By Dr. Ayla Donlin, Special AFS Contributor

You are probably already full speed ahead in working toward your fitness goals – get it! Remember that you are in this for the long haul - your sustained effort over time is important - pace yourself and enjoy the ride.

As you probably know, memberships and physical activity levels tend to increase and peak during the first quarter of the year (January – March), and then drop off throughout the rest of the year.  This blog post is dedicated to helping you sway the statistics by staying committed to your health and fitness routine throughout 2017!

First, a dose of reality with some striking statistics about physical activity levels in the U.S.:

  • In the U.S., more than 80% of adults do not meet the guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities! 
  • Only one in three adults meet the aerobic physical activity (PA) guidelines each week (150 minutes of moderate intensity PA, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity PA).

In this blog post, we are going to provide you with some motivational strategies to sustain exercise motivation all year long and move the statistics in a positive direction! 

A very popular theory of motivation from the field of psychology is Ryan and Deci’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT).  The theory posits that there is a range of motivation that we experience as human beings from amotivation (experiencing no motivation at all) to extrinsic motivation (being motivated by external rewards or punishments) to intrinsic motivation (being motivated from within out of interest, enjoyment, and inherent satisfaction).  In parallel, behavior will range from nonself-determined (experiencing a lack of control) to self-determined (experiencing control over our behavioral choices).  We perform most optimally and experience higher levels of well-being when our motivation is intrinsic (internal) and our behavior is self-determined. 

Related to exercise, we are more likely to persist with an exercise behavior/habit if we are internally (rather than externally) motivated and we perceive our behavior to be of our own choice.  This means we want our motivation to come from within out of interest and enjoyment, and we want to perceive that we are choosing the behavior of exercise for ourselves.

Many exercisers begin a fitness routine via extrinsic (external) motivation.  For example, to lose weight, to look more toned, to improve health indices (i.e. blood pressure), or because their doctor/partner/friend urged them to.  This is not a bad thing!  According to SDT, we have the ability as human beings to evolve in our motivation from external to internal by assimilating a behavior into our perception of ourselves.  We can align our exercise behavior with our other values and needs to create a more internal motivation.  Do you see yourself as an exerciser?  Try an experiment and talk about yourself as an exerciser when you next chat with a friend.

Most of us will experience both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation related to exercise behavior, and that is a very normal phenomenon.  We can start to move the dial in the direction of intrinsic motivation by identifying how the behavior of exercise is interesting, enjoyable, energizing, empowering, and satisfying.  We can also measure the extrinsic motivators like fitness improvements, weight loss, and health improvements, but without making them top priority.

So, why is it so important to exercise from a place of intrinsic motivation?  Because scientific research using SDT has proven time and again that we are more likely to stick with an exercise routine, put out more effort, see greater results, and experience higher levels of well-being if we are intrinsically rather than extrinsically motivated!

But wait, there’s more!  Research using SDT has identified social contexts that promote intrinsic motivation by meeting three basic psychological needs that we all have as human beings:  competence, relatedness, and autonomy.  Competence is our sense of being able to do something successfully or with mastery.  Relatedness is our sense of being connected to others who are like us and share our values.  Autonomy is our sense of ownership and control over our behavior.  You can set yourself up for motivational success by creating a social environment which meets these three needs for you.


Shape your exercise environment to meet your psychological needs and experience more intrinsic motivation over time.  Here are a few suggestions:


When planning your workout, choose activities that you can work hard to become proficient at – it is important that you set challenging yet achievable targets.  While you are working out, notice your ability to choose and control your exercise intensity based on your fitness goals.  As you complete your workout, really experience the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that come from working on your health and fitness.

Further, track your progress in meeting your fitness goals, and be sure to celebrate each achievement!


Be purposeful about forming relationships with those who you are working out with in your gym or wherever you get your workout on.  Ask a friend or family member to check in with you once per week about your workouts and encourage you to stay on your routine.


You own your workouts and you own your intensity!  Listen to your body, and take ownership of your health and well-being.  Map out your workout routine in advance so that you can experience a sense of control over your exercise choices.  Choose the identity of an exerciser – see yourself as an exerciser and talk about yourself in that way.

Here’s to a motivated, productive, and fit 2017!

Find out more about MYZONE and their special 2 months of FREE licensing for AFS members! 

Related Post:  How Heart Rate can be Leveraged into Gaining Meaningful Insight into your Client


Dr. Ayla Donlin is the director of the LifeFit Center @ The Beach, a health and fitness facility and educational laboratory on the campus of Long Beach State University (LBSU).  Ayla’s passions are fitness, education, and well-being, and as a result, she holds multiple positions within higher education and the fitness industry.

Ayla is a lecturer in the kinesiology department at LBSU and has been teaching courses since 2008 in the fitness and sport studies options.  She is also the chair of the Exercise is Medicine on Campus (EIMOC) Leadership Team at LBSU and advises the EIMOC student organization.

Ayla has been active in the fitness industry for over 12 years as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, group fitness director, master trainer, and health club general manager. She is currently an American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) certified personal trainer and an Exercise is Medicine® credentialed fitness professional. 

Ayla also serves as a consultant within the fitness industry.  She has been working with Johnny G. since 2007 as a Master Instructor for Krankcycle® and became a Master Instructor for IN-TRINITY® in 2015.  Ayla is also a Master Trainer for MYZONE®, a wearable physical activity tracker that rewards effort.  She creates educational content for the MYZONE® blog, Podcast, and learning management system.

As a passion and hobby, Ayla has organized, led, and participated in over 100 hours of Spin-a-thon/Krank-a-thon fundraisers benefitting various organizations like the Challenged Athletes Foundation.


Ryan, R. & Deci, E. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being.  American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi: 10.1037//0003-066X.55.1.68

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