Seven ‘Cheats’ to Trick Yourself Into Exercising

In a perfect world, we would all eat nine servings of fruits, veggies, and grains every single day. We would grow our own (organic) produce, roll noodles from scratch, drink only purified water from a local mountain spring, and practice our yoga poses while we watch TV. And of course, we would all exercise at least an hour each day – taking special care to rotate between cardio, core-strengthening exercises, and weight lifting to improve our bone strength.

Sadly, most of us don’t live in a world where our health is always the top priority. Not only do we have to work to make a living, but we have mouths to feed, homes to care for, and a constant stream of household chores to contend with.

Many of us have the resources to put our health first, but not the time. Then there’s that tricky thing called motivation. While we know, deep down, that exercise is the best way to care for our bodies, those same bodies are too tired and worn out to execute on it.

Plus, the new season of “Game of Thrones” is out. Or maybe it’s the leftover birthday cake in the fridge. And since you still have that six-pack of Sun King Cream Ale in the fridge, you should probably drink it.

Whether you hate exercise or just can’t find the time, any excuse seems logical and valid when you’re trying to avoid it.

The Deception Workout

But, what if you could deceive yourself into exercising – at least part of the time? For a lot of people, that’s the only strategy that works.

I should know, because I’m one of them. I like being fit, but I hate exercising. I love being outdoors – but would rather spend that time laying in a hammock. I’m a 36-year-old adult, but I still have to set up a system of rewards to get myself to break a sweat at all. I might as well make a sticker chart for myself, gold stars and all — I probably would if it worked.

Instead, I have implemented a few strategies that help me stay on track. First, I push mow our grass. Not only does it help us save money, but it forces me to get my heart rate up for at least an hour once per week. Another thing: I don’t let myself shower each day until I do a workout video. Depriving myself of a shower is the best way to force myself to endure T-25.

Why? I have no idea. But it works.

How to Trick Yourself into Breaking a Sweat

Regardless, we all have to do what works, right? At the end of the day, the outcome is what matters much more than whatever it took to get us there. Here are some other ways people trick themselves into exercising and keeping themselves in the best shape possible.

Run (or skate) far, far away.

This tip comes from someone I know, and I think it’s both funny and smart. If you want to log a certain number of miles each day but have trouble staying motivated, have someone drop you off far from home. That way, you’ll be forced to run, bike, skate, or walk all the way home, simply because you have no other choice. Just try not to get pissed at the person you asked to abandon you on a random street corner, m’kay?

If you’ve ever wanted to run a certain number of miles but found yourself circling the block and returning home instead, this is something you should try. Worst-case scenario, you’ll be tired as a dog when you finally make your way back.

Make an ‘exercise date’ with friends.

If you have trouble finding motivation on your own, it might help to get your friends involved.

“Take classes or do group training with friends,” says Rick Richey, master trainer for the National Academy of Sports Medicine and owner of the Independent Training Spot in New York City. “The energy, group dynamic, and music may help time fly. It might feel more like hanging out than working out.”

With someone to talk to, you may even wind up exercising longer than you would otherwise – and you’ll probably have a lot more fun!

Think while you work out.

If you’re someone who likes to think through problems or brainstorm ideas for hours on end, a good workout is the perfect time to think with a clear head.

A woman I spoke to named Stefanie Parks says she uses this strategy to work out more often and longer than she would otherwise.

“As someone who works in marketing, there are many times I have to think of a new strategy or campaign,” she says. “I always tell myself that I need to go for a run in order to think these things through because if I just sit at my desk while brainstorming, I’ll likely get distracted too easily.”

Even when Stefanie doesn’t feel like running, she forces herself to run until she is done thinking through her idea or solving her problem at work.

“This typically keeps me very focused and motivated, but there are many times that I end up running for longer than I originally planned because I need more time to think,” says Parks. “I love that I get to kill two birds with one stone.”

Walk everywhere you can.

If you can’t lift weights or get to the gym, you could probably improve your health by walking more often. Perhaps that means leaving the car at home for a trip to the store, or walking to work if you live close enough. Or maybe it means parking as far out in your employer’s parking lot as you can, just so you’ll be forced to get in some additional steps on your way into the office.

Treat walking as if it were your only means of transportation, says Katharine M. Nohr of Nohr Sports Risk Management. In the meantime, bypass the elevator and take every staircase you see. Rarely use the elevator, and you’ll walk a lot more steps over time.

