Jaana Kari
Different exercise habits – do you recognize your own type?
Photo: Drawings by Annika Mannström
You have probably thought about your own exercise habits. Are you athletic or just average? Or maybe not that athletic? Have you ever thought that your own exercise habits influence how you instruct your child to exercise?

Do you prefer to exercise alone or in a group, instructed or independently? Do you enjoy competing, exhausting yourself or just exercising gently? People with different exercise habits get motivated by different forms of exercise. Jaana Kari’s doctoral thesis presents seven different exercise habits.


Your own exercise habits also greatly influence how you instruct, encourage and raise your child to be active. Identifying your own exercise habits is an important starting point for guiding your child consciously and positively towards an active lifestyle.


This article introduces different exercise habits and helps you to think about your own habits. You can also learn to identify your child’s exercise habits. You will receive practical tips on how you and your child can enjoy exercise together as well as tips on how to strengthen your child’s relationship to exercise.



Habits guide how people relate to exercise


Adults are likely to encourage their children to exercise the way they themselves do and offer them their own kinds of exercise experiences without even noticing it. Problems will arise when the exercise habits of the adult and the child are different and the child takes no interest in the forms of exercise recommended by the adult. A classic example is when a competitive parent tries to encourage a child to take up sport but the child likes to play and exercise just for fun. The adult teaches, encourages and compliments the child and is keen for the child to practise, learn and develop exercise and sporting skills. At the same time, the adult wonders why the child prefers to play rather than take an interest in instructed exercise or competing.


Differences in exercise habits between the child and the adult may make exercise unpleasant for the child. Often the adult too gets frustrated when the child takes no interest in exercise. At worst, exercising becomes a negative experience which lowers the child’s self-esteem and desire to exercise.  To avoid this, it is important that the parents identify their own exercise habits and learn what kind of exercise motivates their own child.



Identify your own exercise habits


Seven different types of exercise habits, but all equally valuable


Your exercise habits reflect how you perceive exercise, what you value about it and what makes you exercise. They also describe the situations in which you are most likely to exercise. The different exercise habit categories do not measure the amount of exercise – people in all categories can exercise a lot or just a little – and they cannot be ranked. Exercise habits describe your relationship to exercise.  All habit categories are equally good starting points for encouraging the child to value an active lifestyle.


The following table summarizes the seven different exercise habits that Jaana Kari (2016) found in her doctoral thesis. Do you recognize your own habits? There might be something familiar in several of the categories, because exercise habits change and acquire new perspectives with age.



I value exercise achievements and progress. I want to gain results and achieve things.


I’m PRETTY GOOD when it comes to exercise.


For me, exercise is a tool to achieve victories and success.


If exercise doesn’t bring me success or rewards, I might not exercise much. I might not even exercise at all. Competitions and achievements motivate me.


I’m more motivated to exercise when I monitor and analyse my health and the development of my skills. I have a target in mind. I can hire a coach or get a training mate to monitor my progress with.


Hard worker

I value the amount of time spent on training and exercise – I want to exercise hard. 


I am HARD-WORKING when it comes to exercise. I plan my exercise routines in advance. I measure and count them. Not exercising makes me feel guilty.


For me, exercise is a tool with which to achieve self-satisfaction. 


Exercise is an important part of my life. Then again, if I suddenly have something more important to work on, I might not exercise much.


I’m more motivated to exercise when I create for myself a weekly schedule that includes exercise. I measure and count my results and enjoy the effort I put in. I reward myself with a day off planned in advance.


Experience seeker

I value the experiences that exercise brings – those pleasant and enjoyable physical, mental, social or aesthetic experiences.


I’m COMFORT-SEEKING when it comes to exercise. I exercise at my own pace. External exercise goals and instructions make me feel anxious.


For me, exercise is a way to gain aesthetic, physical and social experiences. It also gives me an opportunity to be creative and express myself.


The amount I exercise may vary. I might get really enthusiastic about some meaningful form of exercise, but sometimes laziness takes over.


I’m more motivated to exercise when I’m “obliged” to exercise, such as when travelling to work or doing something physical. I like to be outdoors with my dog or my friends, to try and learn something new and exercise at my own pace.



I value instructing exercise and motivating other people to exercise. Based on my own sporting achievements and skills, I’ve started to organize exercise sessions for others.


I’m ACTIVE when it comes to exercise. My exercise background is varied, and I like to exercise. I enjoy instructing and teaching exercise.


