Working toward a healthy body starts in the mind

Before that first drop of sweat, be aware of the fitness mindset.

To attain the motivation needed to exercise regularly, be sure to create ways to make it more enjoyable. In society's frenetic pace, the widely held belief is that exercise is not fun. Although that's a normal feeling, it's one you can change with your own positive reinforcement.

Making exercise an essential part of your lifestyle requires a change in what's referred to as "mental association." Those who have a tough time getting started associate exercise with painful things such as tightness, soreness and being out of breath, and therefore believe there are more productive ways to spend their time.

The technique known as neuro-linguistic programming was conceived in the '70s by psychologists John Grinder and Richard Bandler, who studied the processes of therapists Milton Erickson and Virginia Satir. It's used to obtain a different approach to thinking of and reaching a goal.

The "neuro" in neuro-linguistic is the nervous system through which our experience is processed, via the five senses. Linguistics is language and non- verbal communication, through which our neural representations are coded and given meaning. Programming refers to the ability to discover and utilize the programs we run in our neurological system to produce an outcome.

Without trying to overwhelm you with science, this means that most people's minds are not programmed to exercise, and when given a choice that might include the potential for pain, that choice is not always made. Many people might put more emphasis on working late (less pain than working out) or sleeping late (pleasure). Minds must be trained to visualize a well-conditioned physique, to comprehend a longer life.

I've trained people who've had a serious health threat, and now they're seriously consistent about their workouts. Today, the association to not work out is extremely painful to their mindset.

Unfortunately, it took a serious health problem to change their mental association. Ideally, we shouldn't have to experience a problem to change our outlook.

The World Health Organization defines health as a complete state of physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease. We need to be proactive in relation to our health, and people who exercise regularly are the ones who adhere to this rule.

Great athletes train their minds to be competitive at the right time. Like determined athletes, we've all done things we don't want to do, but we do them to reach a level of success. The outstanding athletes I train all have a vision that constantly plays in their head.

Set goals. Hang up pictures of yourself when you were in better shape. Get in touch with your biorhythm, the time of day when you feel you have the most energy. Find a workout partner during that time. If you or your partner miss a workout, set up a system of paying fines to each other. Make a game out of it.

If you don't have photos of yourself, hang up a realistic role model; just don't think you're going to look like a movie star. Your genetics may not allow a physical resemblance, but the image supplies motivation.

Constantly feed your mind with positive images of your body. You'd be surprised what it does for self-esteem.

Thoughts predict action, and actions predict outcome. Our minds are conditioned to seek pleasure and avoid pain, yet the most painful result of a sedentary lifestyle is the breakdown of the body's immune system, which brings on disease.

Keep telling yourself you're going to look good. It doesn't take that long.

Bill Parisi is a nationally recognized fitness expert and an authority on general health and athletic performance. Send e-mail to him at

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