There is something completely unmotivating about trying to exercise next to a big comfy couch. Maybe before the coronavirus, you could force yourself to get to the gym, or had an instructor yelling at you to get your ass moving. Maybe you’ve never been into exercising at all. But if being quarantined at home has proven anything, it’s that being active is absolutely critical (the days are impossible to separate otherwise). Problem is, how are you supposed to convince yourself to actually do it?
Well, you’ve gotta change your framework. Rather than looking at exercise as a chore you have to do to improve your physical appearance, think of it as a form of play that improves your mental health. “When we exercise, we get to a certain point in moving where we release endorphins, the happy hormone,” explains physician and anesthesiologist Lynette Charity. “Exercise takes your brain to a certain level where you can get rid of all the baggage that weighs our brain down. What we’re going through now, with social distancing and our inability to have contact with people, we’re getting depressed. Exercising and getting your endorphin levels up can help with that.”
For Charity, her current exercise routine is simply going for walks and playing with her two-year-old grandson. “When I was younger, my parents would tell me to go outside and play. No one said to go outside and exercise,” she says. “Even the word ‘exercise’ can turn people off, because people think of it as a form of work. So my philosophy has been to think of it as play.”
“The motivation needs to be, remember a time when you did something movement-based and it made you feel good,” she continues.
So instead of thinking about needing to burn calories or build certain muscles, think about the endorphins released through movement. By changing the goal of exercise, we can better motivate ourselves to pursue it.
Similarly, we might be better motivated to think about exercise as a means of feeling better in the future. “Exercise is one of the best ways for people to become healthy without taking medication,” says Aneesh Chaudhry, founder of brain health clinic SoulPhysio Lifestyle and former personal trainer. “A lot of people think about exercise for external reasons, but thinking about internal reasons gives you a different relationship with exercise.”
Right now, as we lack the sense of normalcy that may have otherwise made us feel stable, exercise is a necessary tool of fulfillment. “As human beings, we crave and need connection and interactions with other people,” Chaudhry says. “We usually take it for granted, even just going to Starbucks or being in an office space. Now that we’re working from home, we’re thinking about how there’s so many people around we’re no longer seeing. It can take a huge toll on our mental health. We need to find other ways to keep ourselves occupied and to fill that mental gap.”
Again, we don’t need to work ourselves to exhaustion. Chaudhry recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise three to four days a week, but says that even a 10-minute walk will help you feel some mental and physical benefits. “You have to have a reason to do it, or you’re not going to do it,” says Chaudhry. “Write down what motivates you. It’s really up to the person to look internally to figure out what their reason to exercise is, whether it’s the prevention of disease, wanting to look good or wanting to be free of stress. You want to write out those reasons, and remind yourself of them,” he says.
If you’re reading this article, however, you already have a reason to exercise. You wouldn’t have clicked otherwise. But instead of pursuing exercise simply because you think you should, exercise because you know it’s gonna feel good. Even if that just means taking a social-distancing walk around the block.