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Exercise Key: Motivation or Inspiration?

by Mary Stauder, MS
Associate Director of Health & Healing, Canyon Ranch Tucson

What does it take to stick with an exercise program? Over the past decade as a fitness and lifestyle expert, I’ve heard thousands of clients say that the reason that they don’t exercise is lack of motivation.

Maybe this “motivation” dilemma is true for some folks. From my experience, I suggest it’s about something deeper: Motivation is enough to get you on track through a day, but you need inspiration for a long-term commitment.

When you couple inspiration with the power of knowledge, you can keep going long after motivation falls by the wayside. If you’re struggling to begin an exercise program or have gotten away from your usual regimen, this four-step program to build confidence and inspire you:

Cardiovascular fitness level is the number one indicator of longevity, so it’s a logical starting point. To be clear, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) describes cardiovascular exercise as any rhythmic, continuous movements that use large muscles. The goal is to maintain or improve at least this component of fitness.

Pro Tips:

  • Be creative. Cardiovascular exercise can be anything from walking to dancing in your kitchen or taking a bike ride. Do the one you like best, because you’re more likely you’ll keep it up. 
  • Use your arms and legs to engage the entire body whenever possible. 


Go with the path of least resistance. Which activity is your go-to, the one that doesn’t take much thought, preparation or learning? Many people drop out of programs because the feel a need to master whatever they’re doing – and that may never be possible. Don’t demand perfection of yourself. The exercise, enjoyment and consistency matter more.

Pro Tips:

  • Piggy-back physical activity with another habit, such as checking the mail. Maybe you can include a walk around the block with that. New habits are hard to establish, so build on something already in place. 
  • Focus on doing the activity. Don’t worry about all the details. Just move! 


There’s often pressure to work at an intensity that requires a lot of sweating and huffing and puffing. In fact, duration can matter more. As you fine-tune your habit, consider increasing the length of your workout. Slowly increase your total number of minutes by 10% until you achieve 150 – 300 minutes a week, which is the ACSM recommendation.

Pro Tips:

  • Avoid the temptation to track your heart rate or determine if you hit your “zone” during your workout. Focus on being able to carry on a conversation and feel your breath.  
  • If you can’t sing a song but can carry on a conversation, you’re in the moderate intensity range. That’s when you receive both fitness and health benefits. 


As with any other commitment on your calendar, give yourself permission to reschedule or redesign your workouts at any time. Being flexible is necessary to sticking with an exercise program.

Pro Tips:

  • Be open to changing your personal definition of what a good workout really is. You can reframe your fitness activities to accommodate the way you feel and any life obstacles thrown your way.  
  • Consider looking at your workout over the course of a week. Give yourself goals for total minutes and days, which you can adjust as needed.

Finally, I leave you with one question:
What is your “why” to exercise? Look within to find what truly inspires you, so you can enjoy a lasting commitment to healthy living.

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