Joyful workouts? I promise they're not an oxymoron

Joyful workouts? I promise they’re not an oxymoron


We all know that exercise is important for our health and wellbeing. A recent epidemiological study by the World Health Organisation found that moving your body a mere 150 minutes a week improves your mood, cognitive function, attention and concentration and helps prevent disease.

If you are a mother, a working mother or a working woman, it can be difficult to find the time to squeeze in a workout in an already jam packed day. Despite knowing that working out is good for us, it’s most likely the first thing on the list of things to do that we will “save for another day”. If you combine this with a workout that is not particularly enjoyable, there is no way you are going to preference working out.


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A workout needs to be joyful so that we get excited to do it, which in turn means we will prioritise it. Here’s how to do it

Workout for as little (or as long) as you can

150 minutes a week is only 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You don’t need to be putting in a two hour session at the gym. Simply do what you can, when you can, without the pressure.

Do not think that because you do not have an hour to workout, there is no point in doing it.

A basic google search for “workout” brings up exercises that evoke feelings of exhaustion rather than joy: endless reps of burpees, push-ups, crunches and mountain climbers. If that’s what you’re into, amazing! However, a “workout” does not need to be multiple reps of joyless moves to count. It can be whatever inspires you to get your body moving. That could be a 20 minute walk around your neighbourhood or on the beach, a pilates class or a 30 minute yoga session in your own living room.

There are a number of health and wellness apps out there that charge a minimum monthly fee (some as little as $1.49), which gives you access to various workouts (like barre, yoga, pilates and HIIT), mindfulness practices and even delicious recipes. The workouts range from 15 minutes to 45 minutes, so you can joyfully workout in your own schedule. 

Work out with a friend

The next time you meet your friend for a coffee, you could suggest bringing along your keep cups, getting the coffee to go and walking along the beach, around your neighbourhood or even finding ways to explore your city. 

Working out with a friend is a triple-whammy: great company and you are moving your body and improving your physical and mental wellbeing.

Workout at a time (and place) that is convenient for you

Initially when you start developing a new exercise routine, you need to workout at a time and place that is convenient for you. You will skip working out if it is not convenient.

If you want to sign up at a studio or gym, the studio or gym should preferably be on our morning commute or near your home or office. It should require no extra effort for you to get there, bar packing a bag to shower and get ready for work, if you decide to work out on your way to the office, or perhaps at lunch.

Maybe convenience is being able to work out in your living room, even better! That way you don’t have to leave your home, or try and juggle working out with your partner’s schedule, if you have children.

Convenience is key!

Listen to music, a podcast or an audio book

If you are going to workout by taking a walk, running, cycling or even heading to the gym, adding value to exercising with your favourite music, a great audio book or an interesting podcast could be just the encouragement you need to get out there and get moving.

Creating a killer playlist or listening to a riveting audio book changes the focus of the time you carve out to exercise from “ah, I have to go an exercise” to “Yes! I’ve got 20 minutes for myself to listen to great music and get some fresh air.”

Your workout for the day could be dancing around your bedroom for 15 minutes to your favourite songs. You’ll work up a sweat without even realising it.

Start slow and tune into your body

Throwing on running shoes and suddenly trying to run 5 km is not going to make you feel good or encourage you to exercise 3 to 4 times a week. Of course, this comment doesn’t apply to people who have been runners before.

Start slow. Try squeezing in 20 minutes of exercise a day. If you wake up one morning and your body feels sore and tired. Take a rest. Resting is okay too.

As much as we should push ourselves when we are working out (our bodies are a lot stronger than our brains like us to believe), we need to be kind to ourselves when we first start. Strength comes over time. Unfortunately, there’s no instant gratification here. At the same time, make sure it’s your body that’s tired and not your brain telling you “you’re too tired to exercise.”

Start with small goals and slowly add to these as you get stronger. If you do not workout at all and you want to start, you could try walking at lunch. Eat for 45 minutes and then go for a 15 minute walk outside.

Track your progress

Tracking your progress ties in with point 4. It is so encouraging to see how much stronger you are getting or how much clearer your mind is.

You could make notes on how far you walked, how you felt after a particular class or workout or perhaps tick off goals you have set for yourself, like working out twice in a week or trying a new class.

Once you see how you are improving and you reflect on how good you are feeling, it will be harder and harder not to preference working out. You will really start to feel the joy in your workout.


Experiment and try new things until you find something that you truly enjoy.

When we become adults, we develop this self-consciousness and fear of looking silly. Yet, if you watch children playing, they are present, enjoying every moment, trying something new without a second thought and if they don’t do it perfectly the first time, they shrug it off, laugh and try again.

Try bringing the inquisitive playfulness of a child to your workout.

Perhaps, you have always wanted to try a barre or yoga class. Maybe there’s a boxing gym near your home or a pilates studio that you’ve walked or driven past on your way to or from work.

Go to the class! Whether it’s on your way to work or on a Saturday or Sunday morning to start out, try it out. 

Alternatively, the next time you walk past, pop in and chat to the people at the desk about beginners classes or trial periods. If you do the trial or go to a class and you don’t like, laugh it off and try something else.

Just make sure that you aren’t equating your physical strength with your enjoyment. If you find the class a little tough, that okay. You’ve never done it before. You may need to give it one more go to find your feet.

Find an instructor you love

If you find an instructor you love, your workout is going to be so much more enjoyable.

Instructors can make or break a workout. This applies to online workouts and live classes.

Like your favourite teacher at school who inspired you to work a little harder and put in a little more effort in her class, a good instructor can keep you coming back to a class and encourage you to commit to your new routine.

Get outdoors

The easiest way to have a joyful workout is by getting outdoors.

We spend inordinate amounts of time inside nowadays. Florescent lighting, and the blue light from our computers, is not doing anything for our sleep or mental health and well being.

Feeling the sun on your factor-50, sun-creamed skin, warms your soul. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, fills your lungs with pure goodness. A swim in the ocean can wash away all of your troubles.

Try working out at a park nearby, on the beach, in the garden or on your balcony. It is going to bring you so much joy.

Join a team

Another joyful workout is playing a team sport.

Did you play netball at school? Is there a football team or running club in your area?

You could join the team or club and go to their training sessions, if they are convenient for you.

Joining a team is a great way to meet people and feel like you are part of something. Playing a team sport or working out in a group might be just what you need to starting enjoying your work out. 

Ultimately, the key to a joyful workout is making it your own so that you feel excited and inspired to do it.

A workout does not need to involve burpees, mountain climbs or running endless kilometres. It could be a 20 minute walk around your neighbourhood, a swim in the ocean, a pilates class on an app or a game of netball.

Move your body in ways that bring you joy. Make exercise playful. Life is serious and stressful enough. Working out shouldn’t be.

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