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Living Well: Motivating yourself to get some exercise

Created date

October 26th, 2010

We all know that exercise is good for your physical and (especially) your mental health. So why aren t we all exercising? According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-related Statistics, there was no significant change in the percentage of older people engaged in physical activity between 1997 and 2008, despite a wealth of knowledge and research that supports benefits of physical activity. A lack of motivation could be one reason. And although many people start exercising, some studies show that nearly three out of four people stop within six months. Most likely these were people who got off to a good start but soon lost their motivation.

Positive vs. negative

In 2006, a United Kingdom research team set out to find out why people lose their motivation to make healthy changes. They found that people experienced either negative motivation or positive motivation. People who had negative motivation (driven by guilt, fear, or regret) tended to slip back into their unhealthy ways. On the other hand, people who had positive motivation ( I will have more energy to play with my grandkids if I walk every day ) tended to stick with their chosen program.


What motivates you? If it s negative thinking, identify some personal, positive reasons to keep going. Maybe you want to simply feel better physically or get back into your old wardrobe. Maybe you want to be mentally sharper since we know exercise will help. At the very least commit to a temporary goal: Some research suggests that doing something (especially an activity or exercise) every day for 90 days helps to ingrain it as a habit, and you ll be less likely to abandon your chosen program. You may want to find a partner. Having an exercise partner helps you stay accountable to yourself for whatever fitness activity you choose. And besides it makes it more fun. Joining an exercise or walking group is also a good way to begin an activity program. The people who tend to show up regularly for exercise or walking groups are those who have developed a personal connection with one or more members of the group. Finding an activity you enjoy is another way to stay motivated. Experiment with different activities, and even if you enjoy something at first and then lose interest, you can always move on to something else. Beginning an exercise plan is certainly important, but perhaps even more important is keeping yourself motivated to stay with it for the long haul. In good health, Matt Narrett, M.D.