For me, exercise is a way to gather experiences and to feel competent, and training others brings me satisfaction. 


Exercise is an important part of my life, but organizing exercise sessions may cause me to be less active.


I’m more motivated to exercise if I get to exercise during the sessions I organize for others.


Damaged by exercise

I value good exercise guidance and encouragement from a professional. My self-esteem regarding exercise has been damaged, and I’m poor at exercise.


I’m NOT ACTIVE when it comes to exercise. I like some forms of exercise. I’d like to find the spark to exercise more.


Exercise has brought me feelings of failure. Negative exercise experiences have made me consider my body inadequate.


I may exercise more than usual and even intensively if I get good guidance, encouragement and feelings of success.


I’m more motivated to exercise if I get good guidance and start with a form of exercise that doesn’t require special skills or good fitness. When I notice that I’m learning and making progress, I get more motivated. I need to get out of my comfort zone to get on the move.  


Health enthusiast

I value the fact that exercise helps me to take care of my health and promote my well-being.  



I’m ENTHUSIASTIC when it comes to exercise. I have my own exercise goals which serve my own physical and mental well-being.


For me, exercise is a way to a good, healthy life.


I exercise regularly, and exercise is an integral part of my life.


I’m more motivated to exercise when I get to monitor and measure the health benefits and fitness progress that exercise brings.




I value almost everything about exercise. I love to exercise.


I’m a SPORTAHOLIC. All exercise forms motivate me. I always make sure I can exercise.


Exercise is a necessary and crucial part of my life – a way of life.


I exercise in many ways regardless of my life situation.


Loving exercise and having a strong relationship with it helps me to get motivated. I have no trouble going out and exercising!




Strengthen your child’s relationship with exercise – encourage the child to adopt an active lifestyle


A positive relationship with exercise is the foundation for an active lifestyle. Children’s relationship with exercise and perception about their exercise habits are most likely to strengthen through positive experiences and achievements. Positive experiences will come when children are allowed to do things according to their own exercise habits. As a parent, you may have to learn to value exercise forms which your child likes but which are not part of your own exercise habits.


Here are some tips for people with different exercise habits:


  • Competitor: In addition to “the real sports”, learn to appreciate other forms of exercise forms. Daily routines, everyday exercise and games develop the child’s fitness and motor skills, even if they cannot be measured or bring credit. Your child may be skilful and fit, even if he/she didn’t prove it in competitive sports.
  • Hard worker: Learn to also enjoy exercise which is not pre-planned and progresses at its own pace and in which the exercise part comes as a bonus. Make time in your diary for inspiration, and forget efficiency. Don’t demand too much from your child. You don’t always have to measure how long you exercised or how far you went.
  • Experience seeker: Urge yourself to create exercise routines for your child. Go swimming regularly, cycle to the nursery or school and spend time outdoors. Encourage your child to try a form of exercise that brings motivation. Don’t let your own comfort-seeking prevent your child’s regular exercise.
  • Damaged by exercise: Concentrate on the positive sides of exercise and talk about them. You may regard your family as being poor at exercise, but don’t give this idea to your child. Start an instructed form of exercise together. You too will learn new things and will strengthen your self-esteem regarding exercise. Remember the everyday activities.



 Exercising with the child – a checklist for parents:


  • Try to identify your own exercise habits and the way they affect the exercise experiences you introduce to your child.
  • What is considered exercise in your family? Walking to the supermarket, rowing, walking in the forest and many other daily activities are all exercise.
  • Talk to your child about exercise in a positive way. You might like to follow the sports news or watch sports together with your child. As the children learn about exercise, their relationship with it will grow stronger and they will take more interest in it.
  • Accept that all categories of exercise habits are equal. Your child’s exercise habits may differ from yours – being different offers a possibility for both of you to strengthen your relationship with exercise.
  • Listen to your child and be aware of his/her activities. Introduce your child to different kinds of exercise experiences and note what kinds of exercise situations your child seems to enjoy. Compliment the child even for trying something.
  • Plan exercise sessions together with your child. This way you will respect your child’s exercise habits.
  • Broaden your child’s exercise habits by introducing different kinds of exercise situations. Children are most likely to lead an active lifestyle if they are allowed to exercise in many different ways and to find the forms of exercise they like. Children that are “competitors” should try the exercise habits of “the experience seekers”, and “the experience seekers” could learn from “the hard workers”.


Read more about the different exercise habits in Jaana Kari’s doctoral thesis.