How Can You Enjoy Exercise More?
Thomas G. Plante
We all know that exercise is good for our physical and mental health and well-being, but it is so difficult for most well- intended people to sustain a healthy regular exercise program over the long haul. Sure, plenty of people will start off a new year with healthy resolutions to exercise more and get in shape, but within a few weeks they’ll start making excuses. They’ll say they have too much to do and not enough time, an injury or illness, other more important priorities, a lack of enjoyment of the exercise experience, and even that the weather is bad. These excuses eventually contribute to their failure to keep an exercise plan going. All you have to do is look at how busy a gym is at the start of the year and how empty the same gym might be a few weeks or months later.
There has been plenty written in both the popular and professional press about exercise. We know the facts pretty well by now and clearly know that exercise is remarkably good for our bodies, mind, and souls. From reducing our risk of obesity, diabetes, certain forms of cancer, and dementia to reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and even enhancing self-esteem, exercise is a tonic for pretty much whatever ails you (or might ail you in the future).
It is pretty plain and simple: you are more likely to exercise if you enjoy it and will find plenty of excuses not to do it if you don’t enjoy it.
Yet, little research has focused on what can maximize exercise enjoyment. This is very important and an oversight among researchers in that the only way people are likely to continue an exercise program that has so many benefits to their health and well-being is if they actually enjoy doing whatever they choose to do. It is pretty plain and simple: you are more likely to exercise if you enjoy it and will find plenty of excuses not to do it if you don’t enjoy it.
With exercise enjoyment in mind, my students and I completed a study where we tried to predict exercise enjoyment among 80 college-aged research subjects. We had students work out on an exercise bike in my lab for 20 minutes and found that exercise workload (i.e., average speed on an exercise bike) and perceived fitness together predicted exercise enjoyment pretty well. We know from previous studies in my lab that exercising outdoors (rather than indoors), with a friend (rather than alone or with a stranger), and in pleasant environments all help to enhance exercise enjoyment. But, what we learned in our most recent study is that working harder and positive beliefs about your personal fitness also added a great deal to exercise enjoyment. So, in order to enjoy exercise more, take it up a notch and work on your attitude related to your improving fitness while doing so.
your beliefs about your own fitness and working harder might actually help you to enjoy your exercise more
While further research is always needed from multiple labs and with multiple and diverse populations, our research suggests that your beliefs about your own fitness and working harder might actually help you to enjoy your exercise more. And if you enjoy it, you’ll do it. And if you do it, your body, mind, and soul will be healthier and happier to boot!
So, what do you think?
*A version of this article was originally published by Psychology Today on May 20, 2015.