You’ve probably been alive long enough that there was a time when we thought exercise was optional. It used to be just the geeky runners in Nikes and too-short shorts. Now, we’ve become such a nation of yoga pant-wearing women that you would think everyone exercised. It’s not just acceptable, it’s recommended for everyone. If you want to age well, you better get well.

But what if you still can’t get motivated to work-out? Sparing a diagnosis or prognosis (because honestly, fear works) and your doctor telling you it is exercise or something far worse, this article is about helping you overcome some of the most common thoughts related to exercise avoidance. It may not even be that. Many of the clients who first start with me aren’t intentionally avoiding it, they in fact know they like it. They just can’t get going or keep it going. Let’s eliminate some of the obstacles first and then work on some of the tricks to get you going when stress and a feeling you have so much to do push exercise way down on your priority list.

Want to get started right now? Check the free Flipping 50 Kickstart. It is exclusively for starts, restarts, and for women over 50 who need exercise that will simultaneously balance their hormones, joints, energy, mood, and muscle needs. Let’s overcome some of the biggest barriers you might have that interfere your ability to get motivated to work-out.

You don’t have to go to a gym. There are so many options from online experts today (can I just say, “Pick me! Pick me!”) that you can choose do something – just about anything– right at home in your living room. You can hire a trainer that comes to you. I was an in-home trainer for years – in fact now I do VIP days with clients by flying to them or having them here. You still have to vet out your experts. I’m sure we can agree that online doesn’t necessarily mean good. Certified also doesn’t mean good. A degree doesn’t mean good. Important, yes, but any one of those does not an automatic expert-for-you make. Check credentials, testimonials, listen, watch, or read an expert’s content before you dive in. Your fitness pro should resonate with you as well as have the education and proof they’ve studied what YOU specifically need.

It doesn’t take a lot of time to work-out. Just 10 or 20 minutes is really all you need to start. In fact, it is better. The success record of clients who start, stick, and don’t get hurt is highest when they’re not perfectionists or overzealous. It’s okay, even an asset to have a big hairy goal, but to be motivated to work-out you want to get there into baby steps.

It doesn’t have to hurt to be beneficial. Reality is that if it hurts, it won’t benefit you. Most people never think of it that way. In fact, you’ve been told that you need to get through the pain and discomfort, and then it will feel better or that the result will be worth it. Not true. Usually, unless we’re talking about a different kind of pain – chronic pain – it’s good to listen to what’s happening for you. Pain is a messenger. There may be a muscle imbalance, an alignment issue, a legitimate tear or strain occurring. That can be like a little alarm telling you that a muscle isn’t firing that should be or that you need to reposition or change something about the exercise technique or mode. For example, when running hurts it may be running isn’t your exercise right now, or maybe it’s the shoes you’re wearing or your running gait/form.

For every thing you can’t do, there’s something you can. We have somehow been conditioned from the 5-year old in all of us that thought she could put a cape on and fly to becoming a midlife woman whose first thought is that something won’t work or that it isn’t realistic to try. Here’s a new way to think about it. The less realistic a goal is according to someone else’s standards, probably the better. The bar is set pretty low on what anyone can do or be “at your age.” Often, in hundreds if not thousands of consultations I’ve done over the decades, someone would say, “I can’t run…” when no mention of running had ever come up. No suggestion of running had ever been made. I always found that curious. The brain goes to that one thing instead of the 49 other things you can do. There’s nothing magical about running. What can you do? What is it that you enjoy about running (or think you would) that you can find in another movement?

You don’t have to want to exercise to have a good workout. Motivation is a fickle bitch. Pardon, my language but it’s oh, so true. You don’t have to be “motivated” and really want to do something in order to follow through. I’ve visited this concept before. What you really want is commitment. That choice is available to you at any time. Motivation is like a mythical unicorn that probably is not going to show up for most of us in big barrels. But any of us can commit. You’ve done it in your life elsewhere. Think about it. Got married? Went to college? Wrote the whole thesis? Paid off the loan? You need to make a decision. A temporary feeling of disinterest shouldn’t be confused with a lack of motivation or more importantly, lack of commitment. Have you been disinterested in things before and still finished? I was so very disinterested in reading specific chapters of textbooks and doing my chemistry, physics, and statistics homework. I really did not want to learn how to use technology to build an online business. But I did it. And you’ve done it, too. You can do it again. So how? Start small and slow. As Dara Tores says, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”

Have a plan. I suggest that lack of motivation is not the only thing getting in your way. Because motivation, like depression, comes and goes, motivation is a complex beast. It’s hard, if not impossible, to be motivated to work-out if you have no confidence that what you’re about to spend time and energy on will move you closer to the benefits you want. Just having a plan increases your likelihood of reaching a goal by 50%. Other studies show even better odds when it comes to exercise. A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology showed that subjects with a plan had greater success (91%) than those who got motivation (35%) and those who were just told to track their exercise (38%).  In fact, researchers concluded motivation had no influence on success. While you might argue that motivation had a negative effect, I suspect that in the study, the motivational technique wasn’t personal enough for the subjects.

