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A. Only since your sister-in-law was diagnosed with heart disease -- at 40. That's way too close to your age!
B. Regularly, since you tried your gym's popular boot camp class.
C. Like crazy before swimsuit season, intermittently the rest of the year.
D. Forever. Exercise has always been a part of your life.2. Which situation most closely describes your ideal workout?
A. A session on the elliptical or treadmill, during which you monitor your heart rate, miles covered, and calories burned.
B. Playing soccer on a Saturday morning or walking with a friend.
C. Alone in your living room, doing a body-sculpting DVD.
D. Kickboxing class, to release stress and tension.3. Warming up for your routine, you...
A. Sneak a peek at the Pilates class at the gym. You've heard that core-strengthening can help your back.
B. Chat with your running buddy.
C. Picture yourself with toned arms. You resolve to do free weights later.
D. Take deep breaths. You like to turn off the noise in your head before exercising.4. You would describe your workout clothes as...
A. Fairly new. You've just made the commitment to exercise regularly.
B. A wide collection of tees from the charity 5Ks and 10Ks you've done.
C. Mostly comfy stuff for solo workouts, with a few flattering pieces.
D. A full wardrobe -- running gear, yoga pants, capris, technical tanks, you name it.5. What do you love most about exercise?
A. Getting it done, because your doctor advised a daily regimen to improve your health.
B. The good-natured banter with others sweating it out in a gym class.
C. The way your skinny jeans fit. Look, no muffin top!
D. The intense rush you get from huffing and puffing.
Motivation button: Your health
This is one of the most powerful reasons for starting an exercise program, according to a study of pregnant women by Western University in Ontario. But here's the catch: You have to want to work out, and not just do it because your doctor tells you to. "If exercise isn't something you're choosing freely, your motivation may not last," says Marcus Kilpatrick, PhD, an associate professor of exercise science at the University of South Florida.
Your stick-to-it plan
Improve your aim. Chances are, you need to lose weight to boost your health. But instead of setting a goal of "I will drop 20 pounds," make it "I will exercise four times a week," which will put you on the path to wellness by lowering your cholesterol and blood pressure and making you stronger and more relaxed, says Kendrin Sonneville, RD, a nutritionist in Boston.
Schedule it. You plan to take a bike ride after work three times this week. Great, but you need to be even more concrete about it, says Anca Gaston, PhD, an exercise psychologist at Western University. Write out a weekly schedule listing what each exercise session will consist of, when and where it will happen, for how long and with whom. "Lack of time is a big exercise barrier," Gaston says. "It takes practice to find periods during your week when you can exercise; writing it down can make it more automatic for you."
Get pumped. If you want to enjoy working out more, be your own coach, says JoAnn Dahlkoetter, PhD, a sports psychologist and the author of Your Performing Edge. A good coach wouldn't let you trash talk yourself, so trade negative thinking such as I'm so slow, what's the use? for Every step is making my heart more powerful, my lungs clearer, and my bones stronger.Mostly B's
Motivation button: Making friends
You get an energy boost from the connection you have with other people in your Zumba class. "In our studies, when sedentary people participate in a group-based exercise program, they typically stick with it longer than they do with exercising alone," says Timothy Church, MD, PhD, a professor at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. The downside is, if your exercise buddies drop out, you may lose interest too.
Your stick-to-it plan
Get sporty. Join a team. People who take part in sports have more fun and may be more likely to keep it up than those who do solo workouts, according to research in the Journal of American College Health.
Join the club. To get the camaraderie you crave, check out local running, hiking, and biking clubs. Besides the socializing, you'll probably bump up your performance a notch as you start comparing your speed and distance with other those of other members.
Use your social network. Friends are the best cheerleaders, so tweet, text, or e-mail your latest mileage achievements to your pals. When they zap back their congrats, you'll get a blast of inspiration and be psyched to keep going.Mostly C's
Motivation button: Your swimsuit
Call it superficial, but the pursuit of a sleek physique will get you to the gym. After health, appearance is the most common reason women say they exercise, according to a University of Kentucky survey. Just be aware that your focus on the endgame, rather than on enjoying the process, can cost you. When beach season is over, you may lose interest in putting in the work it takes to stay slim.
Your stick-to-it plan
Ease up a little. "People who want to look their best for a specific event, like a reunion, may be willing to exercise harder and diet because they think it will help them more quickly achieve their goals," Kilpatrick says. "But we've found that for many people, continuous high-intensity exercise can actually discourage them from continuing to do it." It's more effective to go for a jog several times a week if sprinting like crazy for 15 minutes today is going to make you bail on your workout tomorrow.
Strength-train. For the best results, add a body-sculpting class, Pilates, or any type of resistance work to your regimen. "When you overdo cardio, your body starts to burn muscle instead of fat," says Greg Joujon-Roche, a personal trainer and the founder of Holistic Fitness in Los Angeles. Strength training tones muscle and trims flab.
Picture perfect. Successful athletes envision themselves acing that serve, crossing the finish line, or scoring a goal. "When you visualize an achievement, you're doing a mental workout that is creating neuromuscular connections between your brain and muscles," Dahlkoetter says. This technique helps you appreciate how amazing your body is. Yes, it's cool to be a healthy size 6, but it's even cooler that the muscles that make you a 6 can move so beautifully.Mostly D's
Motivation button: The mental rush you get
You use exercise to beat stress, alleviate frustration, and boost feel-good endorphins. You're one of the lucky ones: Intrinsic motivation -- drive that comes from within -- is more likely to lead to long-term behavioral change, Gaston says. The only trouble is, you may be so in love with how exercise makes you feel mentally that you ignore what it's doing to you physically, putting you at risk for injury.
Your stick-to-it plan
Take a time-out. Be sure to schedule at least one day off a week to let your body rest. And make sure you alternate activities -- running one day, Pilates the next -- so you stay strong from head to toe.
Try new things. Even the most ardent exercisers can get bored by the monotony of Mondays, bike; Wednesdays, run; Fridays, yoga. So branch out. Take lessons to learn a new sport, like tennis. Or try adventurous activities like rock climbing or kayaking.
Recover from a bump. Whether it's a killer work deadline or your honeymoon, getting back on the exercise wagon after a hiatus can be tricky. Pick it up again without obsessing about your performance. Instead of overthinking how your backstroke is going to look, just do it and focus on how good it feels.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, November/December 2012.