The expression ‘easier said than done’ first appeared in print in the 15th century. Today, it can easily apply to everything from parenting to taxes to exercise.

Exercise is another prime example. As one of the registered counsellors providing virtual appointments at TELUS Health MyCare™, I often hear from guys who struggle to find the time, energy, or motivation to get active.

My experience aligns with a new study from the Canadian Men’s Health Foundation that highlights three key physical activity findings: 

  • 50% of Canadian men are not getting at least 150 minutes of moderate to strenuous weekly exercise, per Canada’s 24-Hour Movement Guidelines.
  • 42% of Canadian men reported that a lack of motivation prevents them from exercising more.
  • 31% of Canadian men reported that not having enough time prevents them from exercising more.

The good news is that there are effective ways to get motivated to exercise and make it less of a struggle—and that starts with finding your “why.”

Why is getting more exercise important to you?

Motivation to exercise will always have an ebb and flow. Even if you enjoy it and have made it part of your routine, daily distractions can still affect your motivation.

Defining why movement matters to you helps keep you going, especially when you’re not feeling it. 

Below are some of the most common reasons I hear for getting more active, along with exercise’s proven roles in making them happen.

“I want to look fitter”

How exercise delivers: By getting your heart rate up and working your muscles, exercise tones your physique while helping to maintain a healthy body weight.

“I want to be able to keep up with my kids”

How exercise delivers: For one thing, exercise improves cardiovascular endurance and stamina. For another, it helps with everything from healing injuries to fighting colds by contributing to a healthy immune system and reducing inflammation. And, last but definitely not least, moving your body increases mood and energy-boosting neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine.  

“I want to feel better”

How exercise delivers: As a counsellor specializing in mental health, this one’s right in my wheelhouse! Numerous studies show that working up a sweat, especially when it’s done outdoors, can work wonders for your mental well-being. 

As well as getting away from daily stress and enjoying some you-time, engaging in heart-pumping activity calms your mind and body by inhibiting the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Likewise, working out is a healthy distraction that disrupts the cycle of negative thoughts that feed anxiety and boosts feel-good hormones. Plus, meeting exercise goals or challenges will give your confidence and self-esteem a lift. 

“I want to live longer”

How exercise delivers: Exercise reduces the risk and severity of heart disease, some forms of cancer, arthritis, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, and muscle and bone injuries. 

“I want to have better sex”

How exercise delivers: Extra energy and looking and feeling good all support bedroom bliss, of course, and exercise has also been shown to boost the body’s production of the hormone testosterone, which fuels the male sex drive.

“I want to sleep better”

How exercise delivers: Regular physical activity can help you sleep longer, improve sleep quality, and decrease the time it takes to fall asleep by prepping your body for a good snooze. That said, it’s best to avoid strenuous activities (other than sex) close to bedtime.

“I want to perform better at work”

How exercise delivers: Problem-solving, memory, and concentration all improve following physical activity because of a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). 

There’s also evidence that parts of the brain grow as people get fitter, which delivers longer-term brain benefits. People who regularly get active have been proven to be more productive at work, think more creatively, and are less likely to make mistakes than those who aren’t active.

More ways to help you get motivated to move

Once you’ve established your “why,” the next step on your exercise journey involves building other forms of motivation into your daily routine. According to research, here’s what works:

Think small (and achievable!)

Running a marathon, losing 30 pounds or getting six-pack abs are impressive goals, but it can take a lot of work to stay focused on achievements that may be months or even years in the making.

When you focus on a long-term end goal, it’s too easy to say, “I failed”, or, “This is never going to work,” and then you won’t want to do it anymore. Don’t set yourself up for a pass or fail.

Instead, focus on short-term exercise goals by the day or week. For example, instead of a goal to lose 30 pounds in three months, set a goal to exercise three days per week for 15 minutes the first month, four days per week for the second month and five days per week for the third month. 

Build up your workouts slowly and celebrate your achievements along the way.

Use the power of routine

Doing anything consistently turns actions into norms in your life. You develop pathways in the brain that reinforce repeating the behaviour, so it becomes an action you do with little effort. Start with something easy, like a 15-minute walk three times a week. And when you get mastery over that routine, challenge yourself a bit more.

Find an activity you enjoy

Gyms are designed and equipped for exercise, so if that motivates you to get active, keep doing what you’re doing. For guys who prefer to exercise elsewhere, there is no shortage of indoor and outdoor activities that combine physical activity with enjoyment. 

Off the top of my head, there’s cycling, hiking, pickleball, baseball, or horseshoes. Anything that gets you outside and moving your body will do!

Turn up the tunes 

It’s no surprise that listening to music can help you enjoy exercise more. Research shows it can improve your athletic performance and make exercise feel easier to do.

Be prepared

Fill a backpack with exercise gear and put it beside your front door. Or put your running shoes by the bed and weights around the house where you’ll see them. You’ll never be caught unprepared, and it’ll remind you to get moving. Think of it as a “trigger” for your new healthy habit!

Bring a buddy or find a group

Why not trade pub hangouts for evening hikes, bike rides, or runs? According to research from the University of Pennsylvania, sweating it out with a friend can lead to more weight loss than going solo. Not only is it motivating to have a workout buddy, but it also helps to hold you accountable.

Working out with a group of people–even if you don’t know them (yet)–is a great way to get your body moving while expanding your social circle. 

Prioritize exercise

Schedule time for getting active in your calendar and treat it as a non-negotiable commitment, much like a medical appointment or meeting with co-workers. If you had planned to exercise outdoors and it gets cancelled due to bad weather, you’ve already set the time aside, so you can easily pivot and do your workout indoors.

Make technology work for you

Most smartphones have built-in accelerometers or pedometers that track your daily steps. Use these features to motivate yourself to move a little more each day. At the same time, dozens of free (or cheap) smartphone apps help you track, monitor, and motivate yourself in your fitness goals. Here are five keepers.

Last but not least, keep your eyes on the prize

Remember that roadblocks will pop up along the way. The key to overcoming them is to stay motivated by focusing on your “why.” This also means being flexible and resourceful. If you missed a gym workout because you had to pick up the kids, play road hockey with them after dinner instead. 

And if all you have the time or energy for is to go outside for a walk around the block, it still counts. Don’t make it hard on yourself. It doesn’t need to be all or nothing when reaping the benefits of moving more.

Dr. Leigh Vanderloo, the Scientific Direction of ParticipACTION offered some valuable advice in a Don’t Change Much podcast, “Something’s better than nothing. More is always better. You have to understand that whatever activity you’re choosing to do has to work for your current life…Try to find ways to overcome those particular challenges and to prioritize moving as something as a ‘need to have’ rather than a ‘nice to have’. ”

What are your biggest barriers to exercise? Let’s start a conversation in the comments below!

Move For Your Mental Health

Park far away, take the stairs and move more for Men’s Health Month this June.