Today, people don’t move much at all. Instead, people merely transition from one stationary position to another, and tend to use the least amount of energy as possible to do so. However, not too long ago, before the industrial revolution and the advancement of technology, people did move.

In fact, people moved a lot, because they had to (e.g., to obtain food, to remember where it was to go back and get more of it, to escape from danger, etc.)! Researchers have even argued that we were born to move, and suggest that our ancestors walked and ran between to 5-10 miles a day!

Today, the average person moves 38% less each day than our ancestors did! Unsurprisingly, this dramatic decline in movement has resulted in a lack of physical activity. It has also contributed to a steady increase in negative health outcomes, such as obesity, type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease among others.

The amount of Americans classified as overweight has doubled within the past few decades. Nearly 39% of adults (2015) are classified as being obese, while 18.5% of children (2015) aged 2-19 are considered obese.

Additionally, of the more than 30 million Americans who have diabetes, between 90-95% have type II diabetes, which is directly related to diet and exercise. Furthermore, 1 in 4 deaths in the United States is due to heart disease, which also has been linked to not only diet and stress levels, but also one’s degree of physical fitness.

The Health Benefits of Physical Activity

The health benefits of being physically active (e.g., walking, running, working out, etc.) have been clearly documented. Yet, even with an awareness of these benefits, it is extremely challenging for people to both start a physical activity program, and also to maintain any consistency with one.

Of those who do start “moving” or exercising, nearly 50% stop within six months. There are many potential explanations for avoiding to move or exercise, and also to stick to any type of exercise program.

One that seems to be at the top of the list for a majority of people however is the fact that “moving” and being physically active is just NOT fun. For a lot of people, getting up and moving or exercising in any way just sucks!

Often, exercising tends to be referred to in such a negative way because it is hard! More specifically, it takes effort, determination, and a willingness to push through discomfort and in some cases pain, in order to see any positive gains or change (e.g., lose weight, get toned, etc.).

Luckily, there are some mental strategies that can be adopted, which can help people overcome this challenge and get moving!

Get Off Your Ass!: 4 Mental Health Strategies to Make Exercise Fun

Challenge Your Mindset in Regard to Exercise

The first strategy involves challenging your mindset in regard to moving and exercising. If you come into a situation (e.g., a gym or workout class) already assuming that you can’t do it, won’t be able to figure out the exercises or movements, or just won’t have fun while you are doing it, then guess what? You won’t!

Instead, try and develop a “growth mindset” approach. This means to approach the act of moving and exercising as something that you will eventually be able to do, and do successfully.

In the present moment, you might feel as though you are not comfortable and confident exercising. However, if you can reframe this into the perspective that you are not comfortable yet doing it and that you are not confident yet in your ability to do it, it will help create a mindset that if you are willing to try, practice, and give some effort, you will be able to do it in the future.

Think of all of the things that you are really good at doing right now, like driving your car, riding a bike, doing your job, etc. You weren’t good at these things initially, yet you were willing to practice at them and “put in the work”, which eventually is what made you good at them now.

If you can adopt this type of approach to getting out and moving, and exercising, then you can look at these activities as a “challenge”; something that you can work towards overcoming with effort.

While something that seems impossible or unobtainable can be frustrating, debilitating, and definitely not fun, something that is viewed as a challenge can be fun and perhaps evening exciting!

Focus on the Journey, Not the Outcome

The next strategy is to focus on the journey, not the outcome. Far too often, people set their sights on a long-term goal, for example losing 10 pounds or getting “six-pack” abs. This emphasis on the outcome, can create stress and ultimately anxiety, especially if you are not “seeing” immediate results (which rarely happens).

This can lead to frustration and a lack of effort and consistency; which are things that are a must to have if you want to actually see any positive change. A better mental strategy is to focus on process and performance goals.

These type of goals provide more control and flexibility for people and can help to motivate and focus your attention on the important aspects necessary for a change. By avoiding thinking only of the outcome (e.g., losing weight, getting toned, etc.), you will be able to create a “habit” of working out.