How do you get a plan?

  • Study and create one for yourself
  • Hire a coach for a program specific for your needs
  • Follow a program created for someone like you

Want to make sure you’re not making exercise mistakes when you start? Get my Exercise CHEAT SHEET & 5 video series.

Make exercise social. This one may seem odd since part of the reason you don’t want to go to the gym may be that you’re more of an introvert. I recognize that. Stick with me for a minute. So why would I suggest making it social? There’s still something to not being in it alone. Social media and the internet make it easy to connect with people like you. This  makes it less isolating than ever to start and keep yourself accountable in some ways. Yes, it’s still you lacing up the shoes or lifting those weights. But it’s nice to know others in your group might be struggling to get started, too, and you can report back that you’ve checked something off your list. Studies show that you can increase your rate of success by 95% this way. The American Society of Training and Development did a study on accountability and found that you have a 65% chance of completing a goal if you commit to someone. If you have a specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed to, you increase your chance of success by up to 95%. Join a group of people with members who keep track of their results. We do this in each of our STRONGER programs. I see it with private clients. Clients complete specific weekly goals and decide when they’ll do them, then do them. New clients often want to list goals without a day and time to complete them. That makes it too hard to succeed and easy to fail.

Use not feeling well to your advantage. While feeling good from exercise may not be something you can identify with, you may also be lucky enough that you don’t feel “bad.” That could get in the way of you getting motivated to work-out. At least, you’ve settled for the way you feel right now. But there’s still a mood boost that most of us can enjoy that occurs from exercise. I’m not talking about the glorified runner’s “high.” You may be someone that doesn’t even experience that influx of endorphins from exercise. Not everyone does, and it’s not a matter of you not doing it hard enough. If you’re a large-sized person you just don’t get the endorphin release someone else might be trying to convince you that you can. If you had breast cancer, gone through treatments, or you’ve been injured and had to regain your strength, you’d have a greater sense of not letting health slip away again. Sit with that for a minute. It doesn’t have to get to that point for you. But tapping into that fear and reality that it can happen to anyone may be a motivator.

Avoid opportunities to compare yourself to someone else. Have you ever been called you a “front runner?” I have! When I biked with my partner on the weekends, and I was out front, I would go faster. When he would sprint and challenge me, I would push for a short time and then fall back. Whether I “gave” up once I got behind or I was done doing the interval I was trying to hit (my excuse), I would never win from behind. Learning that about myself, I’ve been able to strategically do all the things that make me a “winner.” I get up early. I don’t procrastinate. Recently, I pushed myself to ride with a group of women who are faster than me, better at climbing hills than me, and be okay feeling the benefit of being pushed during a workout instead of leading a workout. I get better when I do. But I have to remember to compare my old ability to my new ability. Not to someone else’s. Don’t just do videos you can do easily or go to classes that are simple. Find the challenging things. You want to go to a live class or retreat or get live virtual or in person support occasionally from someone. It’s so you can learn; not so you can compare yourself. When you get motivated to work-out, don’t squash that before you’ve had the chance to feel better. If you don’t feel better when you finish than before you started it may be because you compare. Even on the sidewalk stifle those, “I’m only walking. She’s running,” thoughts.

Measure what matters to get motivated to work-out. First, make sure you know the right values to measure. If you still only measure weight, it’s but one item and it gives far too little information. I coach clients using weight, body fat, lean muscle, inches, as well as micronutrient levels, blood tests and hormone levels, sleep, and regularly ask about four dozen subjective questions that tell me how well they’re doing. Should you be tracking protein and fiber and heart rate and body temperature? Sometimes yes. Know what to measure and why. Then do it. You can do it for yourself. But consider doing it with someone else. Getting motivated to exercise is easier when you say it out loud. When something gets measured, it improves. When it gets reported, improvement accelerates.

With 36 years of fitness experience, Wellness Coach and Fitness Expert, Debra Atkinson has helped over 150,000 women “flip” their second half with the vitality and energy they want. She’s the bestselling author of You Still Got It, Girl: The After 50 Fitness Formula for Women; Navigating Fitness After 50: Your GPS For Choosing Programs and Professionals You Can Trust; and Hot, Not Bothered. Debra hosts Flipping 50 TV and the Flipping 50 podcast, an AARP top podcast for 50+. She is a frequent speaker and TEDx presenter of Why Everything Women in Menopause Learned About Exercise May Be a Lie. Go to Flipping Fifty to learn more about Debra.