So, why do you exercise? Maybe it’s to maintain your weight, reduce stress, or have more energy. Perhaps you’re concerned about protecting your health. All good reasons, to be sure, but you may be overlooking one of the most important—to have fun!
Having fun while exercising? It’s not an oxymoron. If you enjoy what you’re doing, working out stops feeling like a chore and instead becomes something you’ll look forward to—even if you’ve had trouble sticking to an exercise routine in the past.
When exercise is fun, you’re more likely not only to work out, but also to exercise at a higher level. And that means you get more results from your efforts.
Focusing on fun can also help change your mind-set that working out has to be boring or difficult.
“It really doesn’t matter what exercise burns the most calories per hour, or which exercise your best friend likes best,” says Joan Price, author of The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book. “What you need to find is what’s best for you. If it’s an activity you enjoy and look forward to, it can make exercise a treat, not a treatment.”
If you want to make physical activity more enjoyable, try one of these ideas:
Try “speed play.”
Going for a jog? Forget plodding along, and try a fun and different workout sometimes called “speed play.” For example, warm up by jogging at an easy pace for several minutes. Then sprint for about 30 seconds, skip for 20 seconds or so, and then run at a slow pace for a few minutes. The idea is to mix up what you’re doing instead of going at the same pace. Take the opportunity to add other workout maneuvers too—you might stop and do a few jumping jacks, or jump up to touch the branches of a tree a few times before you resume your jog.
Do the opposite of what your job is.
How do you spend your day? A workout that’s the opposite of the rest of your day may be the most enjoyable for you. “Basically, if you find that the job you do entails someone telling you what to do all day, you might want to try an activity where someone doesn’t tell you what to do—like getting on a cardio machine,” says Price. “But if you’re a self-employed person who works at a computer and gets no social interaction, you might really enjoy an aerobics class where you get lots of social interaction and you don’t have to figure out what to do. We tend to think that we want something that fits our personality and work style, but maybe what we need is a balance.”
Tune in to tunes.
Positive music can give you an immediate emotional boost, and research shows that listening to music while you exercise makes your effort feel easier. Slipping on headphones (keep the volume down to protect your ears) is a great way to make your routine fly by. Make your own playlists or choose a streaming music station for music on the go.
Have a ball.
Stability balls—large, inflatable exercise balls—are inexpensive and easy to use. Using the ball to balance on while you exercise forces you to concentrate on your workout and use stabilizing muscles for better results. Try a resistance ball, or add other equipment, such as resistance bands or kettle bells, to your regular workout—a new ingredient can spices things up.
Count your steps.
Fitness experts recommend you get an average of 10,000 steps a day to reap the health benefits of being active. Strap on a Fitbit or pedometer to measure how active you are during the day, and you’ll see how close—or far—you are from that number, says exercise physiologist Susie Kania of the Cooper Wellness Program in Dallas. “I encourage people to use a pedometer. Start out counting your steps per day for three to four days to get a baseline,” she says. “Then strive to increase that by 500 steps per day until you get up to 10,000 a day. You can record your steps throughout the day, and it’s fun.”
Change your route.
Do you always turn left when you head out for a walk? Turn right instead. “A lot of times, people get into a rut of walking the same route,” says Kania. “Vary the route instead. Walk it backwards, or go to a park and walk on different paths.” Instead of walking at the same pace, add some intervals to your routine where you increase your speed for a minute, then walk at your regular pace for a minute—they’ll make the time fly by.
Sign up for a class.
Even if you’re not usually a fitness class person, there are more choices than ever before. Many gyms and fitness centers offer a wide variety of classes, ranging from slow and relaxing to fast-paced, push-you-to-your-limit. If your schedule’s too unpredictable for a class, try online workouts (you’ll find them everywhere from YouTube to Pinterest). Mastering new moves keeps your brain engaged, which keeps you from getting bored.
Start your own group.
Make a commitment to work out with another person, and you’ll increase your enjoyment and your chances of sticking with it. Ask friends and neighbors if they’d be interested in forming an early-morning group, or put a post on Facebook asking about local groups. If you can’t find an existing group, consider starting one of your own. It’s easier than you might think—just tell people to meet up at a certain time, date, and location, and take it from there, suggests global fitness pro Gin Miller.
Target your heart.
Using a heart rate monitor is a great way to add motivation to a program and get you out of a rut. Some devices strap around your chest and give a readout on a wrist monitor; others can be worn directly on your wrist. Using a monitor helps you ensure that you’re exercising intensely enough for health benefits, and can keep you from overtraining as well.
Laugh it up.
Simply smiling elevates your mood, and laughing is even better. Heading to the gym? Grab a T-shirt with a funny message on it, suggests Miller. “Pick something that’s funny so when people come up to you they laugh,” she says. Or try listening to funny podcasts to keep you laughing while you exercise!
Make it a family affair.
Don’t forget to include your kids. If you’re doing push-ups or jumping jacks in the living room, your younger kids may want to do it alongside you; when you go for a walk, your school-aged children can ride their bicycles with you. “Include them in the activity,” says Kania. “It’s definitely important to set the example that activity is important.”
If it has been a while since you exercised, you can keep your momentum going by setting a goal and then rewarding yourself when you reach it. Put your exercise schedule on your calendar, and check off each workout when you do it so you can see you’re getting closer to your goal. “You might keep track of how many times you work out and then treat yourself to a massage,” says Kania.
Catch the competition bug.
If you’re out for a walk, see if you can catch up with someone ahead of you. Or, if you’re walking around a track, count the number of laps you make and aim to beat your own time. Log your workouts with an app like MyFitnessPal or MapMyRun to track how far you’re walking. Or, the next time you have a family get-together or cookout, put together teams to play volleyball or softball—some friendly competition makes it more fun.
Jump in the pool.
Aquatic workouts are fun, easy on your joints, and the resistance of the water makes for challenging exercise. Sign up for a water aerobics class or try water running—you can get a great workout without even getting your hair wet.
Walk and talk.
Combine exercise with your closest buddy, and you’ll enjoy it more. Don’t think of it as a formal workout—just suggest that you meet at a park to walk and catch up. “You’re not thinking of the steps you’re taking—it’s a wonderful chance to connect with each other,” says Price. “When you’re engaged in physical activity, your heart rate goes up. You start feeling better about what’s going on in your life, and that’s a wonderful time to share with a friend.”
The bonus? Those good feelings make you more likely to keep fitness a part of your life in the long run.
Kelly K. James is a health writer and certified personal trainer based in Downers Grove, Illinois.