What is Exercise Psychology?

You may be thinking that exercise psychology is the same as sports psychology so why would I even bother blogging about it. I am blogging about it because they are pretty different. There are some similarities but there are many differences.

Here is the technical definition: exercise psychology is concerned with the application of psychological principles to the promotion of physical activity and exercise, the psychological and emotional consequences of physical activity and exercise and the psychological, emotional and health related consequences of the lack of exercise.

Wow what the heck does that mean??? :-) Here is my interpretation and what I think is the most important elements to know. For most people exercise is not something you can just go out and DO on a regular basis. Unfortunately it’s not that easy. Even more unfortunate is that most people who try to just go out and do it and those ‘supporting’ them (personal trainers, group exercise leaders, fitness facilities) are all in a similar place of misinformation thinking it IS that easy. If it were then the 75%-85% of the population not doing it, would be doing it.

The 75%-85% of the population who are not exercising probably did no or very little exercise growing up. It may not have been an important family value and for many, the only recollection of ‘exercise’ is PE class and that doesn’t usually conjure up good thoughts or feelings. If we take the combination of bad PE experiences and low family value/priority on exercise what we are left with is a population of people who aren’t educated on and don’t understand the physical & psychological necessity for exercise. Without education and reinforcement it’s no wonder so many people aren’t exercising regularly.

Lets face it most of us are baby boomers and we grew up with no clue about exercise or healthy eating. Take no exercise and add an unhealthy diet and that equals an obesity epidemic!

Why are certain kids/adults good at certain things? Lets take math as an example. Throughout school there is math. In fact every year of K-12 there is math, right? 13 years of education and reinforcement in math would suggest that some students would like it & go into a profession including it. Why? Mainly because they are good at it and that’s what’s been reinforced for many years! Initially we don’t really know what we like but as we go in 1st grade and 2nd grade we start to feel successful at certain things when that success breeds more success WHALLAH!

In the same respect in school we don’t learn much about exercise particularly the physical and psychological benefits of exercise, it’s not reinforced and most kids hate PE (as adults we vividly remember and laugh about those experiences). This combination does not support exercise as a lifelong pursuit.

If education, understanding and successes are all what move people in certain directions then there needs to be a lot more done for kids in the realm of exercise and healthy eating; prior to the reinforcement of bad habits. As children we didn’t know there were choices. We (pretty much) did what we were told to do, think and believe. As adults we do have a choice and even though its hard to break mental & emotional patterns it can be done.

In your world, where you grew up thinking one way but are now realizing that certain things need to change it’s important to understand that there are stages that we all have to go through when making change; it’s that way in most all situations. Even though you may want to start exercising it’s important to evaluate  how you are feeling about exercising, your skills to exercise, your fears, etc. These are the things that get in the way of regular exercise and the more someone starts and stops exercise at some point the less motivation they to start again; not to mention how difficult it is to start…

Even though you may be physically ‘ready’ to exercise you may not be mentally ready to exercise but with a little awareness & the right support you can change this. This is my area of expertise: changing mental & emotional patters, education, reinforcement and helping people find & build successes!

I am here. Let me know how I can help!

Dr. Michelle


5 Responses to “What is Exercise Psychology?”

  1. Justin Atkinson

    I recently graduated with my Bachelor Degree in Psychology. I’m interested in Exercise Psychology and am wondering how to become an Exercise Psychologist?

    Thank you,

    • Dr. Michelle

      Hey Justin

      How are you?

      I LOVE LOVE exercise psychology. I teach exercise psychology at JFKU and they have a certificate program. Unfortunately I do not know of many programs. Oregon State has a PhD program. West Virginia University has a BS. Springfield College has a MA.

      Some sports psychology programs also offer exercise psychology classes and certificates.

      Unfortunately it’s been a slow growing field.

      Hope that helps!

      Thanks Dr. Michelle

  2. Ella

    I am interested in exercise psychology but most universities where I live do not offer that program. They do offer exercise science and psychology. So i was thinking of majoring in exercise science and minor in psychology or vice versa. Do you think that would place me on the right track to being an exercise psychologist? or would that be two different fields?

    • Dr. Michelle

      Hey Ella

      That would be 2 different fields. JFKU has a sport & exercise psychology certificate and the classes are online; if that helps.

      Thanks Dr. Michelle

      • Ella

        So what would be the better thing for me to do: if I were to go to a university for my masters that has exercise psychology, should I then major in psychology or exercise science for my undergraduate? I just want to make sure I pick a major (for my undergrad) that will place me on the correct path for a masters or Phd in exercise psychology and dont know whether to lean towards psychology or exercise science?


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