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Motivation to Exercise: A Beginner's First Step Towards Self-Care & Change

By: Leah Hovey

women running down the road

The first piece of advice any health professional will tell you is to exercise. Regardless of whether you have a mental illness or you are feeling the effects of stress, physical activity is one of the best ways to increase mood and relieve stress. Physical activity is one of the quickest and more accessible ways to improve one’s mental health. So… why is it so hard to do?

Coming from a personal place, I understand how challenging it can be to live that active lifestyle when your mental health is at an all time low. As someone who has depression and anxiety, there are times where there is nothing I would want to do less than exercise. When I am at that low, there is little motivation to do anything – never mind going to the gym. As I know many of you relate, the point of this blog is not to summarize how effective exercise is, but instead give out tips on how to truly push yourself for the better.

1. Start off small

As an individual beginning their exercise journey, the process of change will be challenging if you have too many expectations for yourself. So instead, start off with simple tasks. For example, if you are feeling anxious one day, take some time to go for a walk. Studies have shown that walking helps with depression and anxiety disorders as well as reducing day-to-day stress by boosting endorphins and endocannabinoids; which are mood enhancing chemicals within your brain (Canadian Psychological Association, 2016). Walking may seem simple, but starting off with an easy task requires very little motivation and will eventually progress to more. Doing this simple activity when you are feeling stressed will give you a feeling of satisfaction while not straining yourself too hard.

2. The gym is not the only option

There is a huge gym culture that has popped up within the last couple of years. “Gym selfies” and celebrity fitness models are everywhere. You may feel as though the gym is one of the only ways to get that exercise in, especially if you are just starting your fitness journey. However, the gym is not the only way to get your physical activity. Swimming in public pools, taking up a new sport, kickboxing, joining a fun exercise class such as Zumba, or participating in yoga are just some of the ways you can achieve a healthier lifestyle without limiting yourself to the gym.

3. Put some money towards your fitness

No, I don’t mean to buy the latest pair of Nike leggings to start off your journey. Instead, join a sports team or participate in a group fitness program at a local gym. Some individuals have issues with sticking to a specific fitness routine. Sometimes, if you invest money into your psychical health, it can give you a reason to continue to exercise. For example, joining a beginner’s soccer league will give you motivation not only because you have financially invested in this activity, but you as well have a team who depends on you being there. This can give an individual with poor motivation a reason to keep going.

4. Workout with a friend

Having a friend, coworker, or trainer to exercise with can be extremely beneficial when it comes to motivation. You may not want to go for a run some days, but if you have a dedicated friend who will help push you or a trainer who is responsible, they will help you with the motivation needed to continue with your fitness. They can help encourage you to change for the better. Having a partner to help support you can increase self-regulation and, more specifically, self-efficiency (Rackow P., 2015), which in turn improves your motivation to keep exercising!


Rackow, P., Scholz, U., & Hornung, R. (2015). Received social support and exercising: An intervention study to test the enabling hypothesis. British Journal of health psychology, 20(4), 763-776.

Canadian Psychological Association. (2016). “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Physical Activity, Mental Health, and Motivation. Retrieved from

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