Illustration of woman getting ready to exercise
Credit: Tatiana Ayazo

I have a confession that might raise eyebrows or invite ridicule: I find most exercise plans and pre-designed programs for fitness and wellness to be not all that useful. Regardless of the rigor and time invested in creating that “perfect” exercise plan, I find a majority of them collecting proverbial dust in the bottom of that proverbial gym back or under a pair of unused walking shoes.  

As someone with two doctorate degrees, one in physical therapy and the other in health sciences, exercise and physical wellness are at the core of my life’s work. I help people move and exercise for a living and I am an endurance athlete myself — and yet, I often find that the best exercise programs aren’t the ones we meticulously design but the ones that resonate with individual needs, preferences, and enjoyments. 

Me and My Exercise-Resistant Mom

My mom, who happens to be the best person to have ever walked the Earth, hates to exercise. She hates going to the gym, gets a sunburn and thus doesn’t like outdoor exercise, isn’t tech savvy and feels overwhelmed with streaming fitness class options. In general, she identifies as “someone who just doesn’t exercise.”  

Over the course of my nearly 20-year career, my mother has heard it all. I have painstakingly designed programs tailored for her specific needs using the latest research and technology to date. I have made modifications and delivered detailed lecture presentations to educate her on the importance of weight-bearing exercise, resistance training, cardiovascular health, and optimal yoga practices. I have also spent hours sharing the latest nutritional advice or the niftiest new meditation neuro-acoustic software. Like a dog with a bone, I have yet to let go.  

It’s important to tell you, dear reader, that my mom still puts up with me. She even loves me, if you can imagine. But it’s also time for me to tell you that precisely zero of my programing has been successful.  

After 20 years of me presenting her with the latest and greatest in exercise physiology, not a bit of it has stuck. During family gatherings, my family still brings the mashed potatoes and I still bring the uncomfortable questions about exercise. 

This Missing Exercise Ingredient: Enjoyment

I encounter a similar dynamic with my patients. They have the desire to improve and feel healthier, and I provide them with a delightfully effective program to achieve those goals. However, more often than not, they struggle to follow through. When they come for their next appointment, they face the dreaded question: “How have your exercises been going?” Their reactions are telling — nervous eye shifts, shrugged shoulders, fidgeting hands, and uncomfortable giggling.  

These patients, like my mother, share a common trait. Perhaps you can relate. Regardless of their motivation or well-intentioned principles, they simply will not stick to a program they don’t enjoy. It doesn’t matter how perfectly designed the program is from a biomechanical standpoint; if they don’t enjoy it or it doesn’t feel good for them, chances are they won’t continue with it. Plain and simple. 

Please know that I am not sharing this perspective from a position of superiority. In fact, I astonish myself and my own health care providers but how non-compliant I can be with my own program. Believe me, I’m not kidding. Just like my patients, I too won’t stick to a program if I don’t enjoy it.  

Finding Exercise Success

My mom currently embraces regular exercise — three times a week — but I had nothing to do with it. My efforts didn’t finally pay off. And, nope, I didn’t finally get through to her. Instead, she found success, just like my patients do by finding an enjoyable exercise routine.  

Her routine involves taking classes with a friend and making new friends along the way. It has become a social activity that happens to include some weight training and chair exercises. It has become something she loves and looks forward to. I often hear stories of her progress in resistance training or how much fun she and her dog had on their recent walk. 

Similarly, my patients find success when I help them discover activities they enjoy while still meeting the necessary objectives.  

As for me, I exercise because I am obnoxiously cheerful in the morning. I like seeing people give me side-eye when I do a dance break between sets. The common factor — it works when we love doing it and find immediate benefit. 

So, for now, let go of what you “should” be doing or the “perfect” routine for you, and think about something you genuinely enjoy doing that involves movement. It can be any kind of movement. That, my friends, is your perfect exercise program for now. 

Tips to Determine if You’ll Enjoy an Exercise

  • Try it out: Experiment with various exercises or activities to find what piques your interest and brings you joy. 
  • Listen to your body: Pay attention to how your body feels during and after exercise. If it leaves you feeling energized and fulfilled, it’s a good sign. 
  • Make it social: Engage in group activities or classes where you can connect with like-minded individuals. 
  • Mix it up: Keep your routine diverse and explore different types of exercises to prevent boredom and maintain excitement. 
  • Set realistic goals: Ensure that your exercise goals align with your personal preferences and values, making them more enjoyable and meaningful. 

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