by Cristina Bortoni Versari, Ph.D.

Studies have shown that at least 50% of the people who start a fitness program do not make it through the first three months, many will discontinue the program before the end of twelve months. A large number of people never exercise or have ever joined an exercise program, despite the fact that regular exercise and physical activity is necessary for health--both physical and emotional.

What makes people stay with an exercise program?

In order to better understand what motivates individuals to maintain an exercise regimen, a study was conducted by this author and the graduate students of the Sport Psychology program at The University for Humanistic Studies in Solana Beach, California. The results indicated that psychological variables appearing to be relevant for someone to stay with an exercise program were:

  • 1. The ability to take responsibility for what happens in his or her life
  • 2. A belief that sport and exercise is essential
  • 3. The individual's perception of his/her athletic ability
  • 4. The need to exercise as a form of relaxation
  • 5. The person's commitment to a healthy lifestyle

Every single respondent of the questionnaire answered that they felt personally responsible for their health, body and physical fitness and the majority cited themselves as their primary influence and motivator.

If you are thinking about starting an exercise program, or if you are already working out, these are some suggestions for you to consider in order to remain committed to your plan and enjoy exercising.

Set short and long term goals, it will motivate you.

Write down your goals and a plan of action. Remember a time in your life when you were able to stay with a routine and follow the same steps you followed in the past. Your behavior is what is going to determine your success, once you have written your goals, make sure you take the steps that will lead to the result you want. If you never have done a goal setting exercise before, look for a book in the library or bookstore. Goal setting exercises can be usually found in business and psychology books.

Consider the negative consequences of not staying with the program

Make a list of the negative consequences and feelings you are going to experience and what you're going to miss out in your life if you don't stay with your exercise program.

Consider the positive results of committing to the program.

Make a list of the results you will get if you stay committed to your program. When you start thinking about not going to work out, focus your attention on the positive results and feelings you will experience when you reach your fitness goal.

Change your lifestyle, make it a priority until it becomes a habit.

Everything you do today you had to learn, and now you don't have to think about it anymore. The habit has been formed. Make your exercise program a priority in your life until you have created the habit and have integrated it in your lifestyle. Don't allow any excuses or make any changes in your schedule for the first few weeks so that you can go through the initial adaptation process and start feeling comfortable with your new routine.

Make a commitment to a friend or family member who will encourage and support you.

We tend to do more for ourselves when we make the commitment to other people who care about us and who want to see us succeed. Find out what made you drop out of an exercise program in the past. Discuss with a friend or family member how they can help you this time. They can give you support in many different ways.

Perhaps they may even join the club and exercise program with you. If you know that someone is waiting for you at the gym, you will be more inclined to go when you start having second thoughts about it, or when something else comes up and you don't feel like going.

These are some ideas of behaviors and thoughts you can practice to reach your goal of staying with an exercise program and loving it. The results of the study we conducted also indicated that the majority of people exercised because of their health, appearance, and most of all, because it felt good. Once you start feeling good about your health and physical appearance, you will be more inclined to stay with the program to continue to get the results you want. After awhile it will become part of your lifestyle, like everything else you do today.


Cristina B. Versari, Ph.D. is a sport psychology and career consultant specializing in performance enhancement, career and life planning, and team building. She counseled professional athletes from 13 NBA teams in the areas of career and education, and was the psychologist for the Brazilian Men's Basketball Team for the 1992 Olympics and 1994 World Championship of Basketball. She is the president of the National Sports Counseling Network and a seminar speaker. Dr Versari has been studying the personality profile of elite athletes and designing training programs for peak performance for over ten years.

For information on training programs or consulting, she can be reached at: phone and fax (619) 658 0204, or P.O. BOX 22961, San Diego, California, 92122.


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