It’s time to take our medicine—Part 4: Staying motivated

Group of women feeling happiness while being on countryside and listening to their exercise instructor

Image: Yacobchuk/

So, how do you stay motivated about your exercise program? ‘That,’ says Robin Daly, ‘is the million dollar question.’

Professor Daly holds the Chair in Exercise and Ageing within the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, Melbourne. And he’s keen on exercise and movement being seen as medicine in Australia.

Motivation is a real issue. As a researcher, he often writes scientific grants to obtain funding to examine the role of exercise in preventing or managing different diseases. One of the key issues often raised by the medical community is how to get people to maintain exercise over a long period of time.

Social interaction

‘We’re not really sure what works best,’ he says, ‘but we do know that social interaction is one of the keys because it helps drive people to come together to work out.

‘I’m sure they get benefits from the workout, but the people we see often continue with the exercise program because they form new friendships and there are social interactions. They’ll often end up having a coffee together afterwards.’

This doesn’t only work for the gym, but for groups like those who walk around a shopping mall—before their coffee together. The drink together adds to the social dimension.

Wanting to be independent

One motivation as we age is to maintain independence. ‘We know that most people want to live at home longer and remain independent,’ says Daly, ‘Being physically active is the pathway to maintaining independence.’

He and his research team recently worked with older people to help them maintain functional mobility. ‘Clearly, you need to have a certain degree of muscle mass and strength to maintain mobility, but you also have to be able to move your muscles quickly to stop from stumbling and falling.’

This is where his team became specific. It’s well known that many older people fall because of a trip or stumble in which they can’t move their leg quick enough to stop themselves from falling.

To address this issue, they focused on doing resistance or strengthening exercises to not only build muscle strength, but also the ability to move muscles quickly. In a recent study, they used lighter weights and asked the people involved to do the exercises or movement as quick as they could. That is, they got them to push the weight as fast as they could and then return the weight slowly.

The goal was to improve lower leg ‘explosive’ strength or power, which is really important for older people.

Wanting to remain independent can be a strong motivator to exercise as a person ages, and particularly when they see others their age beginning to deteriorate.

Doing what fits you

If you’re a person who can’t ever imagine going to the gym—and would refuse even if you were promised a fantastic program with great results—the gym is not for you.

‘When individuals are at the stage of wanting to do an exercise program then you need to look at personal preferences. Based on that you would start to design a program around them.’ That’s the first point Daly makes—to make the exercise fit your personality.

‘The other thing that needs to be considered is where they’re at physiologically. Their fitness, their obesity, their blood lipid levels and that sort of thing.’ His second point—the exercise should fit your fitness and health condition.

This second part can be worked out with a doctor and someone who can then prescribe the exercise for you. An exercise physiologist would be ideal.

The role of technology

In the future, technology may play a significant role in keeping people motivated about exercise. ‘Currently,’ says Daly, ‘I can theoretically interact with you every single day for five minutes if I wanted to, and talk about your exercise program on Skype or whatever it might be.’

In his research, he’s already demonstrated that regular phone calls and SMS messages help to maintain exercise compliance. ‘We did a program on Type 2 diabetes and one group had more interaction with telephone calls and SMS. It enhanced their compliance.’

He sees the day coming when individuals have a personalised coach in their pocket—on their smartphone. Pocket Coach would contact you with reminders and also when you don’t exercise.

Yes, there is already an app for that—several, in fact.

Daly’s final word about motivation: ‘I think variety is important. This could involve changing your program every now and then. Maybe it’s having goals to aim for. For instance, somebody might start running because they want to do a half-marathon. But, what then?’

That’s the challenge. Actually, that’s when we need to find and accept the next challenge.

This is the final of four posts from an extended interview with Robin Daly from the Faculty of Health at Deakin University.

Bruce Manners is the author of Retirement Ready? and Refusing to Retire, and founder of

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Category: Physical Health

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