Brain and Behavior, Exercise and Brain Health, Mindset

How To Motivate Exercise In the New Year? Morbid Thoughts To The Rescue!

I started the New Year with resolve: I was going to get stronger, fitter, and healthier in 2022. And yet here it is, three weeks in, and I’ve only adhered to my fitness plan four times. It is little comfort that I’m not alone in my frustration. After too many wasted gym membership payments in February and March, after too many failed exercise goals, many of us eventually ditch the idea of getting fit for the new year altogether. Research shows that incremental steps are the key to goal setting, but what is the best way to motivate the learning goals that lead to our performance goals?

A researcher from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada decided to investigate that very question. The study involved 669 participants who were asked to evaluate a variety of messaging techniques to inspire interaction with a fitness app. The surprise outcome? Messages pertaining to morbidity and illness were the most effective at garnering participation compared to more typical fitness motivators such as social stigma or obesity, and cost-related concerns.

The author concluded, These findings indicate that, in the fitness domain, illness- and death-related messages may be employed as a persuasive technique to motivate regular exercise.”

It is well founded that exercise mitigates neural and cognitive deficits of aging, and yet perhaps I need to take that information to a darker place in my brain. Without consistent exercise I am much more likely to suffer Alzheimer’s, heart disease, stroke, and a painfully premature death! Apparently my self-motivating thoughts of getting fitter and stronger need to be replaced with a much more morbid mindset. Something more akin to, “death is knocking at my door, so I darn-well better lace up my gym shoes and outrun it!”


Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy

Check out the original research:

Information 202112(9), 350;

Alzheimer’s & Dementia,

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