Body Image as Fitness Motivation

I have a very unscientific study to share with you. I regularly ask clients, friends and occasionally total strangers to think about the happiest times of their life. I pause and give them a second to pick a moment. I wait for the smile to cross their face and then I ask them, what did you look like then?

Almost always the answer is a variation of “the best I ever looked.”

Does happiness make us thin?

My follow-up question is: what did you do for exercise then? I get a barrage of answers, and almost everyone was following some version of an active lifestyle at that time.

But first they were happy. The moving was secondary—it was just part of their lives.

When were you happiest?

Lets use this now. Go back to your happy place and your happy body image. Think about it for a second. Were you in college, running around campus? Were you getting ready for your marriage? Were you starting your first job in a new city, and collecting a circle of friends, hopping from nightspot to party?

You probably weren’t slumped in your seat staring at a computer screen…

The trick is to incorporate a bit of your old spunk into your life, have fun, and get fit while you’re doing it.

Go kayaking with a friend, actually play with your kid when you go to the park, plan a shopping day with a friend in a mall with a lot of schlepping (avoid the food court!). Take a walk with your family after dinner and see who you meet. Rescue a loveable dog. Even if you’re just standing on the sidelines of the soccer game and chatting with the other parents instead of sitting on your backside, that’s an improvement.

There are 168 hours in a week. The two that we spend doing “formal” exercise isn’t going to be enough to counteract the other 166. We have to constantly choose an active lifestyle.

So what would you choose as a talisman reminder of your happiest time? When were you happy and how did you feel about your looks then? How can you get back to that place?

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson runs her own successful fitness blog at Lisa Johnson Fitness and is frequently seen hanging around Twitter @LisaJohnson. She also runs a few Pilates studios, Modern Pilates Boston.


  1. There is some good evidence to show that limiting carbs in your diet allows for more available energy – which leads you to be more interested in the active lifestyle that is so good for happiness!

    moral – stop eating carb-filled junk.

  2. I’d get into the biochemistry, but it would take a bit more than a comment to support it all. If you’re interested, look into PubMed, The Journal of Biochemisty, and the Journal of Physiology.

  3. Wow this sentence: “You probably weren’t slumped in your seat staring at a computer screen” hit me like a truck, so true!

    Since I’m only 23 I guess I would have to say back in high school where I was active in sports like roller hocker, tae kwon do, and skiing. There was always some activity going on that I could participate in.

    Now a days I have to make myself get up and go for a walk, or clean the house, or go play with the dog. or go workout, It’s not the same anymore.

  4. Hi Graham,

    I think there is a range of diets that work well for people. Our DNA has such a broad range it makes sense that different ethnic or racial groups will respond differently to different combinations of food. There’s a whole school of study called nutrigenomics that is looking into this and they have identified dozens of genes that seem to effect our body based on what we put in it.

    It’s all very cool and cutting edge and we should be hearing more and more about over the next few years. I tell my clients to do what works best for them. Most people do know themselves well enough to know if they should cut carbs or fats or whatever … and remember fruits and vegetables are carbs too, not just grains.

    Thanks for your input. 🙂


  5. Thanks for the post.. I remember when I was the happiest… I had fire and spunk… I am missing that person. Thanks for the reminder… now I just need to give myself permission!
    Take care,

  6. Hi Lisa,
    I find that I am happiest when I am in control of the major areas of my life. I can’t control all areas of life obviously.

    I get my exercise through my work. Besides blogging I am a landscaper. I stay in shape and tanned all summer long working outdoors.

  7. Nick, and so soon after school! I feel your pain, once that social network which is so active gets buried into cubicles it’s so much harder to get exercise in.

    Lisa, glad I could be a gentle reminder and I hope you find your happy place soon 🙂

    Justin, Landscaping is great exercise, just wear sunscreen, I come from a family of people prone to skin cancer, I slather the stuff on like it’s free, lol.


  8. What about cigarettes? Most people make herself calm by smoking. And that it very hazardous .

  9. An intriguing discussion is worth comment. There’s no doubt that
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    matter but generally people don’t discuss these topics.
    To the next! Many thanks!!

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