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What Motivates Someone to Make Changes to Improve His or Her Health & Exercise Habits?

By Tracey Roizman, D.C.

Your habits, good and bad alike, serve a purpose that makes you emotionally and behaviorally attached to them. Although your motivation for adopting or breaking a habit may differ from the motivation of someone else, certain common motivating factors exist. According to psychologist Arlene Matthews Uhl, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Psychology of Happiness," it takes 21 to 30 days to change a bad habit into one that improves your health or exercise level.


Education is a powerful force that motivates people to make healthy lifestyle changes by fostering problem solving, judgment, dependability and confidence, according to Chloe E. Bird, editor of the "Handbook of Medical Sociology." The effort required to attain an education promotes perseverance and positive action, which you need to increase your level of exercise, make healthy changes to your eating habits, get more sleep, watch less television, or improve whatever you feel needs improvement.

Four Factors

Four primary motivating factors are typically behind the resolve to begin exercising, according to Steven B. Kayne, editor of the book "Sport and Exercise Medicine for Pharmacists." People exercise to feel physically strong and fit, improve or maintain health, as a source of personal accomplishment, and to be outdoors. In one survey of activity and health, mental alertness also scored high as a motivating factor for participating in an exercise program. However, a perceptual disconnect also exists, whereby people tend to rate their levels of physical activity and fitness as being higher than they actually are and that of other people as being lower, says Kayne.

Comfort Level

Having a place to exercise where you feel comfortable is key to a successful exercise program, according to an article in the January 2008 issue of "Indianapolis Monthly" magazine. If you are considering joining a gym, you will be more motivated to stick with your plan if the atmosphere is agreeable to you. Other gym members can be a source of encouragement and motivation. The positive attitude and sense of accomplishment you acquire as you make progress toward your goals can keep you on track. Acknowledging your incremental successes can be a significant motivating force.

Role Model

Having a role model is a good motivational tool for many people to make positive changes in their exercise, diet and other lifestyle habits. This technique is used often in ad campaigns designed to dissuade people from engaging in harmful lifestyle practices, such as drinking, smoking or taking drugs, according to Dennis Coon, author of the book "Introduction to Psychology: Gateways to Mind and Behavior." For your own personal healthy lifestyle goals, if you don't have a famous athlete or actor role model, you can easily identify a friend, family member or co-worker to emulate -- with the added advantage that you can approach someone you know and ask them for advice or to keep you accountable to your goals.

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