How to Make Exercise Enjoyable
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How to Make Exercise Enjoyable

"I can't wait to work out!" If you can't imagine these words ever coming out of your mouth (sans sarcasm), prepare to shock yourself. With a few simple mind tricks and behavioral changes, you really can become one of those people who genuinely love to exercise.

Take the First Step

Find a workout you actually enjoy. If the thought of jogging for miles on a treadmill or fumbling your way through a step aerobics class makes you groan, don't do it. Forcing yourself to stick with an activity you dread is a guaranteed motivation killer. "People sometimes forget that there are a million different ways to exercise," says Alice Domar, PhD, author of Be Happy Without Being Perfect. "You may need to try several types of workouts before you find 'the one.'" Don't know where to start? Ask yourself what you like to do and try to figure out how you can incorporate exercise into that. For example, if you love to dance, consider signing up for Zumba classes. On the other hand, if you're not blessed in the rhythm department -- and you want a low-key workout -- Pilates might be the perfect fit.

It worked for me! "Whenever I need to relax, I like to sit by the river near my house. I realized that if I walked, ran, or biked by the water, I could use that positive association to help me stay motivated. Now I actually look forward to exercising."
-- Becky Palermo, 33, Boston

Dress for Success

Don't reach for old tees and baggy sweats. Putting on real fitness clothes may inspire you to get moving. A study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity found that people are motivated to work out if exercising is part of their self-image. "Wearing gym clothes helps you identify yourself as athletic and that in itself can be an incentive to get fit," says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. Plus, if you spend some cash on a workout wardrobe you can't let it sit unworn in a drawer, right?

It worked for me! "When I start a new fitness routine, I splurge on a stylish piece of gear I'll need for it, like a yoga mat or a pair of running shoes. I've noticed that when I have a new 'toy,' I'm eager to use it."
-- Jessica Brida, 40, Los Angeles

Think Small

If your only fitness goal is to drop 20 pounds, you may be less likely to stick with your workout routine. "Losing weight takes time and it's easy to get frustrated if all you have to look forward to is that one outcome," says Brooke Marrone, a personal trainer in New York City. But when you celebrate short-term challenges, like completing 10 push-ups or adding a half-mile to your walk, you'll be more inspired to stay on track. Log your progress in an exercise journal: You'll be able to see how far you've come in your fitness plan, and that ego boost can fire up your determination to keep moving.

It worked for me! "I'm trying to lose a few pounds for my upcoming wedding, but I didn't want to be one of those brides who vows to drop several dress sizes before the big day. That felt too intimidating, so I decided to set simpler goals instead. My first? Hitting the gym three times a week. Four months in, I've yet to miss a week and my clothes feel looser."
-- Sheila Warren, 34, San Francisco

Savor the Afterglow

There's no getting around it: Exercising can be an intense experience. Who doesn't love that satisfying, I-just-kicked-major-butt feeling that follows a great workout? And that happiness isn't fleeting. Research from the University of Vermont in Burlington revealed that the mood-boosting effects of exercise last for up to 12 hours. Working out can even help you love your looks, trouble spots and all. A study published in the Journal of Health Psychology found that the mere act of exercising can improve your body image, regardless of whether you lose weight or get fitter.

It worked for me! "Last spring my job and my personal life were busier than ever. I knew yoga was good for relaxation so I decided to take a class on the days I was feeling really frazzled. By the end of each session I felt calmer and less overwhelmed. Now just the thought of that blissed-out feeling motivates me to go to yoga class, even when I feel too tired to get off the couch."
-- Danielle King, 32, Brooklyn, New York

Keep Loving Exercise

Download Energizing Tunes

The right music can help turn a slog of a sweat session into a high-octane workout. "When you get really into a great song, it distracts you from monotony and fatigue," says Robert Weinberg, PhD, author of Mental Toughness for Sport, Business, and Life. The result? You may end up exercising longer or more intensely than if you worked out in silence. Research conducted at Brunel University in London has found that exercising to music can boost endurance by up to 15 percent.

It worked for me! "I recently joined a gym that always blasts hip-hop. At first I thought it would be annoying, but I realized it makes exercising a lot more fun. I get so caught up in the music my workout is over before I know it. Often I end up exercising longer because I want to keep listening!"
-- Emily Fromm, 35, Maplewood, New Jersey

Keep Your Eyes on the Prizes

To make exercise a habit you'll stick with for life, think beyond its better-body benefits. Creating personally meaningful goals -- like being a healthy role model for your kids or participating in fundraising walks for your favorite charity -- can help you stay committed to your workout routine in the long term. "Make a list of everything you want to achieve from exercising and post it where it'll be easily visible so you can read it daily," says Dr. Weinberg. The constant reminder can prevent your motivation from going MIA.

It worked for me! "I joined a local environmental initiative that encourages people to walk, bike, take the bus, or rideshare. I participate by doing my errands on foot instead of taking my car. It makes me feel good knowing that I'm burning calories and shrinking my carbon footprint at the same time."
-- Judith Green, 55, Bellingham, Washington

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, June 2011.