5 Genius Ways to Get (and Stay) Motivated to Exercise

By Julie Stewart |

It’s never too late to get fit and keep fit. Here’s how five older adults stay in the game.

older woman journaling after exercise

Maybe you can’t run as fast, jump as high, or lift as much weight as you used to, but you can still reap the life-changing benefits of regular exercise and movement, from building stronger bones to nurturing a sharper brain.

To start, talk with your doctor about how you can exercise safely, especially if you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues. And if you need inspiration or think you’ll never get back the fitness you enjoyed just a few years ago? Keep reading. The stories of these five older adults just might be what you need to get motivated.

Motivation Tip #1: Keep a Journal

Jim Owen, 80

One day a decade ago, Jim Owen looked in the mirror and saw someone who looked older than he should. “I was probably 25 pounds overweight,” he says. “Both knees were shot. I had excruciating lower back pain. My rotator cuff was frozen.”

He decided it was time to make a change, so he started exercising—every day for 30 days. Today Owen works out for an hour a day, six days a week, and he’s more fit than he was in high school. “I honestly believe my best days still lie ahead,” he says.

The key, he says, is consistency, something he maintains with help from a journaling habit. By logging details of his workouts in a notebook, he’s able to look back and follow his progress over the days, weeks, and years.

“The journal for me is critical,” says Owen, the author of Just Move! “It just keeps me on track. I know exactly where I am.”

Motivation Tip #2: Give Yourself a Massage

John Suess, 72

After being hit by a car and shattering his pelvis in 2016, John Suess faced a hard truth: If he didn’t stay active, he realized, he would no longer be able to do the things he loved. Today he jogs three miles a day on a treadmill and rides a couple of miles a day on a stationary bike. If the weather is pleasant, he cycles, golfs, gardens, or walks instead.

Sometimes Suess has to deal with aches and pains. He has a history of osteoarthritis in his lower back and neck, which limits his range of motion.

“It’s an extremely stiff neck,” he says. “I can hardly turn one side to the other depending on the day and conditions and so forth, but looking up is really difficult for me to do.”

To loosen up and relieve soreness, Suess uses a heated massager on his neck and lower back for five to 10 minutes before going to bed. The next day, he feels ready to exercise again. He also does 50 to 100 squats a day to build strength to protect his back.

Curious about self-massage for your hands, feet, or muscles? Check out our beginner’s guide to self-massage for ease aches and pains.

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Motivation Tip #3: Dress for Success

Silvana Clark, 67

Silvana Clark and her husband, who live in Washington state, recently spent two months traveling in an RV, hiking and biking all over the West Coast. Whether it’s an outdoor aerobics class, a six-mile bike ride, or a hike that leaves her scrambling up steep rock formations, Clark is ready—no matter what the skies have in store.

“In Washington, we always say there’s no bad weather, just bad clothes,” she says.

When it’s cold and rainy, she layers up in a moisture-wicking shirt, fleece pullover, lightweight windbreaker, and down jacket—plus leggings, rainproof pants, and wool socks inside her shoes. She’ll do burpees and butt kicks in as many layers as necessary, shedding them as needed as she warms up.

Motivation Tip #4: Just Start—and Do What You Can

Gayle Carson, 82

Just a year ago, Gayle Carson exercised regularly for two hours a day at her gym. She’d start with a one-hour solo workout followed by a one-hour class, often a Silver Sneakers offering. Today Carson is dealing with her fourth bout of breast cancer, which requires chemotherapy. She is also being treated for anemia.

Despite her health challenges, Carson is still exercising, doing rhythm classes, Zumba, weight training, and resistance band training. She can’t work out for two hours a day anymore, but she does as much as she can. That’s what she encourages others to do too.

“Get started, whether it’s walking, swimming, or bike riding,” she says. “Do what you can, whatever it is. Just start. If it’s five minutes, do five minutes.”

Motivation Tip #5: Build in a Cooldown

Peter Gradilone, 66

Peter Gradilone lifts weights and swims laps four or five times a week so he can keep up with his partner and enjoy hobbies like scuba diving and hiking. Over the years, exercise has become grounding for him, like meditation. He recently added a cooldown period to his routine, an opportunity to tune into his body as his heart rate goes back to normal.

After a half mile of fast swimming, Gradilone stays in the pool for five extra minutes, walking and stretching in the water. After lifting weights, he spends a few minutes stretching and walking around the gym before heading out.

“When I was 25, 35, 45, it was like, ‘okay, I’m done with the routine, put the weights down and off you go,’” he says. “But now I want to make sure everything is working right after a workout. I take the five minutes, take deep breaths, and let my body acclimate back into a quieter way of being.”

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