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May 4, 2022

Exercise – The Real Deal on How to Motivate Yourself to Move

by Julia Bumpus, MS, RDN, LDN, CDCES

As a dietitian, I have spent hours trying to inspire people to exercise. It’s one of those things that we know we are supposed to do, but struggle to follow through.  Don’t give up yet or call yourself lazy! I would argue most of us work hard in other areas of our lives.  We were  just not conditioned in our upbringing to regularly participate in physical activity without an external structure to keep us engaged.  We have all signed up for gym classes and packed our bags only to come home and watch tv instead…it’s frustrating but our attempts are not futile.  Let’s unpack it.


We’ve got to get our brain on board!  Before we act, we think. Therefore, we need to have the right mentality to be successful.


We must accept the fact that exercise is a mandatory part of life.  You don’t have to love the gym, run marathons or become a yogi…but we must move our body.  Our physical self requires routine movement if we want to live a long life that isn’t significantly impacted by chronic disease.  Most people are physically capable of exercise but a mental barrier prevents them from engaging. Try viewing exercise as an activity of daily living. Just like sleeping, eating, bathing, working, and socializing, exercise is a must.  Many of us were not raised to exercise on a regular basis so it does not feel normal or mandatory, but decades of overwhelming research has shown that incorporating exercise into your life is truly a game changer!


To increase the likelihood of sustainable exercise habits, we need to set reasonable expectations. We must know the type, frequency and intensity of the movement in order to use our time wisely and get the maximum benefit. Knowing the end goal will help us pick a reasonable starting point. Setting expectations too high commonly results in feelings of failure and wanting to give up if we don’t reach the goal.

  • Health Promoting Activity: Unfortunately, light-intensity activities (standing, walking slowly, using the stairs, and lifting lightweight objects) do not count as exercise. People who do only baseline activity are inactive.  Health-enhancing physical activity is added to baseline activity and produces health benefits. Brisk walking, jumping rope, dancing, lifting weights, climbing on playground equipment at recess, and yoga are all examples.  The current recommendation is for weekly cardiovascular training and 30 minutes a week of strength training. Weekly cardiovascular exercise can be accomplished in 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity.
  • Performance Activity:  Weight loss, competition, toning or improving fitness are more advanced goals.  We have to crawl before we walk and walk before we run. It’s tempting to go “all in” for big results, but often going from zero to 100 is not the most successful approach for the LONG term.  These often work great, until they don’t. Inevitably, life gets in the way and we either are not able to go full force, or we put exercise habits on the back burner until things calm down. This is an all or nothing approach to exercise. Life is busy more often than not. We find reasons not to work out and we agonize trying to get the gusto to “get back on track.” I see this pattern all too frequently. Try easing into exercise for health first. Once you have a baseline to work from, we can turn up the dial and work toward more advanced goals – losing weight, training for a marathon or competing in the cross fit games.


So after we accept we have to do it and we know what to expect, we need to know how to pull the trigger and make it stick! Unfortunately, just knowing that something is good for us is generally not enough to get us humans to act. If we were not raised with exercise being a priority, we will likely need some positive outcome to connect the dots.  Humans are pleasure seekers and pain avoiders.  If exercise hurts, which it sometimes can, we may tend to avoid it.  If it’s initially uncomfortable to jog and sitting on the couch is pleasurable, we are more likely to fire up Netflix and jump in the recliner. It’s how we operate.


To get exercise to stick, we need to see if we can FEEL or gain any more immediate pleasurable outcome.  We need a motivator! Weight loss is generally an outcome that is delayed so having something to look forward to in the moment is helpful.  Examples include immediate feelings of pleasure triggered by endorphins, pride at accomplishing something hard, or making progress in fitness goals. Working out with others provides immediate satisfaction from socialization, a sense of belonging, and can improve consistency due to the external accountability. Other ways to immediately enjoy the exercise experience include listening to music, audiobooks, podcasts, streaming, or being outside.

  • Habit: With time and repetition, it gets easier, mentally and physically. I promise. Your brain cells will make a connection and you will spend less time agonizing if you should go to the gym. Your body will grow new blood vessels so your muscles will get more oxygen and the physical movements will be easier. Habits (by definition) take time. Patience my friend!
  • Enjoyment & Flexibility: Finally, cast a wide net and try and collect lots of methods of exercise to meet your goals. Think of different forms of physical activity as tools in a toolbox that you pull out when the time is right!  If it’s raining and cold and you only have 20 minutes, that’s ok. Hop on a piece of home equipment and stream an episode of your fav show. Do this on busy days.  Save the gym for the weekend or do a family hike instead if the weather is nice. Try different exercise options and find what you like, and what works.

Exercise is powerful.  It may seem like a chore at first, but it is truly life changing. It can ease anxiety and depression, help with chronic pain, and even heal traumas. Moving your body positively affects quality and quantity of life, and can be a source of immense pleasure.

You are not lazy. You are human. We tend to gravitate toward more immediate gratification, but we absolutely CAN understand delayed gratification and reap the wonderous benefits of physical activity.

Need help getting into a healthy routine? Connect with one of our Avance Care dietitians!

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