As professionals invested in health, we appreciate connotations attached to terminology or concepts. Exploring or introducing the concept of the need to become active with that individual sitting across from you, the words chosen to discuss their “becoming active” or their “exercise” will likely contribute to the outcome of success or of failure.  Being cognizant of the chosen terminology used to discuss their “physical activity” has consequences. An observation you likely appreciate, from talking with 100’s of clients, terms like “physical activity” or “exercise” for most who are exercise-naive (a dominant demographic in the 80% of individuals who are minimally active) are terminologies that carry a lot of baggage.

 Over the years in medicine, inquiring of patients, many have tried and tried again to “exercise” and failed. Most feel defeated by feeling overwhelmed, attempting to “exercise” is some big insurmountable challenge commonly due to psychological attachments of trying to exercise.

Here, there seems to be wisdom in the words one chooses.  Choices I prefer to use in my patient encounters are references to exercise like “your healthy-activity” (ownership and health are key here in referencing activity), or “getting active”, both create a lot of real estate for fresh, unused, uncharted - no attachments- in referencing one’s physical activity. I plainly never talk about activity using terminology like “physical activity” or “exercise.”

 If I may provide an all too well-known situation that happens in sport that illustrates the power of perception. Consider the team that continually loses to the same opponent, season in, and season out, despite being better in some seasons, even, being athletically comparable or better they continue to lose to that team.

“They got your number,” words describing this situation.

Similarly, perceptions attached to words, and especially the word “exercise” or “physical activity” has some people’s number. The baggage attached, strings of attempts to become active, the popular press illustrating “exercise” with trim and athletic bodies, gymnasiums, facilities populated with precision movements, leaving the perception of exercise as not me, never me. This is exercise to many coming off the couch. The choice of how we reference activity has consequences.

 The impact of the terminology you use to reference the journey your client / patient is about to embark on— there is power in how you frame it.

By the way…
How do you frame your discussions around activity, your choice of terminology you use? I would like to learn from your experiences and share them, please share?


Dr. Peter Rawlek