The Startlingly Simple Secret to a Successful Exercise Program

Dog walkAlong with being a psychotherapist, I am a personal trainer. You might think that this would lead me to recommend to anyone getting started on an exercise program that they make sure that their program has a mix of cardiovascular exercises for their heart and strength training for their metabolism and muscle mass development. In fact, I could make myriad suggestions for a variety of goals someone may have in wanting to get healthier, lose weight, change body structure, or work toward a fitness challenge.

Millions of hits come up anytime you search online for exercise-related articles, programs, or materials. Fitness gurus abound and are masterful in the way they self-promote. All of this can be overwhelming to people in psychotherapy who have been told they should incorporate exercise into their daily routine to improve their mental wellness. Exercise is one of the most effective evidence-based practices for overcoming common mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and poor mood. I promote exercise to anyone who sits down on my couch, as I am a true believer in the benefits of moving one’s body, increasing the influx of healthy oxygen into the bloodstream, and taking time out of the day for healthy, mindful activities. Physical health benefits aside, I have also witnessed firsthand how exercise leads to positive increases in self-esteem and body image. Who can’t use a little image boost every now and again?

So with all the information available out there on how to exercise, why do so many people not know how to begin? It can be intimidating and scary, which of course contributes to resistance. This is why I want to share a secret that may make all the difference in setting yourself up to create a healthy habit of exercise—and, most importantly, keep it going. You do not need to work out like Jillian Michaels in order to reap the benefits of exercise. Only Jillian Michaels will ever have Jillian Michaels’ body, and that’s perfectly OK.

The secret to success in keeping up with an exercise program is to find something you love and just do that. Sure, if you have the goal of being a triathlete or marathoner, you will need a specific training regimen. However, if you would like to improve your mental health and general fitness, you simply need to find something you enjoy, such as riding a bike, taking your dog for a walk, or going for a hike.

The American Heart Association has guidelines that are very clear and simple to follow for improving your fitness: at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise five days a week, or 150 minutes total. If you aren’t sure what moderate intensity feels like, try the talk test. You should be able to carry on a conversation while completing your desired exercise. You want to feel your heart rate increase, but still be able to talk to a workout buddy (or even your dog) while walking. Moving your body and getting healthy doesn’t need to be more complicated than this.

Some people dive in with starting a new exercise program and go all out with full intensity. Many of these sore-bodied, beat-up exercisers last about three or four days before they give up. This is why it is imperative to give yourself a break, find something you love, and take the pressure off. It is OK for dog walking to be your exercise of choice if that is fun for you. As you and Fido get going, you may find that your fitness increases and you need to add some hills into your routine as you become stronger. How great would that be?

The bottom line is to find something you enjoy so you’re more likely to stick with it. If you don’t know of something fun that you could turn into a 30-minute, moderate-intensity exercise, try several options to see what fits best. Take a class or two, get a free pass to a gym and give it a whirl, or hire a personal trainer to teach you some different types of fitness tools. If you don’t want to go to a gym, some personal trainers will come to you. Become a personal trainer. The options are limitless, but don’t let that overwhelm you; you can simply go outside this very minute and take a walk.

Whatever you end up doing, remember that the No. 1 way to assure success is to make sure you enjoy what you are doing. Life is too short to spend time doing something you don’t love … and it will just make you quit in the long run anyway. Good luck!


© Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stacey Neil, MA, LMFT, CPT, Self-Care Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Charlotte

    August 13th, 2014 at 1:33 PM

    I don’t really struggle too much with the whole exercise thing because I actually do like to get out and get moving. Running, walking, walking the dog, I like all of that. I don’t even mind strength training TOOO much. But what I do enjoy doing is, gulp, overeating. I know that shounds awful doesn’t it? But I love to eat, I do, and it really does put quite the damper on all of my weight loss efforts. I want to try to do better, and it isn’t necessarily that I eat bad, but I eat way too much and I know it but somehow can’t ever seem to get that under control enough to see a real difference in how I look. I feel pretty good because like I said, I am active, but I know that I could do better and look better if I could control a little better my portion sizes and learn how to say no.

  • donna b

    August 13th, 2014 at 4:06 PM

    for me it has been all about the commitment every day to for thirty minutes or so get up and put one foot in front of the other. i may not want to do just that, but what chjoice do i have anymore? getting healthy does not come easily for me but i was tired and overweight and needed to do something. so i made the promise to myself and to my family and sharing that with others has held me accountable and responsible. i have no mroe excuses anymore.

  • Ana

    August 14th, 2014 at 5:39 PM

    If you can simply make it through that first week of adding exercise to your everyday life, then making this a habit will actually come pretty quickly for you.

  • Polly

    August 15th, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    I think that most of us, myself included, associate exercise with drudgery, boring. Not thinking that it doesn’t have to be like this if we would just get out and do something that we actually enjoy doing. Who doesn’t love going for a bike ride or a hike on a beautiful day? Or simply walking through the park with a four legged friend? All of these things sound wonderful to me, but if I thought about walking on a treadmill for the same amount of time, ugh I couldn’t stand that. So a big part of it is like the article says: find something that you actually enjoy doing and commit to making that a part of your every day life. It is so much easier to stick with a plan that you enjoy.

  • lander

    August 16th, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    You could find someone in your life who will always hold you accountable for the things that you do. That is you have to rport your exercise and the things that you eat to them, and sometimes it is all about this sharing of information that forces you to be honest and telling someone is a great way to have to be accountable to someone other than just yourself.
    It’s noce to be able to look out for others and to have them do the same thing for you. Even when you might not want to do the right thing it might be a little easier to do it when you know that someone is there looking over your shoulder.

  • Glenda

    August 18th, 2014 at 5:18 AM

    Well I am so thankful that I found this today because today is supposed to be my start day for a whole new lifestyle and I was already dreading the whole exercise aspect and wondering how I was going to make this part of my journey work for me. Now I have my answers!

    I know that this is going to take a lot of commitment and dedication on my part but I also see that a large part of this will be about finding something that I love and that I am passionate about and structuring it so that it actually works for me. This doe snot have to be drudgery, punishmant, but rather it can be a great way to try something new and learn new things about myself.

    Honestly I am more excited now to go on my walk than I have been in a very long time! Thank you!

  • Hope

    August 19th, 2014 at 3:14 PM

    Way to go Glenda! Wishing you the best of luck on this new adventure!

  • Joanna

    June 25th, 2015 at 5:13 PM

    Very true what you write in your article about the exercise and it’s positive benefits to our whole being.It is important to move around and use our body as we are not supposed to lead sedentary way of living. The more you move around the better for your whole being, and as you say it is very important to find something you like. Even gardening, doing housework has got positive effects as it gives you a sens of purpose and fulfillment when you finish your work it kind of makes you feel good which can be helpful when people feel depressed. I think dancing is great way of releasing stress,going for brisk walk. Being surrounded by Nature can have great positive effects on our whole being. There are so many diseases which can be prevented by doing exercises. Prevention is better than cure. Your article is well written and very encouraging.

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