Why the promise of better health mightn’t be enough to keep us exercising

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As much as we all think our health is important, when we’re busy it can easily slide into the background. So if that’s not enough to keep us motivated, what is?

Michigan University researcher Michelle Segar has been studying women’s motivation to exercise for a couple of decades.

As she says, many of us struggle to put our well-being ahead of our daily responsibilities as wives and partners, mothers and grandmothers, business owners, employees and just about everything else.

While commitment to our health or weight could be enough to get us started on a new behaviour such as exercise, her research shows those things mightn’t keep us there.

That’s because ‘getting healthier’ or ‘losing weight’ can be too abstract or future-oriented to win out over our complacency or busyness.

Exercise sadly doesn’t give us immediate feedback that registers better health. That mightn’t show up for weeks or even months. And many of us aren’t great at delayed gratification.

In addition, Michelle Segar says that a focus on health or weight can feel like a ‘should’. And when life gets frantic or we’re tired, we quickly lose interest in shoulds.

She argues that we’re more likely to be consistent and stick with exercise if it improves our everyday life in an immediate way, for example, by giving us more energy, or helping us to feel more relaxed, patient, focused, productive, satisfied or happy.

While we assume that motivation is what gets us off the couch and into an exercise routine, she points out that it actually works the opposite way: i.e. if exercise feels satisfying and rewarding we’re more likely to feel motivated.

She’s critical of the recent ‘exercise is medicine’ marketing because it turns exercise into a morally good thing we ought to do. More ‘shoulding’. It’s a bit like telling us to take a pill, which, by the way, we’re notoriously poor at doing over the long haul.

While we’re all wired and motivated a bit differently, if you find it hard to make changes to your health behaviour because there’s no immediate evidence that it’s paying off, consider whether there’s something about that new behaviour that could be satisfying in itself.

Perhaps reducing stress, feeling more content or having more energy might have more sway. Then an activity such as exercise becomes its own reward rather than a chore.

Photo Source: Bigstock

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