Finding Motivation Every Day

You’ve probably heard that at minimum, adults should aim to complete at least thirty minutes of moderate exercise, between four and seven days per week. The recommended amounts may vary from expert to expert or depending on your fitness goals, but most of us have been told some version of that advice. And yet, as easy as it seems in theory to get up and get moving for just thirty short minutes, it’s even easier (and far more tempting) to spend those thirty minutes sitting on the couch. Without motivation, the advice doesn’t really help us. But it can help to think of motivation as just another muscle, one we train over time. It’s a viewpoint that Margaret Inkster, one of the winners of ARTA’s 2022 Wellness Challenge, knows well.

Margaret, currently 83 years old, doesn’t consider herself to be a dedicated athlete, or even remarkable for her age. Her journey to regular physical activity has been a simple one: slow, dedicated progress, over many years.

Margaret found it easy to stay active while she was working as an elementary teacher for the Calgary Catholic School District. As any teacher can tell you, there are a lot of steps to be logged just by navigating your classroom throughout the day. But even in her off-time, she stayed active. “Curling and golf were two activities I spent a lot of time doing with my family during weekends and holidays,” she says.“Just before I retired though, I developed a frozen shoulder, which put an end to those kinds of activities.”

This kind of scenario is common as we get older, as age and injury slow us down. But Margaret didn’t want to stop entirely, so she looked for alternatives: gardening, shovelling snow in the winter and, of course, going for walks. But about ten years ago, she started looking for something a bit more consistent, an activity with baked-in motivation.

“I thought I’d sign up for a fitness class,” she says. “I thought if I was paying for something, I’d be motivated to go so I didn’t feel like I was wasting my money.” Her motivation strategy soon began showing other benefits. “I always used to have back problems: pain, muscle soreness, you know the sort. Well, when I started going to these fitness classes, no word of a lie, I would come out of there and my back would not ache. I discovered that my body was much happier when it was moving.”

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic put a temporary hold on these fitness classes, but once again, Margaret knew she had to transition to a new activity, rather than quit outright. And while she has always been somewhat of a walker, the pandemic gave her a new appreciation for the activity. Still, it wasn’t a seamless transition in terms of either her stamina or her motivation; she had to build up to where she is now. “There’s a forty-minute loop not too far from me that I love,” Margaret says. “But when I first started getting back into walking, it was too long for me. I had to break it into smaller chunks. But once my body got back into the activity, it was amazing, and now I have no trouble with it.” Margaret walks around her neighbourhood, on the riverside trails, and even while on trips to visit with family. The more beautiful the location, the better. Even in the winter, she will drive to trails she knows the City of Calgary has plowed and sanded, just to get a walk in.

And while Margaret typically walks alone, sometimes she uses her walks as an opportunity to connect with her sisters, her neighbours, or her granddaughter and great-grandson. “It lets us get our chat in, while we’re doing something good for our health,” she says. “Try calling up a friend and asking them to walk with you to the mall, or for a coffee. It’s a great excuse for both of you to get out.”

But even with a generally positive mindset, overcoming the desire to stay inside on a chilly day isn’t a certainty. “I still have days where I may be feeling a little low, and my first thought is usually that I would like to lie down and have a rest. But I always feel better if I get out and go for a walk instead.”

As Margaret discovered, thirty minutes of activity a day, four to seven days a week, is something that almost anyone can accomplish. But if you’re someone who is trying to build that routine, it’s not an accomplishment you should expect immediately; it’s something that comes with time, patience, and by making fitness a priority.