Lacking Fitness Motivation? Tips For Sticking To An Exercise Routine

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated February 22, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There are many reasons why you might want to get into a routine of engaging in regular physical activity. You might be interested in building muscle, improving stamina, sleeping better, or boosting your mental health. Regardless of the reason, it can sometimes be difficult to gather the motivation you need to get up and go for a jog, hit the gym, or play a sport at the park—even if you know it will be good for you. Read on to learn a bit more about the benefits of regular physical exercise and to get tips on how to increase your motivation to engage in it.

Having trouble with motivation?

Research-backed benefits of physical exercise

Many people think of exercise as something to do only for weight loss, but getting active regularly can benefit your physical and mental health in a variety of ways, as evidenced by a wealth of research from recent years. For example, exercising often can help with aspects of health such as:

  • Improving sleep quality. As reported in an article from Johns Hopkins Medicine, there is “solid evidence that exercise does, in fact, help you fall asleep more quickly and improves sleep quality”. If you experience insomnia or other sleep disturbances, exercise may be a good way to improve your sleep.

  • Decreasing risk or symptoms of depression and anxiety. A growing body of research points to a link between mental health and regular physical activity. Those who are more active tend to have lower rates of mental illness, and exercise may also help decrease anxiety, depression, and negative mood “by improving self-esteem and cognitive function”.
  • Helping prevent serious illness. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that implemenint a workout regimen can help reduce your risk of developing chronic physical health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, various types of cancer, anxiety, and depression.
  • Boosting brain health. As an article from Harvard Health Publishing reports, exercise can “increase activity in parts of the brain that have to do with executive function and memory and promote the growth of new brain cells”. As a result, it can help boost cognition, memory, problem-solving, and emotional control..

  • Maintaining a healthy weight. There’s no one body size or shape that best represents health for everyone, since all bodies are different. That said, obesity is linked to an increase in likelihood of death from all causes in addition to an increased risk of experiencing hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, mental illness, and others. Engaging in regular physical activity may help you maintain a healthy weight, whatever that looks like for your body in particular.

Tips to help you boost motivation to exercise

If you’re ready to reap the benefits of physical exercise but are having trouble gathering the motivation to lace up your tennis shoes, the following tips may help.

Set clear, realistic goals

One common reason people lose motivation to exercise is that they don’t set themselves up for success with the goals they choose. For example, telling yourself that you want to “exercise more” might not be very effective, since it’s hard to know when you reach your goal, which could lead to inaction. Additionally, telling yourself you have to work out every single day may also be unrealistic for some people. Instead, you might set clear, specific, and realistic goals. You could challenge yourself to exercise for 30 minutes three times a week, attend a workout class every other day, or bike to work at least twice a week, for instance. Goals like these can also make it easier for you to monitor your progress over time and observe the outcomes of your efforts.

Find an activity you enjoy

If you’re only engaging in exercise that you don’t enjoy, it will likely and understandably be difficult to gather the motivation to keep doing it long term. The gym isn’t for everyone, and not all of us are into running. If these traditional exercise methods don’t appeal to you, you might try branching out. You could try other types of physical activity like swimming, dancing, strength training, playing soccer, boxing, pilates, or even walking the dog. Once you find something you have fun doing—or that you don’t actively dislike, at least—the probability that you’ll engage in it more regularly will usually be higher.

Create a routine

Forming a routine around exercising could help keep you on track and make it easier to stick to your fitness plan. For example, you could get some exercise by walking or cycling home from work each day the weather is nice. You could sign up for a fitness class near your house that starts at a time when you’re always free, or you could make it a habit to do some bodyweight exercises in your living room before you cook dinner. The important thing is that the routine is functional for your personal schedule and habits and that the routine helps you feel motivated to work out.

Having trouble with motivation?

Find an exercise buddy

Finding an exercise partner can help you stay motivated and hold you accountable for sticking to your exercise plan. When choosing a buddy for this purpose, it usually helps to find someone who has similar fitness goals and will represent a positive, encouraging force in your life. If you live near each other, you can schedule time to take walks, attend classes, or do other forms of exercise together. If one person isn’t feeling like exercising, the other can find ways to motivate them, and the existence of a set plan to meet up can help get them out the door. 

Even if you don’t live near each other, you and your fitness buddy can still support one another in achieving your fitness goals—and you could even turn it into a friendly competition. As one research study found, social settings can help individuals “persist more in physical activities” compared with a baseline group.

Listen to music

Queuing up your workout playlist when you’re having trouble finding motivation to exercise may also help. “High-groove music” is a scientific term that refers to music that makes a person want to move. Listening to this type of upbeat music can increase your motivation to move your body, potentially helping you get motivated to do your workout. It may also help you motivate yourself to work out when you’re tired, in the middle of a long run, or nearing the end of a strenuous workout.

Increasing motivation through therapy

While we all may have trouble finding the motivation to work out from time to time, individuals facing certain mental health challenges may find it to be even more difficult. Low self-esteem or social anxiety disorder, for example, could make someone fear embarrassment when exercising around others. Or depression, for instance, can make even getting out of bed a challenge. A therapist can help you address symptoms of mental health concerns or conditions like these so you can engage in the activities you want to. Even if you’re not experiencing mental health concerns, they may be able to help you uncover what helps you personally feel motivated and learn to create routines you can stick to.

In-person therapy has always been the traditional format for seeking this type of care, but the digital age has ushered in new possibilities. If you’d feel more comfortable meeting with a therapist from the comfort of home rather than traveling to an in-office appointment, you might consider online therapy. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist whom you can meet with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. Medically reviewed research suggests that online and in-person therapy can be “equally effective” in most cases, so you can generally feel confident in whichever format you may choose.


Exercising regularly can offer a variety of health benefits, but maintaining the motivation over time to get active can be difficult. It’s important to remember that you don’t need a degree in sports medicine or a bunch of fancy workout clothes to implement a workout routine; instead, you can simply find a way to move your body that feels good for you. The tips on this list, such as finding an activity you enjoy and connecting with a workout buddy, can help, as can speaking with a therapist.
Struggling to find motivation in your life?
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