Intending to Exercise

Jun 30, 2011
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We often hear that exercising would be good for us. We even agree that we should exercise more often. We plan to exercise. But studies show that even though most people know about the benefits of exercise, the intention to exercise is a very weak predictor of actually exercising.

New research publications done by the British Department of Health shed some light on why we don’t actually exercise, even though we ‘mean to’.

It seems that while we are thinking “I should exercise” we are being acted upon by both conscious and unconscious inner voices. Consciously we are giving ourselves a directive to take action, but unconsciously our mind is remembering that we have said this before and yet have not exercised. Our past behavior (not exercising) is remembered, and is linked to the intention to exercise, and negates it.

What the researchers found is that people can become aware of the sneaky way their memory is influencing them and counteract it. As you can imagine, the way to counteract the “don’t exercise” message is to make a plan and carry it out.

For example, we can say to ourselves (while visualizing how it looks and feels to take these actions), “I will stop at the gym at 5 PM on my way home from work (visualize your watch saying 5:00). So I will have to pack my gym bag this evening (visualize your bag, your exercise outfit, your hairbrush), put it by the door (think of the door), take it to work with me (drop the bag beside your desk), and then (really visualize this part hard) walk into the gym when I get off the bus (picture getting off the bus and walking down the street to the gym). Actually picture yourself in the gym. Then, (visualize this too!) remember how GREAT you feel after exercising! Remember that you will sleep better and feel more energized the next day (imagine stretching and saying to yourself how ready you feel for the day).

Then, take the action. Write a memo to yourself. Get up and pack the bag and set it by the door.

All day keep visualizing walking into the gym and how great it feels to get out and MOVE!

I would like to hear how it worked for you, if you try it! I tried it, and it worked for me.

Reference: Imagery and Implementation Intention: A Randomized Controlled Trial of Interventions to Increase Exercise Behavior in the General Population.  British Dept of Health

Author: Tanya



  • BobLujano

    What helped me was getting up earlier than I noramlly do to exercise. Thus, I had to set my alarm to ring earlier than I would normally do. I usaully set it just before I go to bed. Early is on time…Keep moving people!