspiring? (I'm not interested in fitspiration images, more things like physical or fitness achievements that aren't looks-related - following along with someone training for a specific event, for example.) Googling brings up enormous amounts of things, and I'm hoping for some more personal recommendations.
posted by fever-trees to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
This may sound off putting and not very helpful but I do think developing an exercise habit is not really an issue of being inspired or motivated--if you want to enjoy the benefits of exercise you just have to do it whether you are/are not motivated. The motivation and inspiration is in doing it and the reinforcement of almost always feeling better (physically/mentally) after having done it. it really is irrelevant whether you want to do it--what difference does it make if you don't feel like it--go out and do it. I have never met anyone who exercised regularly and said--gee, I wished I had not exercised. In some ways it is like brushing your teeth, going to work, cleaning up after yourself, etc. If you want teeth, a job or any semblance of order it is just something that has to be done. The motivation is in completing the task. I can put this in the fancy terms of operant conditioning but inspiration is not the key. if it is a bad day/week/month even more important to do it--trim back a little, slow down etc but get it done. Regular exercise is a habit and habits are formed, not by inspiration and motivation, but rather by the reinforcing consequences.
posted by rmhsinc at 5:13 AM on July 20, 2014 [5 favorites]

Maybe check out reddit? Here is a list of fitness related subreddits.
posted by pyro979 at 5:19 AM on July 20, 2014

If you run you may enjoy the RunnerAcademy podcast. There is also the Everyday Runner's Podcast. The same host does both and they are really well done. The Everyday Runner podcast is about "normal everyday" people who were never athletic and started running. I find them motivating.

I can also highly recommend joining a running group. I have stuck with running because I've been part of groups. I can say with certainty that I would never have lasted this long if I were running alone.
posted by Fairchild at 6:22 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

OK, so I set up this really addictive don't-break-the chain style spreadsheet for myself last summer and it got me to the gym for about two months before work and other intervening things.

The way it works was this. I picked a store where I like to spend money, but I don't really need to. (For me, this was a popular housewares chain whose name rhymes with 'mate and carol'.)

Then you set up a google docs spreadsheet.

For each day you go to the gym, you get $0.25 cents more to spend at said store. If you skip a day, then the amount you earn resets to $0.25. You can do this with $0.50, too, but that just needs to be calibrated by how much you want to spend. These seems low, but after a week or two it adds up - you could jump-start by increasing for $0.50 for the first week and $0.25 after that.

Day 1: $0.25 total earned: $0.25
Day 2: $0.50 total earned: $0.75
Day 3: $0.75 total earned: $1.50
Day 4: $1.00 total earned: $2.50
Day 5: $1.25 total earned: $3.75
Day 6: SKIP total earned: $3.75
Day 5: $0.25 total earned: $4.00

I had a couple of tweaks, too:
- Once a week, I had an 8am appointment, and I tolled the count then, so if I didn't go to the gym, I didn't earn the increase, but I also didn't reset the chain.

- I only had to get to the gym. What I did when I was there didn't matter. There were a few days where I only did stretching and abs.

- There were two other habits I was working on setting up (1) walking 12,00 steps a day and (2) getting at least 500 words of writing done. For these, it wasn't break the chain style, but I could earn a bonus dollar for each, each day I did them. (These counted towards the total earned, but not towards the increasing daily reward.)

The key thing this changed for me, was that it shifted my mentality from "should I go to the gym today?" to "Is today really the day that is so busy or I am so tired that I can't make it to the gym?" I accepted that I'd eventually break the chain, but it's a different mindset - most days don't have to be the day you break the chain.
posted by mercredi at 7:00 AM on July 20, 2014 [31 favorites]

A few ideas:
-Motivate yourself by finding an audiobook or podcast you're really interested in listening to, and only listen when you're exercising.
-Exercise at the same time each day, to help it become a habit. Do everything you can to make it automatic rather than something you need motivation for.
-If you're having trouble getting off the couch, take it in small steps (think, okay, I'm just going to go in the bedroom, now i'm just going to change into workout clothes, now I'm just going to go out the door, now I'm just going to walk, now I might as well run since I'm outside)
-Hang workout clothes where they're always visible when you come home from work, or whenever you want to exercise
-Spend more time with friends who exercise
-Exercise with friends
posted by three_red_balloons at 7:30 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

You're already thinking the right way using the word "habit" to describe your approach to exercise.

That's because exercise (and most other things we struggle to do consistently) are not about willpower. Willpower is a burdensome concept that easily overwhelms even the most tenacious people after a while. But a habit? We all have habits, good or bad. The trick is to replace the bad ones with good ones, or just create an additional good habit.

I recommend the writings of James Clear ( His core concept is that you build new habits by breaking it down into steps that are so small and simple that you can't refuse to do them. One example he gives is for those who want to start flossing their teeth daily. "On the first day, start by flossing just one tooth," he says. On the second day, floss two. The next, three. By the end of the month you'll be flossing all 32.

So for exercise, you could break it down into "Day one: run on the treadmill for one minute" and build with each day. It may seem elementary when you've already got a history of exercising and you're not coming at this totally "new", but the point here is to create a habit that you won't easily break or step out of in the future.

I will say that for me personally, my workplace has a gym in the basement and I use my one-hour lunch break every day to go running. It is harder for me to keep this up on the weekends, but another James Clear pro-tip is to do the most important thing first thing in the morning. Most people are more motivated in the mornings, and nothing else has happened yet in your day to distract you or send you off course.

I particularly like this article of his:

...One other recommendation would be getting a FitBit. Ever since I got one of those, I've felt really challenged to keep up with hitting 10k + steps a day. I park my car in the back of parking lots just to get the extra steps, I use my 15 minute break at work to run up all 7 flights of steps at least two or three times, et cetera. That way I'm working "exercise" into my day in small ways that add up to a big difference over time.

