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Monday, March 31, 2014

Exercise Bites!

Why is it so hard for some people to stick with an exercise program? You've bought a gym membership, and on Jan 2nd (the 1st is reserved for hangovers) you show up full steam ahead ready to "get in shape" only to find yourself giving up three weeks later. On the other hand, there are those "other" people who exercise day in and day out, never missing a workout, EVER. What makes them different from us? Why is it so easy for them to stay the course when all we want to do is look better in a pair of jeans? The answer to these questions lie within your motivations for exercise. I can almost guarantee that if you asked those "other" people why they exercise, there will be a common theme, they exercise simply because they enjoy it.

This is called intrinsic (internal) motivation, which is basically motivation that is driven by the interest or enjoyment of the act itself. I exercise because it makes me feel good and I enjoy it, however most people who increase their physical activity are of the loose weight and keep healthy variety. Which naturally leads me to the other form of motivation, extrinsic (external) motivation. Losing weight, toning up, and even exercising for better health are all considered extrinsic motivations because the reason behind the action is based on external sources. The people most successful at maintaining a fitness program view physical activity differently than those who fail at maintaining a program. The majority of us start exercising because of the long-term benefits. These include weight loss, disease prevention, and longevity. Unfortunately, focusing on benefits in the far future are not enough to keep most people motivated.

If we could change our focus from lofty expectations, like losing 20 pounds, to the positive, internal experiences of exercise, like its effects on mood and feelings of well-being, we'll likely find more success in maintaining an exercise program. Those who are able to stay in the present and make physical activity meaningful become "intrinsic exercisers." These lucky people are able to exercise for its own sake and get something out of each exercise session. 

How do I shift my motivation toward exercise?

  • Set goals, challenge yourself, and monitor improvements. Seeing how far you have come in your exercise program motivates you to challenge yourself to the next level. What's more, challenging ourselves is far more rewarding than comparing ourselves to others.
  • Integrate physical activity into other aspects of your life. Go on a walk to socialize with friends. Make your exercise a time to explore your spirituality. Participate in a charity run to help others. Whatever you choose, make physical activity more than just exercising for thirty minutes at your target heart rate.
  • Make exercise personal and in the moment. That way, it becomes rewarding in and of itself, motivating you to continue on a regular basis. Let your senses take over and feel the pleasure in moving your body. Focus on how moving a specific set of muscles feels - the stretch and contraction of your leg muscles when walking, for example. Feel the tension leave your body as you extend and relax your limbs.
Exercising for the rest of your life is about enjoying it. Realize that moving your body feels good, and exercise is a positive addition to your life. Focus on the internal benefits rather than the external. Most importantly, be active because you want to - not because you have to, and I promise you will no longer think exercise bites.