By just getting up and moving, and going to the gym (i.e., focusing on a process goal) you can begin to monitor your progress and improvement (i.e., emphasizing a performance goal).

Once moving and exercising becomes a habit, you may find yourself actually enjoying this journey and developing a desire to continue along with it, in order to achieve your desired outcome.

Try New Ways of Exercising

Another way to increase the fun and enjoyment of moving and exercising is to try new ways of doing it. There are many new and exciting ways to be physically active and exercise that are unique and that can add to the novelty and intrigue of it. So, mix it up!

Don’t feel as though you have to go to a conventional gym. Why not try cross fit, Pilates or yoga? You could also experiment with wearable technology. With smartwatches, Fitbit, and fitness apps, there are numerous ways to integrate technology into being physically active. 

If you do opt for the gym, why go straight to the machines or the free weights? Many gyms offer complimentary consultations with personal trainers. Take advantage of these services and ask the trainers about new and or alternative ways of exercising.

Whether it is the use of TRX bands, which turns your body into a workout machine, kettlebells, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or functional fitness training, there are many different ways of moving and sculpting your body into the size and shape you want.

You could literally do a different exercise, with different equipment or no equipment at all, each and every day of the week. Taking this approach, and confusing your body will not only help you to physically achieve the change you want, it will also help keep your mental approach to exercising fresh and exciting.

Make Exercising a Social Affair

Another strategy is to make it a social affair. Being around other people can help create a more fun and enjoyable experience.

This can be achieved by either participating in group exercise classes, such as signing up for a yoga class, dumbbell training circuit, or walking/running group, or by enlisting the help of a friend to serve as your “workout buddy”.

Group classes can lead to an increased performance from yourself via the psychological theory of “social facilitation”. Social facilitation suggests that when we are around the presence of other people, those people can facilitate or contribute to us working harder and giving more effort.

This often leads to people exercising for a longer period of time, extending more effort while exercising, and achieving personal milestones much quicker. A workout buddy can also help you stay accountable, motivate you, and push you to go to the gym.

Once there, having a buddy with you can contribute to you actually finishing your workout. Your workout buddy can also help by serving as a distraction.

The use of distractions is a mental strategy that is often used to help increase the “fun” component of exercising. Enlisting the services of your workout buddy to chat with while exercising is a great option. So is listening to music.

It is nearly impossible to go to a gym or workout facility and not hear either music blasting from the rafters or see virtually everyone listening to their own personal music. Televisions are also everywhere these days. Whether plastered on the wall or attached to workout equipment, TVs provide another outlet for distraction.

Each of these distractions, talking with a workout buddy, listening to music, and watching TV, can help take your mind away from any discomfort or pain you may be experiencing as a result of exercising. It can also help motivate you, get you pumped up and excited to exercise, and help you to push through to the end of your workout.

Get Up, Get Moving, and Go Have Fun Exercising!

Like the majority of things in life, the more you do something, the better you tend to be at it. With moving and exercising, this is definitely true.

The more you engage in the process and get out and start moving, the more comfortable and confident you will be in your ability to do so. This, in and of itself, can lead to more enjoyment and fun, as well as a desire to continue to do it.

You can jumpstart this process by taking advantage of the above mentioned mental strategies. Not only can they increase the amount of fun you can have exercising, but they can also help you to just “move” more, which can positively impact your health and increase your life satisfaction.

Click here for more content by Dr. Patrick Young!

Dr. Patrick Young
Dr. Patrick Young is a certified consult within the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (CC-AASP), and specializes in providing individuals with the psychological tools necessary to reach their full potential. He is an expert in sport, exercise, and performance psychology and has consulted with NCAA Division I and II athletes, junior college athletes, and amateur athletes of all ages. In addition to athletes, Dr. Young consults with students, business executives, and individuals within the performing arts. Dr. Young is also a Professor of Psychology at Wingate University, where he teaches Sport and Exercise Psychology, Performance Psychology and Health Psychology, and has authored several articles within peer-reviewed journals and regularly contributes sport and performance based articles on Shrinktank.com.

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