If you have a pet, you could also use their needs as an excuse to walk longer or more often. Even older dogs can benefit from a few trips around the block each day, and if you live in the city, you likely need to walk your pets anyway.

walking shoes

Get on a bicycle – even if it’s an electric one.

If one of your biggest obstacles to exercising is simply finding time to do it, the secret is to embed your workout into your daily routine. And an easy way to do it is by converting the dreary downtime of your commute into something more productive – like a bike ride.

Jon Gorey, our editor here at the Simple Dollar (and an admitted exercise slouch), says he used to bike to and from a job in Boston, which helped him squeeze about 40 minutes of moderate exercise into most weekdays.

“I’ve never belonged to a gym, but I do like running outside or biking. It’s just hard to find the time to do it,” Gorey says. “Biking to work was perfect because it would have taken just as long to drive there or take the subway, so I wasn’t really losing any time out of my day.”

He admits it wasn’t a year-round solution, though. “It wasn’t really feasible in the dead of winter or on the hottest summer days,” Gorey says. “Otherwise I’d show up to the office completely soaked.”

If your commute is a longer than a few miles — or you don’t want to arrive at work dripping with sweat — you could consider an electric bike. While an electric bicycle probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of exercising, there are health benefits that come with riding one regularly.

A lot of e-bike riders aren’t always in the best shape, says Jonah Bliss of e-bike producer, Evelo. By getting on an e-bike regularly, however, they can gradually transition to a point where they’re using less power.

“The more they use the bike, the more comfortable they are using it more and more manually,” he says. “After time, they start to lose some serious weight and gain core and leg muscle.”

While riding an electric bike can make you feel like you’re not exerting much effort, you’re still probably working harder than you think — and certainly more than you would be driving. Plus, the energy and effort you do put in can help you build muscle and burn calories. And like Jonah said, most people get to the point where they are using a lot less of the electric power than they realize.

Taking an electric bike to work is also a lot more economical and environmentally sound than, say, driving a new car. Not only will you get your workout in, but you’ll save money, too.

Insource all of your housework.

If you have a housekeeper or gardener, it might be time to give them the boot. By completing most of your chores on your own, you can burn some serious calories and get in a lot more steps over time.

Working around the house, both inside and outside, is a great way to ‘trick’ yourself into exercising, says Elizabeth Jenkins of Source Capital Funding. And if you work on a project that boosts your home’s value, you can improve your health and your net wealth at the same time.

What chores help burn the most calories? Start by cleaning your home inside and out – vacuuming and sweeping the floors, dusting the blinds, cleaning the windows, and sanitizing the kitchen and bathrooms. Other calorie-burning chores you could do yourself include starting and maintaining a garden, painting the interior or exterior of your home, updating your basement or living area with materials you purchase yourself, or landscaping your yard with your bare hands.

What you do doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you’re doing it.

Reward yourself.

What do you really like? What do you really want? Whatever is it, you can always withhold it until you feel you have earned it with your own sweat and tears.

Maybe you desperately crave a new outfit, but decide to wait until you can fit into one a size smaller. Do you love ice cream? “No scoop for you!” (At least, not until you walk 10,000 steps.) And that new season of “Game of Thrones” we mentioned? Use it to your advantage: Only let yourself watch it while you’re on the exercise bike.

Heck, maybe you just want a nap. Stop right there, and don’t let yourself hit the pillow until you’ve rocked to the oldies for at least 45 minutes, got it?

While it might seem weird to treat yourself for good behavior when you’re a full-fledged adult, this strategy really does work for some of us. And at the end of the day, the fact that it works – and gets you moving – is really all that matters.

The Bottom Line

When you really think about it, exercise has so many benefits it’s hard to keep track. Not only does regular exercise improve our physical health, but it keeps our mental health in better shape, too. It helps boost our energy levels and keeps our minds sharp and focused at work. Exercise helps us look better in our clothes. And it helps put many of us in a much better mood. (Just ask my husband.)

Of course, regular exercise comes with financial benefits as well. When you’re in better health, you tend to spend less money on health care. Plus, you’re more likely to avoid chronic health conditions that are costly down the road.

There are dozens of reasons exercise is a good idea, and almost no good arguments to the contrary. So who cares if you have to trick yourself to do it? Or even lie to yourself? Your body (and pocketbook) will thank you the same either way.

How do you trick yourself into exercising each day? What’s your ‘secret’ to keeping up with your workout routine?

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Holly Johnson
Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.

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