Positive Psychology

Being Fit as Long as You Live: Part II


by Carol Parker Thompson, Ph.D.


In last month’s column we discussed the benefits of being physically fit as long as we live. As we age, we have found that our body needs a lot more maintenance than when we were younger. Fitness experts tell us that if we move more and sit less we will:

• live not just longer but healthier.

• increase our endurance.

• alleviate muscle and joint pain.

• improve balance, prevent falls and injury.

• build muscle and bone mass.

• increase our range of motion.

The physical rewards of exercise are well documented. Those who work out expect better health and an improvement in appearance, energy and stamina. What is less well known are the psychological benefits that can accrue from regular exercise.

Self-esteem and Self-control

Exercising increases our self-esteem and self-control. It produces a pride in oneself, a feeling of real accomplishment. Anyone who has been able to stick with an exercise program over an extended period of time knows that there are times when you must push yourself. Just doing it makes you feel good about your efforts--especially after the exercise is over. 

During the times when life seems out of sorts are especially critical times to exercise. The one thing you can manage is your opportunity to exercise. You can have control over your own emotions and actions, even if you cannot influence the other factors or people in your life.

Personality Attributes

Exercising helps refine such attributes as motivation, discipline and persistence. When the last thing you want to do is exercise, getting the drive to “just do it” often requires reaching deep within oneself for the incentive. Beginning and completing a program of exercise often provides its own reward.

Think about your motivations. You might begin by writing down all of the reasons why you believe that exercising would be good for you.

Perhaps you realize that you are getting older, your joints do not move as easily as they used to. Perhaps you find that your balance is making you uneasy about enjoying everyday activities. You know that strength training will help build stamina and improve balance. You understand that exercising will improve your appearance by decreasing fat and building muscle, and improving the way you carry yourself.

Other motivators could include the social opportunities that exercising provides. Exercising is a way to keep up with friends who share the same interest, and to make new acquaintances.

Stress reduction can be another motivator. Research shows that both strengthening and aerobic activities release tension and decrease depression.

Impression Management

Exercise can be used to influence others’ perceptions of us. Information that we reveal to others about our exercise habits can create favorable impressions about us. The results of a process called impression management can influence how others “perceive, evaluate, and treat” us and can, in turn, affect our self-concept and psychological well-being, according to some researchers.

Exercisers are often considered to be more self-confident, to have greater self-control, and to work harder than non-exercisers. Often, as you tell others about your exercise program, they tend to view you in a more favorable light.

There are any number of reasons why many of us do not stick with an exercise program. Many people expect swift and pronounced results. When they do not see immediate changes in their body as a result of their efforts, they get discouraged and quit. 

Sticking with an exercise program is a mind game. It requires discipline. First, you must eliminate the obstacles to exercising. You may say to yourself, as many do, “I’m too busy, I’m too tired, I’m too lazy”. Sound familiar? The fact is, nearly everyone can fit in an hour or so two to three times a week. The fact is, if you just start exercising, you will wind up with more energy as a result. The fact is, if you are too lazy, you need to call on your motivations to make a promise to yourself to “just do it” and think about the benefits that you will receive from the effort.

“Just doing it” requires the ability to continually encourage yourself, to be motivated, to be committed and to change your behavior. 

Exercise demands that you build it into your schedule. Determine what time of day best suits you. If you are a morning person, that is, if you awaken filled with energy, than early in the day is likely the best time for you to exercise. If the late afternoon to evening hours are the times when you find yourself the most energized, that is the period of day when working out is perhaps better for you. It takes planning, motivation, discipline, time and energy to demonstrate such persistence.

Psychological Benefits

Exercise increases our self-esteem, self-control, motivation, discipline, persistence and others’ view of us. Those who exercise regularly feel a sense of empowerment and well-being. Does that not sound like it is worth it to exercise? If your goal is to be fit as long as you live, isn’t it time you made the commitment to yourself to just do it?  The psychological (and physical) benefits clearly do outweigh the effort.


Contact Dr. Thompson at caroltmcc@comcast.net