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6 Strategies for Getting Hooked on Exercise!

We are pleased to introduce guest blogger Amy Beausang, PharmD and health coach. She has some fabulous ideas to share. This is her first offering at The People’s Pharmacy. Amy Beausang is a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) and Certified Health Coach. She’s also a wife, mom, and group fitness instructor. Amy is on a mission to help people feel healthier, happier, and more energetic! She firmly believes that real food, enjoyable exercise, good sleep, inner calm, and fun form the pillars of good health, and that optimizing these pillars is absolutely possible. Amy also helps people make lifestyle changes that just might enable them to reduce their need for prescription medications (always responsibly and in conjunction with their prescribers). For more information, visit http://amybeausang.com/

6 Strategies for Getting Hooked on Exercise!

By Amy Beausang, PharmD, Health Coach

You’ve likely read it or even heard it from your very own doctor: exercise has many health benefits. For example, studies have shown that exercise improves blood sugar control [1], reduces blood pressure [2], improves heart health [3-8], and lowers the chances of experiencing a recurrence of lower back pain [9], among other benefits.

Yes, these are important findings, because they provide us with proof that exercise works! However, outcomes like lower blood pressure or better blood sugar control may actually not be the most powerful motivators for us humans when it comes to sticking with exercise for the long haul.

I’ve seen it in my own family, and time and again with friends and clients. Their healthcare providers encouraged them to exercise because it would help them with a particular health issue-like joint pain, or mood, or blood pressure, or cholesterol. You name it, exercise just might improve it. And often this advice spurred them into action for a little while, but the motivation to stick with exercise tended to wane after a few weeks.

Why does this happen when we know that exercise will provide us with great health benefits? Perhaps we are focused on the wrong WHY for exercising.

Strategy #1: Find your most meaningful WHY.

Turns out, logic doesn’t motivate us. Emotions do. In one study, researchers followed participants over one year to track their actual activity. Those with goals to improve their “daily quality of life” were more motivated and exercised about 20% more over one year compared to those with purely “health-related” goals, like weight loss or better heart health [10].

What most of us really want is to live everyday life well. This means having energy and vitality. When we lack energy and vitality, our happiness and sense of wellbeing decreases.

Think about that word again. Well-being. We hear it thrown around a lot these days, but perhaps its true meaning is too often glossed over. Wellbeing is defined as “a state characterized by health, happiness, and comfort”. So it’s not just about “health” as we tend to think of it-a set of numbers like blood pressure, weight, or blood sugar. It’s about a more comprehensive sense of being well.

So, instead of focusing on what exercise can do for your “numbers”, find your right WHY for exercising. Take some time to think this through, and complete the following statement: I want to exercise because I believe it will enable me to: ______________________________________________________________.

Here are a couple of examples to kick-start your thinking. You can change the statement a bit so that it best conveys your WHY.

  • I want to exercise because I believe it will enable me to handle my stress better so that I am happier and enjoy day-to-day life.
  • I want to exercise because I believe it will boost my energy and my self-confidence day-to-day.
  • I want to exercise because I believe it will make me feel better each day, and will immediately lift my mood and spirits.
  • I want to exercise because I believe it will invigorate and energize me so that I’m able to enjoy more time with my friends and loved ones.

Strategy #2: Seek instant gratification.

This tip ties into tip #1, because it relates to your WHY. It’s about exercise making you feel better right away, immediately after you’ve accomplished it. Motivational scientist Michelle Segar and her colleagues did a study looking at how people’s reasons for starting to exercise influence their actual involvement in exercise. They found that 75 percent of participants cited weight loss or better health as their top reasons for exercising, and 25 percent exercised for better quality of life or sense of wellbeing.

Over the following year, they discovered that those whose goals were weight loss and better health spent the least amount of time exercising overall-up to 32 percent less than those with other goals.

Why? Because humans are hardwired to seek instant gratification over long-term benefits. This isn’t always healthy, like if we give in to the immediate satisfaction of a favorite junk food, or smoking a cigarette, or staying up late most nights watching TV. But in the case of exercise, instant gratification can be a powerful motivator for doing it! Focusing on how much better you’ll feel in just a few minutes will make it easier to establish an exercise routine.

Strategy #3: Stop “should-ing” yourself.

Do you find yourself saying things like, I should exercise more, or I should do this or should do that? Often we “should” ourselves when thinking about things that we really don’t want to do; things we view as potentially unpleasant or a chore.

When we use the word should when referring to taking healthy steps like exercising (or eating more vegetables or going to bed earlier), we’re often reinforcing the fact that we aren’t doing it, which then places our focus on the negative. What often follows is a feeling of guilt, and that doesn’t do us any good.

Instead of saying “I should exercise, try out these more empowering and motivating statements:

  • “I could exercise.”
  • “I would like to exercise.”

Even these simple shifts in language can help you feel more positive and accepting about exercise. So, you’ve shifted your language. But you’re still not exercising. Does any of this sound familiar?

“I would like to exercise, but I’m just so busy. I don’t see how I can fit it in.”

“I would love to work out, but I need a personal trainer, and it’s just too expensive.”

Excuses. Excuses. We all make them.

Strategy #4: Make it a priority.

Instead of saying, “I’d love to exercise, but I just don’t have time,” try this phrase out and see how it feels: “Exercising is not a priority.”

If that second statement feels OK, then maybe you really aren’t ready to exercise. Or maybe you simply haven’t identified your right WHY (see Step #1).

If saying that exercise is not a priority doesn’t quite sit right with you, then you will feel better when you do something about it.

Put It on Your Schedule

Schedule time to exercise just like you would an important meeting at work, because it is important. Go back to your WHY and you will see that it is, indeed, important.

