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Once, during my period, I Googled how I could get enough energy to exercise.

The answer? Exercise.

Thanks, Internet! Why don’t you come over here so I can kick you in the butt? You know, if I had the energy to lift my foot that high, which I don’t.

My relationship with exercise has always been sporadic. I’ve tried jogging, biking, Pilates, aerobics, Convict Conditioning, Tai Chi, water aerobics, and more. Most of it was done at home and none of it stuck.

The exercise routines that I stayed with longest were the ones I picked out myself. My husband has done a ton of research on fitness and is a veritable well of support, but there’s only so far someone else’s enthusiasm can get you. That’s why I’m here to share what I’ve learned in the past ten years about exercise.

5 Simple Rules To Make Exercise Fun

1. Find a Positive Motivation

I usually tried to lose weight, which is a terrible motivation. Everything you eat discourages you. “What’s the point?” you ask yourself after Thanksgiving. “Why do I bother?” after Christmas. “I worked out and grabbed fast food on the way home,” you think while munching through your bag of tacos.

Eating becomes a guilt trip. Calories are an excuse to belittle yourself. I tried counting calories once—it sucks and I’m never doing it again.

Eventually, you get mad at exercise for preventing you from having the food you want, and eating becomes rebellion.

It’s a no-win situation full of negativity and shame.

When I did water aerobics, I wanted to keep my pregnant body in working order and reduce back pain so I could care for my toddler and make labor easier. It wasn’t sustainable after the baby because it started too early in the morning and I had to get my brother to watch my (exhausted) toddler, but I’d still go if I could because it was a very positive experience.

After having my baby, I decided to go to the gym to build strength instead of lose weight. Fat deposits lay on top of my muscles, but it doesn’t matter if the fat stays or goes because I’m concentrating on what’s underneath—which means heavy-eating holidays can no longer discourage me. “That’s nice,” I say dismissively to my cellulite when it tries to shame me. “Ready to go to the gym?”

Because exercise, when you’re doing it for positive goals instead of negative reasons, is more fun.

2. Engage Your Mind

It’s important that you keep your mind engaged during exercise, especially the repetitive solo stuff. I tried music, and I basically just tuned it out the whole time (although I love music while working around the house), so the next time I went, I did something awesome.

Audiobooks.

Specifically, Harry Potter.

I don’t listen to them outside the gym, which gets me excited to go because they’re super fun and keep my mind engaged and happy while I use the otherwise boring machines. I did the same thing at a data entry job, and it made a huge difference in my job satisfaction.

If you don’t have or can’t afford audiobooks, see if your library has an ebook and audiobook option, or try a radio station! Anything that keeps you interested will help you look forward to exercise time.

3. Try Different Things

I hate jogging. It’s sweaty, exhausting and boring. You need special shoes, and it takes forever, and it jostles your bones, and you’re just looking at the ground to make sure you don’t trip, and even music doesn’t help because you’re so busy going “I hate this I hate this I hate this please kill me” and also you can barely hear anything over your own huffing and puffing.

But still, when my husband’s work got us a discount at the local Y, I decided to try jogging on the treadmill. It sucked, as usual, so I dug deep and remembered the three glorious times I’ve gone canoeing. That’s an exercise! And the Y has a row machine!

And it was amazing!

I even hopped on a recumbent bike afterward for some cardio, and that was awesome too! I’ve always hated biking (not as much as jogging, mind you) because the hunched position is super uncomfortable, but recumbent bikes allow you to lean back, which is perfect.

Thanks to these successes, I’m planning on working my way slowly through every machine, just to give each a try and find my favorites.

4. Prepare

I did research on what I wanted to try at the gym before I went, specifically on how to use things properly. This is for several reasons.

No Talking: I get to be anti-social (i.e. not ask for help) if I already know what I’m doing.
Prevents Injury: Knowing how to adjust the machine and how my body should be positioned in it keeps me from major owwies.
Not Looking Stupid: Let’s face it, we’re all afraid of looking like clueless newbies to more experienced gym-goers, which is probably going to be everyone there, and figuring this stuff out beforehand will keep us from sticking out.

5. Go Easy on Yourself

I’ve had to miss entire weeks because my kids got sick. If I worried about it, I’d be less inclined to go back because associating exercise with negative emotion makes it less desirable.

I can’t be the gung-ho, need-results-right-away person. I’ve tried that before and every time I failed to exercise, especially around the holidays, it caused negative emotions. Saying you’re “bad” for not exercising and “good” for exercising does the exact same thing—it convinces you that you have to power through your schedule and illness and around work even when it’s hard. The reality is that, if you’re looking to enjoy exercise and not get burned out, you need to schedule it but stay flexible in case something comes up. Some weeks I just can’t go at all, and for the first time I’m not anxiously berating myself for failure. Neither do I congratulate myself on success.

Exercise, and its relationship with your body, is not a fling. It’s a long, slow romance. Slow down and enjoy it.

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