If you’d rather scrub the bottom of your kitchen trash can than exercise, you’re not alone. For millions of people, doing things like jogging, lifting weights, or taking a workout class has no appeal at all. So how do fitness experts get exercise-haters to break a sweat? It comes down to a simple mind trick. “Put aside the concept of exercise as a deliberate, regimented activity that takes place in a gym and requires special clothes and focus on moving more in ways that are either fun or almost effortless,” says Emily McCavanagh, AFAA, owner of Fitness Inspired Training in Boston. Here, she shares some of her favorite strategies for inspiring anyone to get moving and learn to like, or even love, being active.
1. Wear Clothes With Give
On days when you don’t have to dress for work, put on sneakers and sweats or yoga pants first thing in the morning. This simple habit can make a huge difference in how often you move. (Ditto for a sports bra, or at least a bra that provides decent support.) Anytime you have an opportunity to bend, stretch, or jump, you might actually do it—rather than think about how you might do it if only you weren’t wearing snug jeans and flimsy sandals.
2. Try Out Your Kid’s Toys
Admit it, you’ve recently eyeballed a trampoline, slide, or scooter and considered giving it a whirl. Whether you’re at the playground or in your backyard, follow through on the urge to play when it hits you. Let’s say you were to pick up a jump rope and hop for 10 minutes (not necessarily in a row). You would end up burning as many calories as if you ran three miles! But never mind that, just jump as long as it feels fun.
3. Park Faster
Next time you pull into a busy parking lot, save yourself the time and hassle of driving around in circles looking for a spot near the door. Instead, take the first one you see on the edge of the lot. Yes, it’ll be a longer walk to get to the store, but that walk will do your body good—and you’ll still arrive sooner than if you hunted around for a prime parking place.
4. Stand Up Hands-Free
Getting up from a chair is something most of us do countless times a day. From now on, get up without using your hands. Instead, stick your arms out straight in front of you at shoulder height and squeeze your glutes and abs as you rise from sitting to standing. It may seem like nothing, but these body areas will get a little workout every time.
5. Blast Your Favorite Upbeat Music
Cue up a playlist you love, and chances are that at least one part of your body will start tapping, twisting, or bopping. And if you happen to be in a good mood, your movements will start to resemble dancing—a great way to raise your heart rate and burn calories. That’s why that Zumba fitness class you’d never be caught dead in is so incredibly popular. Stuck in the car? Crank the radio or your iPod. It’s amazing how much dancing can happen from the waist up!
6. Make Dishwashing More Productive
One of the most blissfully mindless ways to move is to bang out old-fashioned leg lifts while you do the dishes or brush your teeth. Standing at the sink, kick one leg out to the side and, squeezing your glutes, hold it for 30 seconds. Then switch and do the other side for 30 seconds. Continue this pendulum-like motion until the dishes are done, and you’ll have toned your backside with minimal effort.
7. Skip Slow, Crowded Escalators
They’re convenient, sure, but mall and movie theater escalators can be more trouble than they’re worth. From escalators that inch up at snail-like speeds to ones that are so crowded, people are poking you with bags and breathing down your neck, you’ll actually be happier (and healthier!) if you get in the habit of taking at least one flight of stairs.
8. Buy This One Gadget
If there’s one tool that McCavanagh has seen motivate people more than any other, it is the humble, budget-priced pedometer. Seeing the number of steps you take each day is surprisingly satisfying. At first, you may merely glance at the screen before going to bed. But before you know it, you might find yourself wanting to beat yesterday’s tally or hit a specific number. In fact, you could end up exercising on a regular basis… and liking it.
9. Socialize on the Move
When you’re doing something active with a friend or group, it feels like socializing, not exercising. Head out on a hike, organize a game of kickball or Frisbee golf, plan an outing to an old-school roller rink, or just meet for a walk in the park. You’ll be so busy having a good time and catching, you won’t notice the calories you’re torching.
10. Be a Tourist in Your Own Town
Anyone who has trekked from one landmark to another on vacation knows what it’s like to wake up the next day shocked by how sore your legs are. That’s because it’s easy to go for miles when your mind is occupied with sightseeing. Pick up a guidebook to your (or a nearby) town, grab a friend, and play tourist.
11. Just Do Ten
Many non-exercisers fall into the trap of thinking that there’s no point in moving unless they’re going to run for an hour or bust out 50 crunches. Truth is, starting with smaller, more manageable goals is the best way to fall into the fitness habit. Anytime you have a few minutes to kill, just do 10 jumping jacks or 10 sit-ups or 10 leg lifts. Who knows—10 might begin feeling so easy, you’ll want to do more.
12. Walk for a Good Cause
Maybe what you need is a reason to work out that goes beyond your own health (although, really, what’s more important than that?). Signing up for a charity walk motivates you on a deeper level. The knowledge that you’re doing something amazing for people in need will help you get your sneakers on and hit the road.