Learn How to Think Like an Exerciser

1. Look for opportunities, not excuses.

While a non-exerciser may look at situations like traveling or working late as reasons to skip their workouts, exercisers actually seek out ways to exercise, even if it seems impossible.

Imagine a non-exerciser and an exerciser on a business trip:

The Non-Exerciser…

Packs his workout clothes, thinking, “Maybe if I get a break, I’ll squeeze in a workout.” My husband, a frequent flyer, says what that translates to is, “I’m bringing my workout clothes so I’ll feel good about myself, but I’ll never actually wear them.”

The Exerciser…

Packs his workout clothes, thinking, “I have meetings all day, so I’ll get up extra early and get in a short workout beforehand.” There’s no ‘maybe’ about it, even if it means working out at a time that isn’t comfortable.

What the exerciser knows is that he has to commit to his workouts, even if his schedule works against him.

He’s willing to make the effort, even if it means a workout session that isn’t ideal.

How to Think Like an Exerciser:

  • Act as if exercise is a priority

    Is exercise an afterthought? Something you only do when everything goes as planned? If so, practice putting it at the top of your to-do list. How would you plan your day if you knew you had to work everything else around your workouts? Just changing how you think about exercise can change whether you actually do it.

  • Act as if everything counts

    New or non-exercisers often think they have to do a certain type of workout (e.g., lung-busting workouts that last for an hour) for it to ‘count.’ Exercisers count everything, whether it’s a few jumping jacks or pushups in a hotel room or taking a brisk walk during a lunch break.

  • Plan ahead

    Rather than waiting for the perfect time to exercise, work with the schedule you already have. Even if you can only find 10 minutes, you’ll burn calories and improve your health much more than if you didn’t move at all.

2. View exercise as a necessity rather than an indulgence

Another difference between how exercisers and non-exercisers think is how they perceive exercise. A non-exerciser may see it as a chore, something that takes away from the rest of her day. An exerciser, on the other hand, looks at her workouts as a necessity – something she needs to make her day better.

Imagine an exerciser and a non-exerciser facing an unexpected visit from a mother-in-law:

The Non-Exerciser…

Panics and thinks, “There’s no way I can exercise if she’s coming. How will I have the time to iron the sheets, drink a bottle of wine and scrub the floors with a toothbrush?”

The Exerciser…

Panics and thinks, “I will never get my guilt-deflectors working if I don’t exercise. I better squeeze in a quick run and, if the house isn’t clean enough, I’ll just start a small fire to distract her.”

How to Think Like an Exerciser

  • Think of exercise as your energy source

    Believe it or not, taking time out to exercise can actually give you more energy and focus for your day.

  • Take advantage of your workout time

    When you have a busy day or an unexpected visitor, your workout time may be the only quiet time you get. Taking a walk or run will give your mind, and stress levels, a break and you’ll be better prepared for what’s to come.

  • Learn how to motivate yourself

    Exercisers find motivation rather than waiting for it to happen. If you’ve got a lot to do, use that as an impetus to get moving. The stronger you are and the more endurance you have, the more you can get done.

3. Find ways to move all day long

Non-exercisers and exercisers alike tend to spend a lot of time sitting each day, but many exercisers find ways to be active above and beyond their regular exercise routines. Whether it’s taking more walks, parking at the end of the parking lot or taking the stairs at work, exercisers know that any movement can generate more energy and momentum.

Imagine an exerciser and a non-exerciser facing a flight delay:

The Non-Exerciser…

Stays at the gate, thinking, “I better save my strength to fight the other passengers for overhead bin space. I already have my eye on that woman and her giant suitcase.”

The Exerciser…

Grabs her bag and starts walking, thinking, “I’m going to be on that plane for at least two hours and probably squished in the middle seat between two linebackers. Better get a walk in while I can.”

How to Think Like an Exerciser

  • Stand up

    Sitting can actually shut down your metabolism. Stand up whenever you can – while on the phone, watching TV, opening your mail or taking a break from work.

  • Invent reasons to move

    Leave something in your car and take the stairs to get it. Make a rule that you have to walk around the parking lot at work three times before you can go in. Sit on an exercise ball when you’re at the computer or watching TV. Eventually, these movements become habits and, before you know it, you’re moving more than you’re sitting.

  • Wear a pedometer

    Pedometers can actually increase activity, motivating you to walk more just to see how many steps you can take.

4. Look at Exercise as a tool for getting what you want

Exercisers know that working out isn’t just for weight loss, but a tool they can use to find balance, more time for the things they enjoy and a way to keep up with life with fewer injuries, illnesses and other things that keep them from functioning at their best.

Imagine an exerciser and a non-exerciser with a tight, aching back after a long day at work:

The Non-Exerciser…

Is exhausted and decides to skip her planned workout, thinking, “My back hurts, so I probably shouldn’t exercise. I’ll just go home and put my feet up, which will allow my husband to attend to my needs more easily.”

The Exerciser…

Is exhausted, but decides to go through with his workout, thinking, “My back hurts from sitting for too many hours and my butt is starting to look a lot like my office chair. A workout will loosen things up and keep me from completely falling apart.”

How to Think Like an Exerciser

  • View exercise as a timesaver

    While you may see exercise as something that takes away from your time, it can actually save you time in the long run. A little exercise every day can help manage aches and pain, fatigue and offer protection from more serious illnesses like diabetes and cancer. If your schedule is overloaded, wouldn’t you rather spend a little time each day exercising rather than hours in a doctor’s waiting room, a hospital or in line for a prescription you might be able to avoid?

  • View exercise as a sanity-saver

    Exercise is one of the few activities you can do that can increase your confidence, boost your mood and make you feel good about yourself all at the same time. It can also help manage symptoms of depression and anxiety. If you have trouble getting started, think about how you’ll feel at the end of your workout

  • View exercise as a body-saver

    If you have an aching back or tight shoulder muscles, you may mistakenly think you need more rest, when what your body craves is movement. In fact, exercise is a great way to manage and prevent back pain along with the other aches and pains that happen when we sit for hours at a time.

Shifting your thinking from a non-exerciser’s point of view to an exerciser’s point of view isn’t easy. It requires looking at your daily tasks and choices with a different attitude and an eye toward your overall goals in life — feeling good, having more energy and getting satisfaction out of your accomplishments. Fitting in exercise isn’t just a function of weight loss, but a way to improve your overall quality of life. Changing how you think may be your first step in changing how you live for the better.


Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of Washington. The longitudinal effects of depression on physical activity. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2009 Jul-Aug;31(4):306-15. Epub 2009 May 13.

Friedenreich CM, Orenstein MR. Physical activity and cancer prevention: etiologic evidence and biological mechanisms. J Nutr. 2002 Nov;132(11 Suppl):3456S-3464S.

Hayden, J.; van Tulder, M.; Tomlinson, G. Strategies for Using Exercise Therapy To Improve Outcomes in Chronic Low Back Pain. Ann Intern Med. 2005 May 3;142(9):776-85.

Hu, G.; Lakka, T.; Kilpeläinen, T.; et al. Epidemiological studies of exercise in diabetes prevention. Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 32(3): 583–595 (2007).


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