How to Make Exercise A Positive Experience

We live in the era of “fitspiration”, the thin ideal and burning calories. While some may not realize it, exercising for the intent to manipulate your body, reach an unrealistic ideal or as penance for overeating will result in the same all-or-nothing mentality so easily created by food and dieting. It’s really difficult to want to exercise if it is painful and feels like punishment. In fact, I really believe that the desire to lose weight is probably the most unhealthy reason to change eating patterns or start exercising. In my experience it’s short lived, and also makes food and exercise only about weight and nothing about health and wellness. It’s also not motivating at all – if you come home tired at the end of the day and the only reason you are exercising is to lose weight, you can do that tomorrow. If exercise is used as a way to make you feel better (emotionally or physically as we know it does), it’s easier to want to consistently find or make time for it.

healthy exercise

So how do you keep exercise body positive? Here are some tips:


  • The very popular idea of exercising for strength really resonates with me. Instead of exercising to get smaller, maybe you exercise to get stronger. That feels like a really powerful mental shift.
  • Start off really, really slowly. The idea is that more is better. The best exercise is the one you can do, given your own fitness level. To reap the many health benefits of exercise, all you need is 15-20 mintues most days of the week. Breaking that into a few 5-10 minute segments can actually more effectively bring down your blood sugar, blood pressure and cholestrol levels than doing it all at once and then sitting the rest of the day. Taking what are called “exercise snacks” (regular breaks to move during the day) are found to have a greater health impact. 
  • Exercise based on your own value system rather than for external validation. To me this means to exercise for the sake of feeling well rather than for competition or using any sort of ?fitspiration? for motivation. However, if having friendly competitions with friends is enjoyable for you, then include it! In general though, if you love competition…just compete with yourself. 
  • Avoid making exercise about food. Ever. It gets messy when you do! It?s not to pay penance or used as punishment for overeating or to burn calories. In fact, be sure to match your food with your exercise – it’s really difficult to build strength and lean body mass when you aren’t eating consistently, adequately and regularly! I know you might think that avoiding cake because you would have to “burn it off” is effective, I have seen that mindset cause more problems than it solves.
  • I guess there is always something to be said for trying new things, but always do what you love when it comes to exercise. Find YOUR thing. Just like with nutrition, we have some basic recommendations for exercise. Take that and apply it in a way that works for you; there is no one-size-fits-all (just like nutrition).


I hope this is helpful in evaluating your own relationship with exercise. We would love to hear what you think!


Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD