What are the major factors long-term exercise participation? In order of importance:
Despite the bravery that’s sometimes needed to start exercise alone, most people find that if they continue to exercise alone they – put simply – don’t continue.
For most, connecting with others is necessary for long-term engagement.
Obviously a team sport has automatic ‘friends’ built into the game, but even activities that can be done alone are more satisfying and done more consistently when friends or acquaintances are involved. This is especially true when you arrange to meet someone for exercise: you might be willing to let yourself down, but most of us are unwilling to let others down. You turn up whether you feel like it or not.
Seeing familiar faces helps increase your sense of belonging. If names are known and conversations initiated, so much the better. This reduces self-consciousness and increases connection, community, and camaraderie.
When the people you connect with during exercise have similar goals to yours, the connection is a supportive one. Encouragement, praise, high-5s and the like create bonds that carry each other through the ups and downs that life throws.
Without progress it can be harder to maintain motivation. Always having something to strive for is essential, and it doesn’t have to be hard. This might be doing two extra exercises at the gym, or jogging between two light poles on your morning walk. It might be mastering a full push-up, or learning how to keep a hula hoop turning for one minute.
Find an area in which you’d like to improve, and then work towards it.
This is, surprisingly, perhaps the least important aspect of maintaining an exercise regime. Make no mistake: if you enjoy your exercise it’s easier to keep going, but if the other factors are in place, enjoyment of the actual exercise is less important. The friendship, support and challenge of the exercise will keep you going through times when enjoyment is lacking, and this happens to everyone at different times.
Exercise is something that easy to incorporate into your life long-term, you just need to make it a priority and then develop friend and support networks, focus on small challenges, and enjoy the time you spend exercising.