Staying motivated to exercise during tough times can be a real challenge. Life can come at you hard. One minute, you're meeting your goals, eating well, and getting all of your scheduled workouts in, and the next minute, the unexpected happens. Now, you're faced with family stress or work stress, and you're feeling overwhelmed. Suddenly, you no longer have the time or the mental and emotional capacity, so you decide to skip a workout.
But then one missed workout turns into two, then two turns into three, and before you know it, you haven't hit the gym in three months. I know this because it has happened to me countless times over the years. Life throws us curveballs that sap our motivation and force us off track; this is normal. There is nothing wrong with taking time to tend to other priorities when necessary. The problem is veering so far off track that you abandon your health altogether.
Rough times are always going to happen. There will always be something that makes it more challenging to get the day-to-day things done. People who have fully incorporated exercise into their daily lifestyles know this, so staying active remains a priority, even when things get rough. You have to find a way to ensure that you don't allow tough times to throw you back into unhealthy habits.
1. Find a way to keep moving.
Maybe your schedule has suddenly changed, and you can't make it to the gym to do your workouts this week. Is there something else that you can do at a different time? Do *something*. It isn't healthy to become so rigidly obsessed with your scheduled workout routine that you don't allow yourself space to be human. But the answer isn't to sink sullenly into your couch, either. Ask yourself, "how can I still move?".
2. Scale it back.
Can you still stick to your regular workout routine but maybe do a bit less? Sometimes carrying a heavy emotional load can feel like an actual physical weight that can hold us back from exerting ourselves too much. Shaving a mile off of your run or decreasing the weight on your barbell might make your workout feel like less of a struggle. If you can avoid veering off-schedule, you can prevent possibly starting a cascade where you fall off track completely.
3. Channel your emotions.
Sometimes tough times can make you run away from your workouts when you should be doing the opposite. The stress relief, mental clarity, and sense of confidence that comes from structured exercise are often precisely what you need to face the world. Though you may not be feeling motivated to exercise, finding a physical outlet for emotional energy will improve your mood and make you more resilient to stress.
Strength training, in particular, can really come in handy when life feels like it's gotten too hard. The physical task of overcoming the resistance of physical weight can help you feel more confident that you can also overcome your real-life struggles. When you train your physical strength, you train your mental and emotional strength as well.
4. Choose slower, kinder movement.
Sometimes though, even strength training feels like too much. Sometimes, adding additional weight feels undesirable when you're already carrying a lot of emotional weight. In these moments, doing nothing won't necessarily make you feel better. It may actually make you feel worse, especially if you stop moving for extended periods.
When I feel like I need to move, but I want to take it easy, I roll out my yoga mat. Moving slowly, working consciously with my breath, and connecting to my body can feel quite therapeutic. While I may not have felt motivated to exercise initially, I'm reminded of how great it feels to move my body by the end.
5. Go for a walk.
Don't underestimate the restorative power of long walks in nature. Walking is the most accessible, most gentle, most natural form of exercise. Get the muscles pumping, get the blood flowing, and have a moment with your thoughts. Decompress. Breathe fresh air. Whatever you're going through, taking some time to yourself can help bring you back to your center, invigorating you to continue with your regular workout schedule. And don't feel like you're failing because you aren't sticking to the plan. Walking is a valid and sufficient form of exercise when taking a short break from your routine. It can provide you with the same variety of health benefits of exercising.
6. Dance it out.
Dancing is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise and a great source of stress relief. Like all cardio, dancing releases endorphins in your brain that make you feel good. It's also a form of resistance exercise because working with the weight of your body puts light, yet beneficial, stress on your muscles. Join a Zumba class, try some follow-along dance videos on YouTube, or put on your favorite playlist and freestyle. You may find that you're so taken by the beat that your most burdensome feelings simply melt away, even if your problems are still the same.
Dance connects you to your body in powerful ways. This is the idea behind dance/movement therapy, which uses dance to improve physical and emotional well-being. If you're feeling overwhelmed, dancing may be the answer. And don't worry about how you look while doing it; it's all about how you feel.
7. Ease back into it.
So maybe you took a few days off of your regularly scheduled program to unwind and regroup with some long walks and stretchy yoga. You don't want to wait too long to get back into the groove of things, but you also don't want to jump back in with full force. The more time you take off, the more likely you will lose some of the conditioning you've built up along the way. Scale back a few pounds on the weights or shorten your mileage and start with an easier-to-manage workout. The last thing you want is to jump too eagerly back into your plan only to become discouraged because the exercise feels too difficult or you're too sore in the days after.
8. Pivot & evolve.
Maybe your life is now too complicated and stressful to maintain the same workout schedule as before. Sometimes we're met with challenges that force us to toss out our plans entirely and come up with new ones. Don't be afraid to evolve. Find a new workout regimen that works better with your new reality. If something is preventing you from keeping up with running, the efficiency of an at-home jump rope workout routine may fit better. If you can no longer make it to the gym to lift weights, invest in a kettlebell or two and maintain your strength with at-home circuits. Use this as an opportunity to discover new, enjoyable ways to move.
Having a health coach by your side can help you through rough moments by working with you to adjust your workout plan and offering tips and tricks for staying active throughout the day. A health coach can help you weather life's small storms, keeping you on the path to reach your ultimate goals. If you're struggling to get back on track, schedule a consultation with me. I'll be happy to help.
Niv Mullings is a Plant-Based Nutrition & Fitness coach from the Bronx, New York. After years of struggling with obesity, anxiety, depression, painful menstruation, and other chronic health complaints, Niv changed her life for the better through fitness and a healthy plant-based diet. Now she helps others to do the same.