For those of us who struggle to exercise daily (or at least semi-daily), finding the right motivation is key. When my alarm goes off at 5:45 every morning, I need a really good reason to get out of bed; if not, I’m hitting the snooze and exercising tomorrow.
As an exercise physiologist, I’d like to think that the most current research is what motivates people to exercise. There are dozens of studies that tout the benefits of regular physical activity on reducing chronic disease; with just 30 minutes a day, you lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, cancer, stroke, and even depression. That should be enough to make us want to move around, right?
Unfortunately, the research would suggest otherwise. According to a study done by Ingledew and Markland, exercisers tended to stick with a program much longer if their reason for working out was related to social interactions and those who were exercising for appearance didn’t last very long. Researchers have also found that when we perceive benefits to be either intangible or in the distant future, we aren’t very motivated. Just knowing that when you’re 75, your cholesterol will be lower doesn’t seem to be a potent motivator for getting off the couch.
So what do we do? There’s a great article on nytimes right now that suggests we will exercise much more often if we think about how it makes us feel, rather than how it makes us look, and if we think about how it affects us today, rather than how it will affect us 10 years from now. If yo look forward to your evening walk, thinking about how it helps you de-stress and how nice it will feel to be outside, you’ll be more likely to go than if you try to guilt yourself into going. Thinking about exercise as a punishment will always leave a bad taste and it will be a dreaded item to check off the to-do list.
I exercise for a couple of reasons; some noble, some not so much. Some days I look forward to my run; I feel fit and thin and it sounds like a fun thing to do. Other days, I force myself to go because I’m training for a race, or honestly, because I had an extra piece of chocolate cake the day before. But, what gets me out of bed in the morning at 5:45 is thinking how good I’ll feel for the rest of the day. If I tell myself, “it’s just 30 minutes. Then think what you’ll have accomplished before 7 am,” I’ll get right up.
What motivates you to exercise?