You know you need to exercise. You know you need to “glorify God in your body … which [is] God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20). You know that bodily exercise does profit you (1 Timothy 4:8), that God created you to be healthy and to move.
But for many people, it’s hard. Especially in a society built around sitting down. And the truth is, if you think of exercise as a chore you have to do, you won’t do it—not for very long, and not consistently.
How can you find the motivation? Here is a key: Make it a gift you give to yourself.
A gift? Yes, a gift. I’m not talking about things like the fact that exercise will reduce your chance of heart disease, or strengthen your bones so you won’t need a hip replacement. Consistent physical movement gives you copious benefits and blessings right now. It is proven to boost your energy, your mood, your productivity, your creativity, your executive function (like memory and problem solving), your resistance to sickness, your strength for daily activities, the quality of your sleep, even your sense of satisfaction in life and self-worth. On top of that, it is also proven to reduce your stress, curtail your anxiety, diminish depression, lessen addictive behavior, prevent cognitive decline, curb pms, and minimize other black clouds in our lives. Pretty sweet gift, no?
But to really consider physical movement a gift, you need to find a style of exercise you enjoy. Maybe it’s strolling or dancing with your spouse, or cycling to work, or hiking the woods, or propelling yourself across a pool, or trying to outrow your buddy on your lunch breaks, or relishing the rhythm of your steps to your breath as you finish your last lap. Find it, enjoy it, and do it!
As Michelle Segar, Ph.D., wrote, “There’s only one basic instruction: Take any and every opportunity to move, in any way possible, at whatever speed you like, for any amount of time. Do what makes you feel good; stop doing what makes you feel bad” (No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness).
Once you find those modes of movement that you like, you’ll want to give yourself that gift. Exercise won’t be just one more thing to squeeze into your impossible schedule—it will be a foundational piece in your week that enables you to tackle everything else with energy, zest and joy.
I look at it, in a sense, like prayer and Bible study. It’s true these are things we must do. But if we look at them as taking away from our time to do everything else that life asks of us, we will run into problems. We might even justify scrimping or skipping. But if instead we see these as foundational pieces of our day that enable us to do everything else, then prayer and study become a need. We come to crave them. We feel good when we get good prayer and study in—the whole day goes better. We feel incomplete and lousy if we don’t—not because we’re giving ourselves a guilt trip, but because we want that connection with God. Exercise is not as important, but the same principle can work. An obligation can become an opportunity. A chore can become a gift.
I also see a corollary with tithing. On paper it might look like you can’t afford it. The reality, though, is that if you tithe, you’ll be blessed for obedience, and the rest of your paycheck will stretch further; God will ensure your needs are met. We can think we have no time to exercise. The reality is that with the fitness exercise provides, our effectiveness everywhere else increases; we accomplish more, even with slightly less time. Spending energy in exercise, we actually have more to spend elsewhere.
Seven years ago, I decided that I would work out three times a week. I do not have an awesome iron will; I have tried resolutions and failed countless times. But this resolution stuck. In seven years, I have almost never failed in this goal. Here are some reasons, in case they will work for you too. Three-a-week doesn’t take a lot of time. It’s flexible enough that I can make it happen even during my busiest week. Exercise on Sunday and I have five days to do just two more workouts. It’s also enjoyable to briefly step away from a busy week and get some refreshing exercise. And three-a-week is frequent enough to give results—especially when it is consistent for weeks and months and years. I feel that I’ve found something of a sweet spot in terms of time invested for maximum return.
For the workouts themselves, CrossFit works for me. It is efficient; it is flexible; I can do it even if I have no equipment or little time; it is full of variety. I find personal motivation in several aspects of it, including competing against myself, learning new skills, and a sense of accomplishment after doing something hard. The important thing is, there are enough little motivators to keep me going.
Your motivators are different. But that is what you need. Find elements that provide a nudge of motivation for you, and take advantage of them. It’s all about doing. As Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, put it, “A 20-minute walk that I do is better than the 4-mile run that I don’t do.” Truth!
Do it, knowing you are benefiting yourself (and perhaps your spouse or friend). Do it to glorify God in your body. Do it because you enjoy it. Make it a foundational piece of your week. Find that motivation, and build consistency. Enjoy the gift!