- Carol Maher and Ben Singh
- The Conversation*
Why do some of us hate exercise? And how can we overcome this to enjoy the vital benefits of getting the body moving?
Many question whether humans evolved to ‘exercise’
For most of human history, food was scarce and we were active, but not by choice.
For millennia, humans had to move around to find food – and after eating, they rested to conserve energy, as they didn’t know when the next meal would come.
So if you feel like sitting down and watching Netflix instead of hitting the gym, it might be some comfort to know that resting is a human tendency.
That said, it should be noted that our 21st century lifestyle makes us sit and rest for far too long.
With technology, cars and other labor-saving gadgets, we no longer need to move around for daily survival. But remaining physically inactive is terrible for our health.
A meta-analysis published by the respected medical journal The Lancet concluded that lack of physical activity is associated with a 30-40% increased risk of colon cancer, 30% increased risk of breast cancer, 20-60% increased risk type 2 diabetes and a 30-50% risk of premature death compared to physically active people.
How much physical activity is really needed?
It is recommended that adults (aged 18 to 65 years) get at least 150 (preferably 300) minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.
This moderate-intensity exercise could be a brisk walk, bike ride, or lawn mowing.
But if you’re willing to do vigorous physical activity, you only need half that time (75-150 minutes per week). Vigorous activity is anything that is strenuous enough that you have difficulty talking: running or playing sports, such as football or tennis.
It is recommended to have different types of activity, as different physical activities bring different benefits.
Muscle-strengthening exercises, such as lifting weights or doing push-ups, are encouraged twice a week to strengthen bones and muscles.
If all of this is starting to seem too complicated, don’t worry, any exercise is good for your health. You don’t need to reach the recommended levels of physical activity to benefit from it.
What does research recommend as motivation?
Psychologists claim that there are two main types of motivation: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation comes from within – doing something as a challenge or for a personal reward. Extrinsic motivation comes from external factors, such as trying to win a prize or avoiding punishment.
You can increase your intrinsic motivation by identifying why exercise is important to you.
1. Identify your reasons
Do you want to exercise to improve your health? Or is it for your children? Could it be the sensation brought by the exercises?
Physical exercise has long-term benefits for health and vital functions, imparts benefits to your children and has immediate effects on mood and vitality. Having defined in your mind what you want to gain from the exercises can help put you into action.
Extrinsic motivations can also help you get started exercising. Here are some examples:
2. Arrange with a friend for you to exercise together
That way, it will be easier for you to stick to your exercise program, so as not to disappoint your friend. And research also indicates that people exercise longer when they are with friends and family, compared to those who exercise alone.
3. Give yourself a reward
It could be an outfit or a new pair of shoes that you’ll enjoy wearing to exercise. Always condition the reward on a certain amount of exercise in order to earn it.
4. Have an exercise tracker
Exercise trackers have many functions designed to increase motivation, such as warnings, self-monitoring, and set goals. There is a lot of research that indicates that exercise trackers increase physical activity.
5. Exercise at the same time every day so it becomes a habit
Research indicates that exercising in the morning allows you to form this habit more quickly, compared to exercising at night.
6. Do an activity you enjoy
Starting a new exercise habit is hard enough. Increase your chances of continuity by doing an activity that you find enjoyable. You may also be able to exercise more intensively without even realizing it, if you are doing a type of exercise that you enjoy.
If you hate running, don’t. Go for a long walk in nature.
Let yourself be left wanting more, avoiding excesses. That way you will be less likely to feel pain or hurt yourself.
8. Listen to lively music
They improve mood during exercise and reduce perceived exertion, increasing performance. And they are very effective for rhythmic and repetitive exercises, such as walking and running.
9. Take your dog for a walk
People who go out with their dogs walk more often and for longer. They say they feel safer and that their social connections increase in the neighborhood.
10. Make a financial commitment
Behavioral economics theory recognizes that human beings are motivated by aversion to harm.
Some commercial websites are exploiting this issue for the benefit of health, by getting people to enter into a “compromise agreement” whereby they pay a financial deposit that is forfeited if the commitment to healthy behavior is not met.
This technique has been proven to increase physical activity, medication adherence, and weight loss.
Finally, be patient with yourself and keep the long term in mind. It takes about three to four months to form the habit of exercising. After that period, intrinsic motivators will take over to keep your exercise routine going.
Who knows, you could be that person passionate about physical exercises that will inspire your friends and family in a few months.
* Carol Maher is a professor and emerging leader of the Future Fund for Medical Research at the University of South Australia. Ben Singh is a researcher at the University of South Australia.
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