By Melanie Radzicki McManus, CNN
Most people know working out is good for your health, both physical and mental. But staying motivated — especially for the long haul — can be a struggle. Sure, you may get excited about training for a 5K or 10K, but once the race is over, your interest in running may quickly wane. Or you may be crazy about your new spin class, only to become tired of it after a few weeks.
Getting bored with exercise is normal. A recent study by the National Institutes of Health found boredom with sports activities is a prevalent emotion among amateur, college and even professional athletes.
People grow tired of their exercise routines because the body-mind unit is like a Jack Russell terrier, said Dr. Dan O’Neill, a sports psychologist and orthopaedic surgeon based in Plymouth, New Hampshire. “You need to always give it new challenges, new input, new ideas, new toys, new workout clothes — new, new, new.”
This means varying your workouts is vital to staying motivated, O’Neill said. And now that the calendar has flipped to a brand-new year, it’s the perfect time to inject some creativity into your exercise regimen. Here are six ways to get started.
Important note: Before beginning any new exercise program, consult your doctor. Stop immediately if you experience pain.
Create a word or image with your exercise route
Runners often map routes through city streets that create a word or image, then use a GPS device to “draw” it as they run. You can do the same, whether your favored exercise is running, walking or biking.
First, download a fitness app onto your mobile phone, smartwatch or fitness tracker. A few options are Nike+ Run Club, Strava Training and Runtastic. Then sketch out your message (HOPE!) or favored image (e.g., a heart or dog) online, using a mapping tool such as Map My Run. This way you’ll know exactly where to go. When you’re ready to head out, don’t forget to start your device’s GPS tracker. Afterward, make sure to stop your tracker and save your artwork so you can share it with others.
Not sure what image or message to create? You can always follow artistic routes others have created and shared in the apps. Some are impressively complex and may take several excursions to complete. But that’s part of the fun.
Join a free fitness group
Numerous communities offer free exercise opportunities. Fitness in the Park is a summer-long activity that has been operating in New York state for a decade. Everyone is welcome to head to one of 18 different parks and partake in Pilates, Zumba, kickboxing and more. In Washington, DC, the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District hosts TriFit during the warmer months, a series of free evening workouts held in Farragut Square. And in 53 locales around the globe, an average of 4,200 people per week join in the year-round November Project workouts.
November Project workouts incorporate running, stair-climbing, jumping, bodyweight exercises and circuits, along with zany antics. A Halloween workout with the November Project group in Madison, Wisconsin, involved tossing pumpkins back and forth with a partner; another linked specific exercises with the Uno cards you selected. Participants have ranged in age from about 10 to over 70, said co-leader Aaron Cahn, with 40 to 100 people regularly showing up for the group’s Wednesday and Friday morning sessions.
The group’s camaraderie has kept Austin Frion, 38, coming for about seven years now. “The best part is grabbing a partner that you don’t know, or getting together with one that you do,” Frion said. “It’s always inclusive and so much fun.”
Dancing doesn’t seem like exercise to a lot of people, which is why it’s always a popular option. It’s also something you can do anywhere, to any kind of music. Salsa, jazz, hip-hop — it all works.
Monica Monfre, a certified yoga teacher based in Scantlebury, Massachusetts, studied dance in college. To keep her yoga students engaged, she created Dance to Flow, a class that begins with 25 minutes of choreographed dance, transitioning to 25 minutes of a hip-opening yoga flow.
“The workout allows for a creative aspect and meditation at the same time,” she said. “Many people come because it is an opportunity to try something different, as well as to dance in a nonjudgmental space.”
Sign up for a new-to-you event
Sure, you can run a 5K. But why not try orienteering? This timed navigational sport requires you to use detailed maps to find orange-and-white flags that are hidden in parks or remote terrain. The event is timed, so people often jog or power walk from flag to flag. Races such as Tough Mudder involve obstacle-studded running routes, where teamwork is encouraged so everyone finishes victorious. And adventure racing combines orienteering with several sports — generally trekking, cycling and paddling — and sometimes a surprise obstacle, such as a ropes course or climbing wall.
Take parkour lessons
Parkour is part noncompetitve sport, part art and part training discipline. Created in France in the 1980s, its purpose is to help people conquer obstacles found in an urban or natural environment through jumping, vaulting, balancing and other movements. Think walking atop a low retaining wall, or crossing a stream by hopping from rock to rock. Moves like these are often intuitive. But add a little speed and creativity, and your next walk may find you vaulting over a bench, hopping down steps two at a time and racing along the curb’s edge. While flashier parkour moves are best attempted after instruction and a lot of practice, there are plenty of easy moves most people can master.
Hit the road
If travel motivates you, book a retreat or training camp in an intriguing locale. Nike operates a high-altitude cross-country camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while a luxury hiking and wellness retreat awaits in Canada’s scenic British Columbia province. You can also scout out interesting classes whenever you’re out of town, like goat yoga and lessons on the flying trapeze.
No matter what you choose to do, O’Neill said it’s important to remember these four sport psychology basics: No negative talk; just showing up is important; you’ll feel better after exercising; and get outside.
“Any time with Mother Nature is well spent,” O’Neill said. “And she is easily the greatest motivator ever.”
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Melanie Radzicki McManus is a freelance writer who specializes in hiking, travel and fitness.