How to Make Exercise a Hobby Instead of a Chore

By Erica Patino
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
March 11, 2024

For many of us, the aim to work more movement into our days doesn’t always translate into action. We may have every intention of getting those steps in or hitting that workout class, but often, reality looks a little different as exercise slides lower and lower on our to-do lists.

Why Can Getting Regular Exercise Be Such a Struggle?

“The most common mistake I see when people start a new exercise routine is that they commit to doing more than they can handle in their present season of life,” says Natasha Caleel, an occupational therapist and wellness coach based in Santa Barbara, California.

There’s no shame in admitting that you have limited time for workouts each week, or want to stick with the kinds of exercise you’re already familiar with—in fact, realizing that early on and planning accordingly may better set you up for success.

“Common mistakes I see when people start exercising include expecting too much from themselves and their bodies, and doing what they think they ‘should’ do rather than what makes sense for their fitness level, experience, and lifestyle,” adds Rachel MacPherson, a certified personal trainer and exercise nutrition coach based in Nova Scotia, Canada.

How to Shift Your Mindset for Fitness Success

To make exercise something you look forward to, or at the very least something you don’t mind doing, you'll need to tap into intrinsic motivation—the drive to do something because you like it rather than feeling like you have to do it.

“Find activities and movements you enjoy and you may be more consistent,” MacPherson says. “Focus on building skills in that activity and how it improves your overall well‑being, rather than how it impacts a number on the scale.”

To further tap into that intrinsic motivation, Caleel suggests making your workouts feel like a hobby. This could mean checking out different yoga studios to try different variations of the practice, or even taking up a new sport or activity you’ve always been interested in, like an intramural softball league, ice-skating lessons, or dance classes.

“This can make exercising feel less like a chore and more like a fun activity,” Caleel explains. You may even meet new friends, which can be a source of further enjoyment and accountability.

It may also be helpful to tap into your purpose—why are you starting to exercise in the first place? Write down your why. Is it to live a long, healthy life? To feel better mentally and physically? To be there for your children, family, and friends? If exercise can become a pleasant path toward a positive end result, it may be less tempting to take the easy way out.

Tips to Get and Stay Motivated to Exercise

With the right approach, it’s possible to create a movement routine that feels good instead of overwhelming and keeps you coming back for more. Keep these tips in mind as you get started.

Change “Have” to “Get”

“If you’re dreading starting a workout, remind yourself that you get to work out—you don’t have to work out,” Caleel says. This simple change in your language can reframe exercise as a source of pleasure and pride rather than an item to check off your to-do list.

If that sense of dread is still looming, try pinpointing just one thing you get to do during your workout that you enjoy, like cool-down stretching or mastering a new skill in your dance or ice-skating classes.

Pair Movement with Another Activity You Enjoy

If you don’t look forward to walking or running on the treadmill, try watching an episode of your favorite show while doing so. Or you might listen to an audiobook only at the gym, Caleel suggests. You may be so eager to listen to the next chapter that you look forward to your workout or stick around a little longer.

Don’t Be Afraid to Take It Slow

Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? At the end of the day, slow and steady won the race. The same mentality should be applied to your fitness journey to keep your spirits and motivation high.

Making small but worthwhile changes like steadily increasing the weight of your dumbbells, tacking an extra quarter-mile onto your run, or extending your workout by just a few minutes may help you feel accomplished without feeling overwhelmed.

Consider a Fitness Tracker

Your fitness watch may be a handy tool for helping you stick with a routine. Research published in 2021 suggests that wearable fitness trackers paired with encouragement and personalized guidance (fitness training, feedback on your performance) may help you see improvements in the amount you exercise. As an added bonus, you may see improvements in your sleep, too.

Take Note of All Kinds of Progress

At the end of each week, take a moment to reflect on how you feel and what you achieved—including all small steps. Does your back hurt a little less? Could you focus better in the afternoons after your workout? Could you run around with your kids without getting winded?

“It's when people start to notice these changes, and see the benefits of setting aside time for themselves, that they find true motivation to work out and keep going,” MacPherson says.

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