Exercise is crucial to good health, but sometimes it’s hard to find the motivation to maintain an exercise regimen. Finding the time is one problem. Another is boredom. “Most activity becomes tedious psychologically, even though you know it will benefit you physically,” says Michael Bento, a personal trainer at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
The solution is finding ways to bust that boredom and stay engaged — or at least distracted.
Add challenging moves
Breathe new life into a tired workout by adding compound exercises, which combine two exercises into one fluid movement. For example, you may do a lunge that ends with you raising dumbbells overhead. “It’s more interesting and it’s more effective at working your muscles. The lunge by itself targets the lower body and core. But when you push dumbbells overhead, you get upper-arm and shoulder muscle benefits as well,” Bento points out.
Another idea for a compound exercise: push dumbbells overhead (or out to the sides) at the end of a sideways lunge or as you come up from a squat. What size dumbbells should you use? “Err on the side of caution and start with a 3- or 5-pound weight. If it’s easy to push the weight overhead 12 times, move up to a slightly heavier weight,” Bento advises. He suggests trying weights in a store or gym to see which feels right.
If you prefer not to use dumbbells, use a resistance band. For example, you could do a lunge and a “push” while you hold the band. Wrap the center of a resistance band around a pole or doorknob behind you and hold one end of the resistance band in each hand. Lunge away from the pole or doorknob, and push the ends of the resistance band in front of you.
If you’d rather not use weights or resistance bands, there are other compound exercises you can try, like doing push-ups against a countertop and tapping alternating shoulders with one hand in between each repetition.
Try doing each exercise eight to 10 times in a row. A caveat: Compound exercises can help your balance, since they’re more complex tasks that challenge your stability. But you’ll need good balance to do any compound exercise.
Incorporate other interests
Sometimes all it takes to make exercise interesting is incorporating an element or activity you already love. For example, if you enjoy listening to music, play a few tunes during your workout. Bento blasts ’80s rock music when he works out. “The energy of it keeps me moving,” he says.
Other ways to make exercise more interesting include going on a hike and taking breaks to snap photos of pretty scenes in nature; walking with a friend and catching up along the way; or watching a movie or favorite show while walking on a treadmill or riding an indoor exercise bike.
The secret of adding another activity is distraction. “It takes your mind off exercising,” Bento says. “Some research suggests the distraction enables you to exercise with greater intensity or longer duration.”
Try a new exercise
If adjusting your exercise routine doesn’t increase your interest, consider trying a brand-new exercise. Examples include ballroom dance, shadow boxing, step aerobics, or tai chi. “You won’t have any history with that particular exercise, and it will keep you engaged and looking forward to working out,” Bento says.
He recommends taking an exercise class for the added benefit of social interaction. “There’s something to be said about the shared experience of exercising together. I see people forming groups of friends when they come to the same classes over and over. It’s a great way to engage with people,” Bento says.
Remember, though, that many people need to take precautions before starting a new routine. If you have heart or lung disease or arthritis, consult with your doctor first. And talk to the instructor in advance. “Get there early, explain that you’re new, and ask if there’s anything you should be concerned about,” Bento advises.
Then, try to have fun. If you enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll be more likely to sustain a regimen and exercise for years to come.