Exercise motivation: Five unconventional tips to get you moving

If you're not able to find your motivation to get moving, read these out-of-the-box tips and then lace up your runners.


Even though I consider myself a battle-hardened workout warrior, I still struggle with exercise some days. Especially since I just know my shoes and socks are going to get soaked when I go for a run right after I finish writing this.

So here’s the deal. I’m going to try hard to inspire you with these somewhat unconventional tips, and hopefully it will get me to move my own butt as well to put on those runners and head out the door.

1. Exercise is doing what evolution programmed you to: Our bodies are meant to move, and they like it when we do. Sitting around checking email, watching TV, writing reports and balancing cheque books didn’t happen back in the Stone Age. If you got hungry you either had to get up, move around a bunch and gather something, or move around a lot faster and club or spear something. Those who did this got rewarded with offspring. Those who didn’t aren’t around anymore. Natural selection took care of them.

2. Exercise leads to healthier eating choices: Well, as long as you use your brain it does. Admittedly, some people spend 30 minutes on an elliptical and then “reward” themselves with a chunk of cheesecake. They burn 300 calories and then undo it and then some by taking in an extra 500. But if you engage your brain and forget about rewarding your efforts with food, you’ll find that exercise can improve your “ingestive behaviour” so that you are better able to make good food choices and not overeat.

3. Exercising is good for those with impulsive behaviour issues: I’m co-authoring a book on emotional eating with Dr. Margaret Yúfera-Leitch, who has her PhD in psychology studying eating behaviour and the link to obesity. During our many conversations she has educated me about how people who are prone to addiction are “reward sensitive.” Whether the addiction is food, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes or gambling, it frequently boils down to poor impulse control regarding getting that reward in the brain.

The good news is that exercise works on those same reward pathways as do drugs, booze and Doritos. Battling an addiction is brutally hard, but exercise can act like methadone and be your replacement behaviour; one that is actually good for you rather than bad.

4. You will become tougher about everything: Whether it’s jacking up a car to change a tire, hoisting a lawnmower out of the shed, carrying a kid up to bed, hauling a vacuum cleaner up some stairs, or pushing your man onto the bed to commence ripping his clothes off, you get more energetic, have better endurance, are stronger, faster and just all-around tougher. And not just physically, but mentally too. When you develop the tenacity to workout hard day after day you create what is called a “performance accomplishment” (pdf). It means you train yourself to succeed at something difficult, and this builds a useful skill that can make you more effective at your job, your relationships, and the rest of your life.

5. It feels so good when it stops: I’m a big fan of positive reinforcement when it comes to exercise, and I know that a bike ride on a warm day or an afternoon in a sea kayak is always fun. This run I’m about to go on, however, isn’t going to be that much fun. However, when I’m back home and warming up in the shower I know I’ll feel good about having done it. I’ll feel tough and have a sense of accomplishment. Conversely, I’ll quite likely feel a sense of guilt if I don’t go. This also creates “negative reinforcement:” The stimulus of going for a run is going to remove the negative feelings of guilt I will get if I decide not to go.

Okay, my work is done here. As soon as I finish proof-reading I’m off for a run. Join me?

James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, AB. He writes the column “In-Your-Face Fitness” for the Los Angeles Times and consults with clients on strategic planning for fitness and health. Visit or email him at