Oh, and make it something you want to do. For example, I don't love running (at least not the way I do cycling outdoors) but I make it palatable by doing it indoors on the treadmill where I can control the settings/feel like I have no choice but to keep running because the treadmill is moving underneath me. It's easy to quit and give up on pavement; less so on the treadmill. Also, change your workout routine periodically. Not only is this good for pushing your fitness forward (muscle confusion is good for avoiding plateaus) but it eliminates boredom. On days I don't run I like to do power yoga (Rodney Yee's DVDs are great!), cycling, and circuit training for weights.

You also need to reward yourself. Tell yourself that if you exercise every day this week, you can reward yourself with a new workout outfit, or a nice bottle of wine, etc. You HAVE to reward yourself because the truth is, the rewards of exercise alone will not always be enough. Is exercise rewarding? Absolutely it is, and necessary, too. But you have to find ways to reward yourself outside of exercise so that you have something to look forward to and keep you focused.

Good luck! It's a struggle for me, too, but I went from being a couch potato throughout my early 20's to regularly running/cycling and losing 50lbs. There have been a lot of bumps along the way but ultimately I've kept up with the habit of exercise and don't allow myself to ever go more than a few days without working out - I can't stand how my body and mind feels when I don't.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:50 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Mostly I agree with rmhsinc above. I exercise because if I don't, my mental health slips, so not exercising is not an option. In my head, it is not negotiable, so I don't need to motivate myself to do it. It's a need, not a want.

That said, can you join a group of some sort? I typically work out on my own, but in the past few weeks I've joined a running group, found some friends to bike with, and started to going to a class, and wow, knowing that other people are expecting you is extra-motivating. Plus then it also counts as social time.

My brother and I have a monthly mileage challenge that has gotten me out running in the rain, something I'd normally skip.

The running blogs I follow are Run Eat Repeat, Hungry Runner Girl, and Shut Up + Run.

I've also found it's helpful to have a wide variety of activities to choose from. I run and bike and do yoga and calisthenics. If I'm sore from running or the weather's poor, I'm not going to want to go for a run/ride, so it's yoga time. If the temperature drops a few degrees, it's a great time to get a run in. If I want to to feel every muscle in my body burn for days on end, calisthentics it is. Expecting that you can do the same one activity all the time may not be realistic.

Also, I love the 'just show up' mentality. I'm a morning runner, and like most normal people, I would rather not leave my bed. So I have an agreement with myself: I need to put on my gear and walk out to the sidewalk. That's all. I've turned back a few times, because it's a real agreement, but mostly once I'm out there, I might as well run. And I let myself have bad runs. Not every day will be good; a good portion of the time I'm just putting in the mileage or keeping up the habit. And that's okay.
posted by punchtothehead at 8:00 AM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

My favorite running trail takes me past a tennis court, bike trails, an outdoor gymnasium, a baseball field, a soccer field and green areas where people throw frisbees or even organize training sessions. It finishes in a dog park. Seeing all those people (and pets) being active reminds me that I am part of that whole group of people enjoying exercise.
posted by Milau at 9:00 AM on July 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Agreed with rmhsinc. Motivation needs to be internal, out of a desire for self-improvement. External motivation will only get you so far - and eventually you will run out blogs, books etc. That being said, one of my favorite "motivation" sites, which is also informative and has some good writing besides, is In fact, he just put up a post about this very subject today - Keep Going. It's pretty weightlifting-centric but the principles are universal.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 10:42 AM on July 20, 2014

There are MetaFilter groups on both Health Month and Fitocracy, each of which use some gamification to foster good habits. They work differently, and it seems to me that some people find Health Month works better for them, and some people find Fitocracy works better, so try them both and see. (Disclosure: I'm currently the organizer for the MetaFilter team on Health Month.)

Health Month has helped me form good habits about exercise (among other things) in part because every day is a Brand New Day, so if I fall off the wagon, I often get back on it fairly quickly, whereas prior to Health Month I'd have a good routine going, then if it got broken for some reason, months would go by before I'd get it back. The MetaFilter team is super supportive and encouraging.
posted by ambrosia at 2:35 PM on July 20, 2014 [3 favorites]

Exercise needs to become something that is non-negotiable. At the moment, you think of exercise as a bonus, as something you "should" do. It needs to become something on par with sleeping, or eating, in that you can't even conceive of not doing it! Movement is what humans are meant to do!

How do you do that if you didn't grow up in an environment where that was instilled in you? Well, as you mention, you can start by surrounding yourself with people who think that way. You know how that say that you are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with? You don't need to replace your current partner and friends if they don't like to move, but make new friends. The best way is to find a community of movers. Maybe a running club? Serious dance class? Crossfit gym?

Look up Ido Portal, Kelly Starrett, and MovNat for starters!
posted by snoogles at 1:09 AM on July 21, 2014

1. Be your own inspiration: make a big gaudy chart with big colored markers and hang it on the wall where you are forced to confront it every day. Chart your daily progress towards reachable and sustainable goals, which could be things like distance run, current weight, how you feel physically (good, ok, bad), and how you feel mentally (good, ok, bad). Find out what weight and level of exercise makes you feel best mentally and physically.

2. Borrow a friend's inspiration: exercise with someone. You can't as easily say no when someone is waiting to go running with you.

3. Combine 1 and 2 if you are inspired by competition. You could race or go for endurance or repetitions or whatever. Just keep it within safe limits and maybe handicap it if you are at significantly different levels of condition.
posted by pracowity at 4:57 AM on July 21, 2014

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