Advancing health through science, education and medicine

Making Exercise Fun Again

Jan 09, 2012

Written by Thomas Altena, Ph.D.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. The daily schedule of individuals who exercise regularly can read much like instructions on a shampoo bottle. Exercise can begin to feel mundane and static when performed exactly the same way each day as with any other aspect of life. Professionals in the fitness field never want to admit mental and physical staleness with exercise, yet anyone with the goal of exercise being a life-long pursuit will discover moments when, as B.B. King sang, “the thrill is gone.” Fitness professionals commonly help people break up the monotony and make exercise fun again. Our challenge is to have an arsenal of answers, options and suggestions that provide the keys to unlock the boredom and restore the fun. If you exercise regularly and want suggestions you can use now to regain the enjoyment of your fitness routine, this article is for you.

Change Your Routine
When a fitness program becomes routine, exercisers can begin to feel trapped in stagnancy and complacency. Changing our patterns is not an easy task, and many of us who exercise regularly rely on a predictable daily schedule. In most cases, your exercise routine does not require a complete overhaul, but you may benefit from small changes that restore your enjoyment of exercise. A runner or cyclist can become a modern-day Lewis and Clark, discovering new scenery through different routes. If you train on roads and in neighborhoods, try trail running or single-track mountain biking. If you exercise at a local gym, a different time of day might provide new enjoyment and a different social experience. Any change to your daily routine might take some time to feel natural, so give these changes some time.

Exercise in a Group or Alone
Each Saturday morning, a marathon training group runs past my house. Though body sizes, shapes, ages and paces differ, these men and women share a common goal. Exercising with a group creates companionship and accountability. Accountability alone can be its own motivation. Group exercise like spinning and yoga classes, boot camps or a multi-sport group all are excellent ways to achieve fitness, accountability and social interaction. A group can make exercise fun again through competition and a shared experience. Many people who exercise enjoy the solitude with their iPod or the sounds of nature. If you have been exercising alone and lacking fun and motivation, joining a group may be a new challenge. Depending on the person, alternating group exercise sessions with solo exercise might be a good way to gain more enjoyment.

Get Back to the Basics
The exercise science field is filled with high-tech tools and smartphone applications. A GPS can accurately monitor mileage and pace. You can get instant feedback on exercise intensity with heart rate monitors and PowerTap meters. A few years ago, I purchased running shoes with a microchip that changed midsole cushion and support based on my running stride and terrain. Further, a plethora of training plans exist online and in popular media to guide training for 5K races to a full Ironman triathlon. Though these high-tech tools assist us in planning and tracking performance, they also can create confusion and frustration when the technology does not work. Sometimes getting back to the basics and restoring the fun of exercise means removing the digital readout on your cycle or stepping away from the training plan for a few days or weeks. This might mean temporarily replacing your training program with fun, active alternatives. Stepping away from hard-core training may refresh you mentally and remind you of your love for exercise.

Identify a New Challenge or Goal
I spent some time sorting through participant trends competing in marathons, half marathons, and various triathlon distances. Registrants and finishers have increased in the past two decades but average finishing times are much slower today compared with 10 and 20 years ago. Besides traditional running events (ranging from 5K to marathon) and triathlon events (ranging from sprint to Ironman), many alternatives exist. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series is an outstanding one, with bands throughout the courses and a festival atmosphere. Off-road, multi-sport events have gained popularity in recent years with X-Terra, different Adventure Race courses, and the Muddy-Buddy. The “Ski-to-Sea” in Bellingham, WA combines alpine and Nordic skiing, running, cycling, and paddle sports in a multi-person relay. Each of these challenges provides a new goal that can make you more intentional in your exercise with a focused goal for accomplishment. The fun of exercise will definitely be restored.

Exercise for a Greater Cause
Consider friends and family who have acquired a disease or have suffered a natural disaster, and use your exercise to raise both awareness and finances for nonprofit organizations and research foundations that help them. Personally, I train and race for ALS Foundation for Research. Examples of causes that you can also train and race for include the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Breast Cancer Awareness, groups that support of our soldiers in combat, or a local animal shelter. Find a cause that personally motivates you and make a difference in the lives of others. Turning our perspective from ourselves to a greater cause can provide new motivation and enjoyment.

View the full summer 2011 issue of the ACSM Fit Society® Page supported by Liberty Mutual online.

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