Write it on your calendar, block off some time. Here’s an analogy that might put this “priority” concept into better perspective. If you’ve ever flown on a commercial airplane, you’ve heard the flight attendant instruct you to “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others”. This is because you must take care of yourself first, so that you are better able to help out. Take this example to heart in your everyday life. So often, we let our own self-care slide by the wayside, because we think we can’t put ourselves first. Often, we end up sick, or with a chronic health condition, and this can hinder our ability to be there for our loved ones, friends, and work colleagues.

A dear family member shared this “a-ha!” moment recently:

“You know, I have been viewing exercise as something I would do if time allowed, if the grandkids didn’t need me, or if there was nothing else going on. But now, I know that exercise helps keep me strong and healthy for my grandkids, and I feel so much better and can get more done when I make it [exercise] a priority.”

Her favorite exercise? Spinning class.

Strategy #5: Reframe your perception of exercise.

Unfortunately, most people don’t yet believe this truth: All types and any duration of movement that you can fit into your day counts towards refueling your energy and vitality, and enhancing your sense of wellbeing.

Many of us are under the impression that we need at least 45 minutes of vigorous exercise in order for it to count. I know people who feel that exercise really doesn’t count unless they’re drenched in sweat or have burned at least 500 calories.

This simply isn’t true.

To see for yourself, give this a try: the “55-minute work-hour”. Try taking 5 minutes every hour that you are on the job (whether at work or at home) to do get up and move. Take a walk, take the stairs, or even get a little creative: check out this link on how to do wall push-ups. Maybe you can try holding a “desk plank,” as shown here. Just get your circulation going. You’ll likely accomplish much more during your work days with these mini-exercise breaks than if you sat for 3 to 4 hours straight trying to push through that deadline.

These small bouts of activity add up. Without a tremendous amount of effort, you can log 30 to 40 minutes of physical activity per day without breaking a sweat. This is a great strategy for beginning exercisers. If this is you, don’t be surprised if these short bouts of activity gradually spur you into making more time to enjoy longer exercise sessions.

Which leads me to my final, and maybe most important, strategy for making exercise a habit.

Strategy #6: Make it enjoyable.

What’s the right way for YOU to exercise? This question isn’t referring to whether you should walk or cycle or weight train. This question is really about YOUR preferences and likes, because this is ultimately what determines whether you desire or dread exercise. Here are some questions that might help you identify exercise that you enjoy, and even look forward to! •

  • Do you prefer solitude when exercising (like going for a walk alone) or does being with a group energize you (like taking a group fitness class at a gym or studio or playing basketball)?
  • Do you enjoy competition (with others or even yourself) or does that turn you off?
  • Does music motivate you to move? If so, maybe a group class like indoor cycling appeals to you, where music is a big part of the experience.
  • Do you love being in nature, or do you prefer being inside for exercising?

Considering factors like these will help you hone in on physical activities that you enjoy. Just because boot-camp classes are all the rage doesn’t mean they’re all the rage for you. Think about exercise as a form of play. Everybody likes to play! What activities did you enjoy as a child? For examples, riding your bike around the neighborhood, or taking a hike to a nearby creek, or playing soccer, or dancing. It’s ok-even helpful in terms of making exercise a habit-to incorporate play into your exercise. Make it fun and enjoyable for you.

The Bottom Line

Exercise is good for your health for sure. But often, focusing solely on “health” isn’t enough to turn exercise into a life-long habit. We have to dig a little deeper, and find our true motivation-our longing to be energetic and vital so that we feel that our day-to-day life is fulfilling. This makes it easier to prioritize exercise. And once we are honest about our preference and likes, we just might actually look forward to exercising.


1. Colberg SR, Sigal RJ, Fernhall B, et al. Exercise and Type 2 Diabetes. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Diabetes Association: Joint Position Statement. Diabetes Care. 2010; 33:e147-e167.

2. Molmen-Hansen HE, Stolen T, Tjonna AE, et al. Aerobic interval training reduces blood pressure and improves myocardial function in hypertensive patients. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2012; 19:151-160.

3. Hakim AA, Petrovitch H, Burchfiel CM, et al. Effects of walking on mortality among nonsmoking retired men. N Engl J Med.1998;338:94-99.

4. Myers J, Prakash M, Froelicher V, et al. Exercise capacity and mortality among men referred for exercise testing. N Engl J Med. 2002;346:793-801.

5. Mora S, Cook N, Buring JE, Ridker PM, Lee IM. Physical activity and reduced risk of cardiovascular events: potential mediating mechanisms. Circulation. 2007;116:2110-2118.

6. Leon AS, Franklin BA, Costa F, et al. Cardiac rehabilitation and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease: An American Heart Association scientific statement from the Council on Clinical Cardiology (Subcommittee on Exercise, Cardiac Rehabilitation, and Prevention) and the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism (Subcommittee on Physical Activity), in collaboration with the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation. Circulation. 2005;111:369-376.

7. Fletcher GF, Balady GJ, Amsterdam EA, et al. Exercise standards for testing and training: a statement for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association. Circulation.2001;104:1694-1740.

8. Moholdt T, Wisloff U, Nilsen TI, Slordahl SA. Physical activity and mortality in men and women with coronary heart disease: a prospective population-based cohort study in Norway (the HUNT study). Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2008;15:639-645.

9. Steffens D, Meyer CG, Pereira LSM, et al. Prevention of Low Back Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(2):199-208.

10. Segar M, Eccles J, Richardson C. Rebranding exercise: closing the gap between values and behavior. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2011;8:94:1-14.

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