Top 10 Fitness Motivation Tips

JUL. 13, 2016

By Christina Bruni

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1987 when I was 22 years old. Taking medication and maintaining a healthy lifestyle has enabled me to achieve a better recovery and a better life; I have been living in recovery for over 28 years.

I firmly believe that the number one thing that has helped me with and during my recovery is engaging in a consistent exercise routine. Ever since I was a teen I’ve done some form of exercise. Though that doesn’t mean I was always good at it. As a freshman in high school, I could only do five sit-ups in one minute. The highest ability was 50 sit-ups in one minute.

Making the increase from five sit-ups to 50 was the first goal I ever set and achieved: It took a few months, but I got there eventually. Ever since, I’ve loved exercise. I would run on the treadmill, take Zumba classes and at 46 years old, I decided to strength train by lifting weights. Now, four years later, I can dead lift 180 pounds.

Lifting weights two or three times each week has completely changed my life for the better. It has given me what I call an “emotional spine” as well as better posture. I value having a fit mind and a strong body. Our bodies are true workhorses that can help us accomplish our goals. And when I started to lift weights, I had more energy and stamina, slept better and rarely took sick days from work.

So here are my Top 10 fitness motivation tips. These keep me on track and help me train for life.

1. Set a SMART goal.

One that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-sensitive. Be realistic, but still challenge yourself. Research shows that setting easy goals makes us less motivated to try to achieve them. A challenging goal can be achievable when it’s personally meaningful—something we set for ourselves, not one that others tell us we should have. To achieve a goal, we must be invested in it.

2. Focus on what you did do, not on what you failed to do.

Setting impossible demands on yourself will set you up to fail. Be proud you exercised twice in one week instead of beating yourself up for not exercising five times.

3. Change one behavior at a time.

In the 1990s, I began a quest for better health. The first week I replaced whole milk with skim milk. Next I cooked chicken without the skin. Then I stopped cooking meat altogether. Make a habit of each goal, one at a time, and then move onto the next goal.  

4. Reward yourself for little victories and milestones.

My favorite reward is to shop at Banana Republic (with coupon codes). I’m not advocating for spending a lot of money on rewards, just reward yourself with something that boosts you up and won’t have negative consequences.

5. Set performance goals as you go farther along.

Achieving perfect form, lifting heavier weights, doing more reps or mastering an exercise you previously weren’t good at are all possible performance goals. What is it that you want to achieve? Continue to keep that question in the back of your mind as you set your intentions and goals.

6. Find the kind of exercise that is best for you.

I’m a big fan of strength training for everyone—especially as we get older and want to maintain functional fitness throughout our daily life. But it’s important to find the type of exercise that you enjoy and feel motivated to do. For you, your own Tour-de-Fitness might be taking spinning classes.

7. Focus on the positive long-term consequences of developing a consistent fitness routine instead of dwelling on the occasional, temporary setback.

If you didn’t exercise as often as you planned for a week or two, be kind to yourself and remember that “fitness is forever.” Also: You’re not perfect. Aim for progress instead. Consistently exercising—even if you don’t live up to your ideal frequency—is better than quitting and having to start from the beginning again a few months (or years!) later.

8. Remember that nutrition is 80% of fitness.

Nutrition goes hand-in-hand with exercise. Endless snacking and unhealthful eating can torpedo your efforts at the gym. I eat mostly fruits and vegetables and seafood (though, like any Italian, I do indulge in pasta every so often). I try to limit sweets, and I don’t drink sodas or soft drinks that contain fake sugars. I only drink water, though after a workout I might have low-fat organic chocolate milk. I do not always eat organic food yet I do steer clear of food and drink with “natural flavors” and any kind of chemical.

9. Re-frame your perception of “exercise.”

In my own life, I use the umbrella term “fitness,” not exercise. Fitness is an organic approach that encompasses lifestyle (thoughts and feelings, spirituality, finances, career and relationships, etc.) as well as physical activity. It’s important to prioritize health in all aspects of your life in order to feel the full benefit.

10. Have fun.


Christina Bruni published her memoir “Left of the Dial” in 2015. You can visit her at


JUL, 06, 2018 10:30:39 PM
Hi! I'm a teen struggling with mental illness and I just can't seem to get up and get motivated to exercise. Plus, I can't control what I have for dinner since I still live at home with my parents. I want to cut out certain foods from my diet such as meat (I don't like it), and whole milk, but my mom refuses to help me out with it.

DEC, 23, 2017 10:44:21 PM
I suppose I am in the acceptance phase of dealing with mental illness, and trying to figure out how to live better. I try to be a natural (not fake sugar person, lots of fruits n veg, etc.) however I don't think I exercise or "encompass fitness" into my life often enough. I am going through a really difficult time at the moment and I found your poignant, easy to follow steps to be up-lifting. Thank you. Wish me luck, and I hope to read more from you in the near future. -L

NOV, 25, 2016 07:02:00 AM
"Fitness encompasses lifestyle"-I like that. My sister has schizophrenia and our relationship has been so stressful.

AUG, 30, 2016 11:07:46 PM
Rita Johnson
I'm so happy to find you on NAMI website. I have always started and stopped with my exercises but these Ten Motivatioal tools sound so clear and easy to follow I am going to try harder and keep track in a small notebook. I plan to read your book too, you sound like a super person, I'd love to meet you. Your writing is very helpful for me. I'm 73 and hope to make at least 20 more years.

JUL, 28, 2016 02:49:00 PM
Theresa Carreon
My bone mass is rapidly deteriorating due to lack of exercise and obesity. May be this is the jump start I need to reverse the conditions and problems I have with my physical condition. I also suffer from schizophrenia and am on meds. I'm in the mainstream of society and have an office career for 38 years now.

JUL, 27, 2016 09:30:01 PM
Rose Marie Duesterwald
chris, that was the best list of healthy suggestions i have read in a long time and even better that it is tied in with mental illness.

JUL, 15, 2016 08:44:57 AM
Leslie Kassal
Hi, Chris. Really good, realistic, "lived" wisdom. Thanks. I read your blog and glad to see you on NAMI's site.
You are an inspiration to me.
No two pathways through life are alike, but I am always grateful to receive inspiration, "tips", from your writing.
Leslie in Baltimore

Submit to the NAMI Blog

We’re always accepting submissions to the NAMI Blog! We feature the latest research, stories of recovery, ways to end stigma and strategies for living well with mental illness. Most importantly: We feature your voices.

Check out our Submission Guidelines for more information.