Need Exercise Motivation? 11 Tricks You Haven’t Tried

Updated: Nov. 11, 2020

Want to keep your arteries clear and your heart beating strong? Integrative cardiologist Joel K. Kahn, MD, coaches his patients to adopt easy exercise routines with these motivating tricks.

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First, stop saying you have no time to exercise

It’s the top excuse I hear from patients when I suggest they get moving. But you do have enough time; what you really need is motivation. Too often people think of exercise in black or white categories: “30 minutes” or “no minutes.” In reality, any minutes of movement are better than none. Here are some of my favorite tricks to get patients started on an exercise routine.

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Don’t ignore exercise

It’s powerful medicine for your heart and arteries. It strengthens your cardiovascular system, allowing the heart to pump more blood with less effort. It keeps your arteries elastic and flexible, which allows them to expand to accommodate blood flow, which reduces blood pressure. It makes your tissues more sensitive to insulin, which means cells throughout your body more easily absorb and burn blood sugar for energy. It helps lower levels of triglycerides, tiny packages of fat that float around in the bloodstream. Exercise also helps tamp down inflammation and prevents blood clotting, which can lead to stroke, heart attack, and other problems. Finally, exercise creates physiological changes in the brain that lead to an increased sense of well-being, confidence, and an improved mood. Here are 6 ways exercise helps your brain.


Take a 15-minute walk

It’s true that the American Heart Association recommends that we plan at least 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, which is 2.5 hours of a heart-pumping activity. But if you can’t always meet this goal, should you do none at all? No. Less activity than the AHA guideline is still beneficial. Even a 15-minute walk will bring you some health benefits. What’s most important is this: get started. Here are 15 self-motivational quotes to help you achieve your goals.

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Try not to fast-forward through commercials

If you watch traditional television, it can be tempting to fast-forward through commercials. Think about it: One hour of television can include roughly 22 minutes of commercials. This means that if you’re watching three hours during prime-time TV, you can squeeze in a 45-minute workout. Alternate each commercial break with jumping jacks, push-ups, crunches, dumbbell overhead raises, triceps dips, lunges, squats, and repeat, for a full-body interval workout. Get more out of your commercial breaks with the best products for indoor workouts.

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Stop thinking of yourself

That is, practice active acts of kindness. Because one way to motivate yourself to get in small, regular bouts of activity is to do them for someone else. Dedicate small acts of exercise to the good of someone you love, the happiness of a stranger, or the good of society. For example, return your shopping cart to the store rather than leave it in the lot near your car. (Do it as a favor to the kid whose job it is to go gather all the carts.) While you are out shoveling snow, clear your neighbor’s walkway too.  Get up and stand on the bus or subway so someone else can have your seat. Stumped for ideas? Try these heart-pumping 60-second workouts.

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De-motorvate your life

Time-saving devices (think dishwashers and elevators) save more than time: they also prevent you from burning calories. Using a dishwasher rather than washing dishes by hand, driving to work instead of walking, and using the elevator instead of taking the stairs leads the average person to burn 111 fewer calories a day. Over time, that adds up to 10 extra pounds a year. Whenever possible, try not to motor your way through life. Use a broom or rake instead of a leaf blower, your body instead of a remote control, or elbow grease instead of an electric mixer. Here are some simple ways to turn your chores into exercise.

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Don’t take waiting sitting down

We stand and wait a lot: at the grocery store, at the bank, at the post office, at the ATM, at amusement parks. And that’s just the waiting we do standing. A lot of it we do sitting down. Consider a doctor’s office waiting room. Or what you do during the average 10 to 20 minutes each of us spends on the telephone each week. Try to stand and move as much as possible while you find yourself waiting. Depending on where you are, you could march in place, do a few laps around your house, try a few stretches, or climb a flight of stairs. A little bit can add up: A recent study analysis, published in Circulation, showed that subbing standing for sitting six hours a day can burn an additional 54 calories a day. This may not sound like much, but it can add up to five pounds in a year.  

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Track your daily steps

Measure how many steps a day you take, then set a goal to increase the amount by perhaps 500 steps a day for a week, then jump it up again to the next level. New habits such as these will get you there: Park as far away as possible from the entrance to work. (I do this every day, and enjoy a 10-minute walk each morning and each evening.) Spend half of your lunch hour walking. Propose a walking meeting with colleagues if you don’t need access to a computer during the meeting. Take a short walk whenever you arrive to a destination a little early.

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Don’t throw in the towel if you miss a workout or five

There are two critical times when people fall off the exercise wagon: after a really busy period at work and after a vacation. They skip one workout and then another and then another. Soon they’ve gone a week or two without exercise and they think, “why bother? I’ve lost everything I gained.” Just remember: Taking an exercise break is good for your body and mind. You’ve built up a foundation now, so ease back into it and soon you’ll be back to your regular routine. Cut back on intensity and duration as you ease yourself back into the swing of things. Check out Kira Stokes’ Fit App for varied workouts that will make for a smooth re-entry.

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Take vitamin Y (yoga)

Yoga is a four-for-one exercise. Most people don’t realize that certain types of yoga count as cardio. It also strengthens your muscles, so it counts as weight training, too. Of course, it also gets you flexible. Finally, the emphasis on breath work and the power of your thoughts make it a moving meditation. Some poses—such as Tree and Dancer’s Pose—also improve your balance. Studies have also linked yoga with a healthier heart rate pattern, less atrial fibrillation, and lower blood pressure. Start with a beginner’s class, DVD, or yoga instructor you like on YouTube. Even yoga once a week for 15 or 20 minutes offers flexibility, mental focus, and relaxation.

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Move in the morning

It’s the best time to fit in a workout, and here’s why: It makes your workout number one on your to-do list. When you exercise later in the day, dozens of obstacles and excuses are likely to come up. When you roll out of bed and get moving first thing, those excuses don’t have a chance to derail your motivation. Morning sweat sessions can also have brain-boosting benefits throughout the day. There’s also some evidence that a morning workout can undo some of the metabolic damage of whatever fatty, high-sugar foods you might have consumed the night before. Try to going to bed earlier so you can get up earlier. Agree to meet someone at the gym to help ensure you get out of bed rather than hit the snooze button. Here are 5 reasons why a morning workout can make your whole day better.

Get more prescriptions for a healthy heart

In The Whole Heart Solution, integrative cardiologist Joel K. Kahn, MD, shares 75 traditional and alternative prescriptions to prevent Want to keep your arteries clear and your heart beating strong?and treat heart disease. Learn more and buy the book here