If we feel so good after exercising, why do we lose motivation?

It’s been widely reported that exercise is not only good for our physical health, it can benefit our mental health too. Yet many of us find it hard to maintain our motivation to exercise. Even when we have good intentions to exercise, they don’t always last.

Each year, one third of people in the UK make a New Year’s resolution to get fitter, yet 63% of us break our resolutions. On average, two thirds (66%) of New Year’s resolutions last for one month or less. If your exercise and fitness goals have fallen by the wayside, you’re not alone.

If you’re struggling to find the motivation to exercise, it could be that you haven’t found the right physical activity for you. Not getting the mental high from working out that you’re after? Then maybe it’s time to change your exercise routine. This week’s blog post can help you find the best exercise for you and your wellbeing.

Theme 4: Physical health

The focus of today’s post is exercise and how choosing the right type of exercise for you can help improve your mental health. As we progress through the blog posts each week, you will discover that this theme is about more than just exercise. Other elements of our physical health – what we eat, how we sleep and self-soothing activities – can all impact our health and wellbeing.

Often, when we think about exercising we think about long runs, intensive gym sessions and ‘no pain no gain’. The good news is that physical exercise does not need to be vigorous to have a positive impact on our mental health. Even better, just 10 minutes of exercise is enough to elevate mood. Those of us who struggle to make time for exercise can still improve our wellbeing by incorporating a brief amount of physical activity into our lives. Over time, 15 minute wellbeing will introduce a range of physical activities that can be completed in 15 minutes or less and enhance our wellbeing.

Why is exercise so good for our wellbeing?

Exercising can distract us from our negative thoughts, improve our perceived ability to cope with stressful situations and increase our sense of control. Physical activity can also improve our quality of life, mood, self-perception, social interaction and life satisfaction.

Exercise can also help us cope with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Aerobic and anaerobic exercise (such as resistance training) are effective treatments for depression. Regular exercise may help prevent people prone to feelings of anxiety from panicking when they experience symptoms such as increased heart rate and sweating. These physical reactions occur during exercise so regular exposure to them through physical activity could reduce the frequency of panic attacks.

Making small changes to the amount of exercise we do – even if we don’t do much at all – can enhance our wellbeing.  For example, going for a walk can help us feel good. If we go for a walk with someone else, it has the added benefit of increasing our connection with others.

If we feel better after exercising, why is it so hard to keep doing it?

People who exercised and then stopped tend to feel more down and depressed than those who continue exercising, so how can we maintain our motivation to exercise?

One factor to consider is the intensity of our physical activity. Do you tend to start off too hard? When we exercise to the point where it is hard to talk, the immediate mood boost we usually experience after exercising is delayed by approximately 30 minutes. This delay in mood enhancement can put us off exercising. Starting slowly, with a moderate exercise plan can help us to maintain our physical activity goals.

Have you found the right exercise for you? It is important to find a physical activity you enjoy, not one that feels like a chore. If you start a gym class to help you lose weight but you don’t actually enjoy it, it’s unlikely you’ll stick at it.

One way to find the right exercise for you is to consider your social-psychological needs, which can change over time. These are:

  • Achievement
  • Mood and tension release
  • Playfulness
  • Search for meaning
  • Self-esteem
  • Stress management

Different needs require different exercises. If you want to cope better with stress, activities that provide a welcome distraction such as running or aerobics would be beneficial. Activities such as competitive team sports are likely to add to the stress that you’re already feeling, so you won’t get the same sense of enjoyment from them.

Therefore, it may be that you haven’t found the right exercise to meet your current needs. Today’s activity helps you do just that! The worksheet includes a quiz to help you determine your current social-psychological needs and the types of exercises that match these needs. Once you’ve discovered what type of exercise may be right for you and your wellbeing, why not give it a go?

Click the link below to download the worksheet. You can fill it in using the ‘fill and sign’ tool or alternatively print it off and fill it in by hand.

If you are doing the right type of exercise but are struggling to stay motivated, research has shown that the following can increase your chances of staying active:

If you take up a new physical activity or make a change to your exercise regime, please do get intouch and share your story.

I share wellbeing-related research, news and stories on twitter and Instagram inbetween weekly blog posts so do follow @15minwellbeing on both platforms tokeep up to date.

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