Exploring the Psychology of Exercise

Yoga instructor demonstrating modified side angle pose
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Why do you exercise? If you don't exercise, maybe you're wondering why it seems so easy for other people to stick with it while you struggle with it.

Either way, figuring out why we do what we do is one thing scientists are always interested in and their interest can only help the rest of us figure out how to stay on track with our exercise and health.

The Psychology of Exercise

In The Psychology of Exercise, published in the 2006 IDEA Fitness Journal,, experts Jim Gavin, Madeleine McBrearty and Daniel Sequin reviewed more than 250 studies about exercise psychology to try to find out what motivates us, why and how we participate in exercise, how we structure exercise and some of the lesser known benefits of exercise.

In reviewing some of these studies, they asked some interesting questions:

  • Does age make a difference in why we exercise?
  • Does aerobics give women more satisfaction with their bodies than yoga?
  • Do young men exercise for the same reasons as older men?
  • Is it really important to choose exercises you enjoy?
  • Are people more likely to stick with their workouts if they exercise more frequently or less frequently?

Ways to Stay Motivated

Beyond what scientific studies tell us, there are things we can do to keep the momentum going.

It's normal for the rosy blush of exercise excitement to fade after a few weeks, so it's a good idea to prepare for that. Define the reason why you started exercising. It's helpful to have this reason written down and posted in a visible location.

Then take some time to write down reasons to keep exercising while you're still into your workouts. Keep that list handy and refer to it if you ever find yourself skipping your workouts or finding exercise excuses. Some ideas:

  • It makes me feel good about myself
  • I love how strong and fit I feel
  • I like it when it's over
  • I like how energetic I feel
  • It feels good to know I did something right
  • It helps me lose weight
  • It helps me sleep better
  • I feel good when my doctor asks if I exercise and I can say 'yes!'

And, more than that, making exercise a habit is the best way to build that exercise momentum. Sometimes you can talk yourself into a workout by reminding yourself of how good it feels, but most of the time? It's the good old discipline that gets you going.

Kind of like brushing your teeth, if you know you always put your workout clothes on first thing in the morning, you get used to it and you don't need so much energy to motivate yourself to exercise.

Finally, don't wait for the perfect time to exercise, because it doesn't exist. The perfect time is now, no matter what is going on in your life. We often say we'll start exercising when things slow down but do they ever actually slow down? No. Carve out time now and that will give you the confidence to know that you really can keep exercising, even when life gets crazy.

Make your workouts fit your life the way it is now and you'll find that exercise success.

By Paige Waehner, CPT
Paige Waehner is a certified personal trainer, author of the "Guide to Become a Personal Trainer," and co-author of "The Buzz on Exercise & Fitness."