Science Says These Simple Habits Increase Your Likelihood to Workout

It’s not always easy or convenient to do our first choice in physical activity, so how can we motivate ourselves to get out there and exercise? Researchers came up with a list of habits that help.

Motivation is the name of the fitness game. One of my favorite fitness sayings is, “The best workout is the one you’ll actually do.” This isn’t just a fun, snarky saying. It rings truer than many athletes and coaches realize. Let me put it in different terms so as to avoid any ambiguity. Exercising consistently is more important than the type of exercise you do.

That sentence might be a heavy one for an article of this scope, but it’s very true. And it’s getting started that is the tough part. I usually guide people toward activities they find fun, but always wondered what science had to say. It’s not always easy or convenient to do our first choice in physical activity, so how can we motivate ourselves to get out there and exercise? A recent review in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity covered just that topic.

The review examined numerous interventions based on two major factors. The first factor was the belief and confidence in how to do the activity and knowing its associated benefits. The second factor was whether people were actually doing it. In prior studies, researchers tested people who were already somewhat fit. In this study they looked at people who were obese. For me, the latter is a better design because it focuses on people who already have difficulty motivating themselves to get out there and exercise.

Researchers studied some forty different methods of getting your clients or yourself knowledgeable about exercise and actually out there exercising. They found that self-efficacy was increased most by proper planning. Essentially that means, educating clients or learning for yourself when and where to do an activity. Managing time was also important, as it was viewed as obstacle handling. “I don’t have enough time,” is probably the most common excuse I hear as a coach. Eliminating these barriers increases confidence in exercise, but interestingly didn’t correlate in this group with actually doing the exercise.

Other tasks that helped improve confidence in exercise and actually performing the exercise were getting friends involved and tracking goals on paper. I can personally attest to these, which have been the most motivating two activities for me personally in seeking out goals. Social involvement is huge, both in having partners with similar goals, and having your friends and family encourage your progress. That one is probably no surprise, but planning your goals might be. This isn’t just any type of planning, though. This is putting your goal on paper with a plan of how exercise will help you achieve those goals. Writing down what you’re are doing now along with how it will help you in the long run helps you see the progress you’re making. You see it as it happens and also have a window to the future. Very motivating.

One interesting outcome of this review was the discovery that self-efficacy doesn’t seem to correlate to actual physical activity in obese people. The researchers acknowledge that this is in stark contrast to studies done on populations with greater starting fitness. However, at any stage, performing just the few behaviors listed above might go a very long way toward progress now, and even more progress for the future.


1. Ellinor K Olander,, “What are the most effective techniques in changing obese individuals’ physical activity self-efficacy and behaviour: a systematic review and meta-analysis,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:29

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