Exercise to feel good in the moment, not for long term goals

old man on bike and dog
CC BY 2.0 Ulf Bodin

The best way to ensure a new exercise regimen will stick is to focus on its immediate benefits and how it improves quality of life right now.

January is the month for gym memberships, new training shoes, cleaner diets, and a renewed determination to “get it right” this time round. It’s a wonderful feeling to have a fresh start, but it’s important to think about why and how you’re doing it if you want to have lasting success.

According to Dr. Michelle Segar, author of a new book called “No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness,” many people fail to stick with an exercise regimen because “humans beings are hardwired to choose immediate gratification over long-term benefit.” In other words, if your doctor’s warning of poor health is what has driven you to the gym this month, then you stand a much lower chance of sticking with it than if you exercise for pleasure.

Segar cites a study she conducted in which 75 percent of participants said they had to exercise for health reasons, while 25 percent did it because it enhanced their quality of life. Over the following year, she found:

“The vast majority of the participants whose goals were weight loss and better health spent the least amount of time exercising overall—up to 32 percent less than those with other goals.”

This is why physical activity needs to become something you like to do, if you want the habit to stick. Keep these following points in mind:

• Exercise needs to be marketed as an activity that will improve our lives in the immediate here and now. As Robert Wieder points out on the Calorie Lab blog, “This is how the advertising industry gets us to buy things, by depicting persons who do so in pleasurable circumstances: laughing, socializing, happily engaged in fun activities.”

• Rather than focusing on why a run will benefit you in 10 years’ time, think about how fabulous it will make you feel in 10 minutes. Doesn't that make it worthwhile? Health professionals would do well to emphasize how wonderful physical activity feels during and/or after its completion.

• Redefine ‘exercise’ in your mind. Work to erase any negative associations with the word that may have been acquired during childhood or years of failed attempts to established a routine. Exercise doesn’t have to mean an intimidating, packed gym setting, but think of it in terms of “opportunities to move” instead. You can walk, dance, shovel snow, ski, do a yoga class.

• Think of the community aspect of exercise and how it can bring you together with other interesting people who share a common goal and can hold you accountable when needed.

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