Exercise is the golden bullet when it comes to lowering your risk of heart disease, bone loss, dementia, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and a long list of other modern health maladies. Yet many Americans just can’t seem to make the time or find the motivation.
The problem, say researchers in a New York Times article who have studied the issue, is that exercise is a “should” instead of a “want.” For many people, exercising to prevent a possible health problem later in life is not a good enough reason to get out of the office chair or off the sofa. Being scared into exercising because of a current health condition, like obesity, heart disease or bone loss, may be more effective, but still fails many.
Give exercise an emotional hook
With most of the population struggling with overstuffed schedules, people will only fit in what they feel is absolutely necessary for that moment. Therefore, say research psychologists, we need an emotional hook to compel us to stay physically active. The solution is not to exercise for theoretical medical reasons or some long-off health goal, but because it makes your life better now. Instead of using media scare tactics or self-admonishment to make yourself exercise, find what’s enjoyable about it and use that.
For instance, one researcher suggests a busy working mom use a walk with her kids as a way to spend time with her children and teach them the importance of physical activity.
Another woman, struggling with obesity and diabetes, decided to use long walks to spend time away from her kids and fulfill a life-long dream of taking photos during her walks to use for paintings later.
Another woman in her 60s meets her daily goal of walking for an hour thanks to the company of a friend, so that her morning walks are also a time to socialize.
Reasons that will motivate you to exercise
A number of emotional benefits can help motivate you to exercise if health goals aren’t good enough carrots on a stick. Below are some reasons that may give you cause to get moving.
- Sleep better at night
- Relieve depression
- Relieve anxiety
- Relieve stress
- Boost energy and productivity
- Better able to cope with daily frustrations
- Endorphin rush, that natural high from physical exertion that lasts for hours
- Boost self-esteem; exercise makes you feel better about yourself and how you look
- Time to socialize if you exercise with one or more friends (adding the health bonus of socialization)
- Time with the family
- Time away from the family
- Time with a favorite pet
- Time doing something fun and playful (dance, skating, Frisbee, golf, hiking, etc.)
Making exercise fun improves motivation
When trying to meet your exercise “dementia-prevention” quota or weight loss goal, it’s easy to get trapped in a boring, noisy gym, staring at the television while on the treadmill, or going through a tired old weights routine. Although certainly better than not exercising at all, some people may find such routines too boring and eventually lose motivation to continue.
Find ways to turn your exercise into play time; scientists have found other species of intelligent animals, such as dolphins, chimps, and otters, play throughout their adult lives as a way to stay active and socially connected. Think back to when you were a child and what you found enjoyable. Perhaps you will have more fun taking your walks to an outdoor hiking area, swimming, doing Zumba, or even roller skating.
Although regular exercise is a powerful tool for health, its ability to simply enhance your current quality of life is undersold by the media. By dropping the health obligations and making exercise into something fun and enjoyable, you will look forward to doing it every day.