Healthy Relationships with Exercise: Strategies to help keep exercise sustainable and healthy

With many popular fitness challenges trending, like the 12-3-30 or 75 hard, it’s easy to feel like you’re not doing enough to take control of your health. It’s important to have both a healthy relationship with exercise and to stay active. Exercise should be a sustainable form of self-care rather than a punishment, and just because you’re not doing intense cardio every day doesn’t mean that you are out of shape or not good enough. Many of the influencers you see doing these challenges while scrolling through Instagram or TikTok are doing and producing this content as their full-time job. School, work, and other responsibilities make these fitness challenges incredibly unrealistic for a lot of people, so rather than getting caught up in these unrealistic standards, try finding sustainable ways to stay active.

Sustainable Exercise
Intense workout routines aren’t sustainable and you will eventually stop because your time is precious, and in order to consistently stay active (whatever that means for you), you need to enjoy the ways you move. So, it’s not worth it to base your exercise on what you feel like you should be doing, instead try to brainstorm the ways you enjoy moving. Begin trying new things – maybe you want to join a soccer league, go on walks more often, or try tennis lessons. Be patient with this process and be kind to yourself, it may take some time to figure out what ways you like to move and what keeps you motivated, and that’s ok.

What is Your “Why”?
A sustainable “why” is just as important as sustainable activities! Spend time thinking about your goals with exercise, and focus on victories that don’t require stepping on the scale. Hitting a goal weight provides only a fleeting moment of accomplishment and is often unrealistic. Getting more sleep, having more energy, and improving stamina are examples of small long-term victories that help improve day-to-day life and keep you motivated. Our bodies are ever-evolving, and will not look or perform the same way they always have, thus it’s unrealistic to seek a certain body through exercise. Here are some tips to help foster a healthier mindset about exercise:

  1. Unfollowing social media accounts of people that make you feel bad about yourself, and instead following social media accounts of people with similar body types can help you stay motivated by seeing the successes of people who look like you.
  2. Writing positive affirmations and giving thanks to your body for showing up and allowing you to move that day can help you celebrate and be kind to yourself.
  3. Shifting your perspective from exercise or burning calories to enjoyable movement can help allow you to create the space to find joy in being active.
  4. Talking to a professional such as a therapist, can be helpful if you think your relationship with exercise is unhealthy or too extreme.

Food is Fuel
Energy is incredibly important for exercise, and food is your fuel. In order to be successful with consistent movement, you need to be fueled so you can feel and perform your best. Food can also help you reach your goals. Protein is necessary for building muscle, and carbs are required for long-term energy. If you’re worried that you may be struggling with compulsive exercise, seek professional help from your primary care provider or trusted adult. Some questions to ask yourself include: do you feel compelled to exercise regardless of bad weather, being injured, and not feeling well, or competing social opportunities? Are you attempting to burn calories by exercising in secret when it has been recommended that you rest? Compulsive exercise can be a sign of an eating disorder. For more information, you can reach out to the National Eating Disorder Association at 1-800-931-2237 or visit for help.