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Bob Livingstone, LCSWBob Livingstone, LCSW
Healing Emotional Pain and Loss

10 Ways to Stick to an Exercise Program

Bob Livingstone, LCSW Updated: Jul 22nd 2013

How many times have you started an exercise program only to lose motivation in a short period of time? I bet that this happens to millions of people around the world and you are tired of being part of that demographic. You may lose motivation because you don’t notice quick results, you feel too exhausted to work out, your schedule overwhelms you and that is an obstacle to making time to exercise. You may be guilty of doing too much/too soon. You may feel that you don’t deserve to obtain the many and wonderful benefits of exercise that I’ll mention next. I will give you some concrete tools to stick to an exercise program.

female runnerThe benefits of exercise are: improves your physical appearance, decreases depression, alleviates anxiety, is a great means of weight control, helps you think clearer, increases confidence and self-esteem, increases energy level, improves your sex life, improves chronic health conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, back pain and asthma. Exercise can help control addiction, sharpen memory and prevent cognitive (thinking brain function) decline.

According to research, exercise works as well or better for depression than the SSRI drugs(Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa) without the nasty side effects which include sexual dysfunction, suicidal thinking and lethargy to name a few.

A recent study found that not only will exercise decrease anxiety for those in a state of working out; those who do exercise seem to lower their anxiety levels quicker than sedentary folks when both groups are at rest.

Any amount of exercise will help you, but if you work out regularly, your life can be transformed from feeling stuck and numb to feeling excited about being alive.

How to be a Consistent Exerciser

1. Set a weekly goal of how many days you will exercise each week. What sport will you participate in? How long will each workout be? What time of day will you exercise? These tasks may seem trite and simplistic, but perhaps this is the most important tool that you need to incorporate. If you have a structure to follow, you have a good chance at succeeding. If you don’t have a plan, you probably won’t workout in a consistent manner.

2. Start out slow and don’t try to do too much at first. If you have been sedentary for a long time, set a very modest goal-for example walking for 10 minutes 3 days per week for the first week and then adding another 5 minutes and another day the next week until you are walking an hour 5 days per week. One of the biggest reasons for stopping exercise is starting out too hard, too fast and too long. Every Jan. 1st, I see many adults in their new workout suits running around Lake Merced in San Francisco where I live. Their new year’s resolution is to begin working out in order to improve their health. Instead of beginning at a slow pace and low mileage, they run at a fast pace and for 4 to 5 miles. They are so worn out the next day that they can barely get out of bed. This physical pain discourages them from exercising again until next Jan. 1. This accelerated way of exercising will lead to very sore muscles at best and injury at worst. If you haven’t had a physical for a while, make an appointment with your physician and make sure she gives you the OK to exercise.

3. Choose a sport that you like and if you are not sure what aerobic activity you enjoy most, try several: walking, running, tennis, basketball, cycling, swimming and basketball to name a few. You will probably not stick with an activity that you don’t like. If you treat your workout like a laborious task that you just have to power through; you will learn to hate it quickly. It may take lots of trial and error to find a sport you really love. Please be patient with yourself and this process.

4. Find folks to workout with if you prefer company or find solace in exercising by yourself. You can seek out running groups, adult basketball leagues, cycling groups or you may prefer to work out by yourself. One of the reasons I choose running as my sport 35 years ago was because I didn’t have to wait around for anyone else to complete my workout.

5. Start thinking about exercising when you wake up in the morning: Focus on how good you will feel at the end of your workout.  When you feel yourself losing motivation, read the second paragraph of this article (section about the benefits of exercise).

6. Feeling guilty is usually a state that is not helpful and interferes with life. In terms of exercise, telling yourself that if you don’t exercise, you will feel lethargic, overweight and restless can be a major motivator to get out of your chair and to the gym.

7. Listen to music when you exercise because it can be inspiring, motivating and healing. You can find joy in the act of creating a playlist. Downloading music that includes songs with high energy and tunes that bring back happy memories can lead to a euphoric experience. If you know that you will be hearing a new song from your favorite artist; that may be the kicker that takes you from being on the couch to heading out the door.

8. Mark your exercise accomplishments on the calendar with bright colors or star stickers in order to mark and watch your progress.

9. Surround yourself with people who will support your exercise program by cheering you on and sharing their highs and lows in this struggle to be a consistent exerciser.

10. Exercise can also heal emotional pain by focusing on an emotional pain question. When you are working out, the endorphins kick in, your brain chemistry changes and you feel confident that you can face any of life’s challenges.


Bob Livingstone, LCSWBob Livingstone, LCSW, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for twenty-two years. He works with adults, teenagers and children who have experienced traumas such as family violence, neglect and divorce. He works with men around anger issues and with adults in recovery from child abuse. He is the author of two critically acclaimed books: Redemption of the Shattered: A Teenager's Healing Journey Through Sandtray Therapy and Body Mind Soul Solution: Healing Emotional Pain Through Exercise and his newly released book Unchain the Pain: How to be Your Own Therapist. For more information visit

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