If working out were always fun, we’d all still be going strong with those gym memberships we started back in January, and the treadmill would be a symbol of pleasure, not torture. But much of the time, exercise is a flat-out grind. Not only is it physically difficult (obviously), but it’s often a struggle to make the time for it in a hectic schedule. Over the years, as someone who’s gone from exercise hater to exercise lover, I’ve discovered several ways to unlock the joy of physical activity in order to actually look forward to it — most of the time, anyway! Here are a few of the best tricks I’ve learned.

Two women practice yoga poses together in a park

1. Get a partner. Making exercise an opportunity for social time can go a long way toward turning it from a chore into a treat. Time spent with friends actually boosts endorphins, the feel-good hormones that brighten our mood. So, to get more fun out of working out, don’t go solo. Commit to joining a gym with your S.O., or make a weekly jogging date with a friend. If you don’t have anyone local to recruit as a workout buddy, try showing up for a group Zumba or yoga session. Research shows that just doing group fitness of any kind improves quality of life and reduces stress.

2. Get creative. Often, the key to making exercise more gratifying is to find a type of movement that brings you joy. Just like there’s no one-size-fits-all diet, there’s no particular form of exercise that’s best for everyone. Try thinking outside the gym-shaped box. What type of movement actually feels enjoyable to you? You might take inventory of physical activities you recall enjoying throughout your lifetime, as far back as childhood. Did you love dancing, gymnastics, or martial arts as a kid? Who’s to say you couldn’t get back into those pastimes now? Another option to add a bit of novelty to your workouts is to take them to a new location. You don’t have to hop from gym to gym (‘cause who has the funds for that?), but maybe a change of outdoor scenery could spice things up. My go-to strategy is to revisit places from my past on a run, walk, or bike ride. It never fails to make my workout a fun trip down memory lane.

3. Get selective. Have a podcast you can’t stop listening to or a Netflix series you want to binge around the clock? Try reserving one of these favorites for your time on the treadmill or elliptical. You’ll give yourself something to look forward to — and if you choose a show that ends on a cliffhanger, you may actually crave getting on the machine to continue it.

4. Get a wardrobe. Be honest: Don’t you just feel better about everything when you look good? Set aside a little cash from each paycheck to invest in a workout wardrobe you can get excited to wear. Just like you might reserve binge-worthy shows for your time at the gym, buck the trend of “activewear everywhere” to save your cutest yoga pants for — gasp — actually doing yoga. It just might provide the boost of motivation your exercise regimen needs.

A runner smiles as she checks her watch

5. Get a killer playlist. My personal favorite part of my regular runs isn’t necessarily the fact that they clear my head or that I can feel better about having a cupcake later. It’s that I get to rock out to a playlist of my favorite upbeat songs. Syncing my footfalls to a thrumming beat keeps me going strong, and with nothing else to focus on but my music, I tune into it on a deeper-than-usual level. Listening to music we enjoy has been proven to release dopamine, the brain chemical associated with pleasures like eating delicious food or making love, so get cracking on your kick-butt workout playlist!

6. Get competitive. You don’t have to be an Olympian to enjoy a bit of competition. We’re all wired to do our best when we have someone (or something) to keep up with. Going in on a steps competition with a friend or joining an adult sports league could help you view your workouts less like of a pain and more like a game.

7. Get a goal. Cliché as it may sound, there’s joy in the journey. Working your way toward an inspiring fitness goal can bring enjoyment to workouts that might otherwise be a slog. Maybe you’ve always considered trying a half marathon (the Disneyland half, perhaps?), signing up for a local triathlon, or even giving a local 5K a go. Commit to a goal so you can sweat with purpose, anticipating the awesome accomplishment to come.

How do you make working out fun? Tell us on Twitter @BritandCo.

(Photos via Getty)