Fitness Motivation During COVID-19: Ways to Boost Physical Activity


Young woman with ponytail running outdoors in the spring

Diane Dallal, M.S., a clinical psychology doctoral student and extern on the Penn Bariatrics team, shares tips for building and sustaining motivation for exercise while under quarantine.

While staying at home, our physical activity is likely more limited now than it used to be. Many of us may also be experiencing reduced motivation to maintain the activity levels we had before the coronavirus pandemic began.

It is important to remember that experiencing reduced motivation during this unprecedented time of stress is very normal. Our usual routines and daily structures have shifted dramatically in recent months, and other needs have taken priority. So, it makes sense that attempting to return to our former exercise habits can feel less rewarding by comparison. Fortunately, there are ways we can boost our motivation during this time to stay active and continue working toward important health goals.

Staying Connected to Build Accountability

For many people, this decrease in motivation stems from a weakened sense of accountability to meeting our exercise goals, now that the ability to work out with others has become so limited. Although we are currently unable to exercise with friends, attend in-person exercise classes with like-minded strangers, or go to the gym the way we used to, technology offers a helpful alternative to keep us connected and accountable to our social support networks while we exercise.

In particular, wearable devices and their corresponding — and often free — apps allow us to track our physical activity, while simultaneously sharing our progress with those in our social circles. For example, wearable devices such as Fitbit, Garmin, and Apple Watch offer us the ability to track our activity with friends, participate in team-based challenges, and celebrate the winners collaboratively.

For those who do not own a wrist-worn device, the Fitbit smartphone app is one free alternative that can sync with your phone's step tracking data to achieve the same result. Similarly, other apps, including MyFitnessPal, Strava, and others, offer similar features, such as the “Challenges” feature in MyFitnessPal, but do not require an accompanying wearable device.

Set Fitness Goals – and Make Them Fun

These socially-oriented features of fitness tracking apps enable us to participate in team-based challenges, where we can compete for the greatest number of steps taken, flights of stairs climbed, active minutes engaged in, calories burned, and more. For many, these features are highly motivating!

There are many benefits to tracking and sharing our exercise habits and goals with others in our social networks, including:

  • Fun – When exercise becomes a social activity, it is often much more enjoyable.
  • Accountability – Goal sharing helps build our accountability to others as well as to ourselves.
  • Friendly Competition – Competing with friends can often boost motivation to keep moving and help us continue to build healthy habits.

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Learn about bariatric surgery and get the support you need to continue on your weight-loss journey. We offer workouts, recipes and tips from Bariatric Surgery program team members, and stories from patients like you.

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