There is a constant battle between what we want to achieve and what we actually achieve. Each day we find ourselves making decisions based on what we believe we can and cannot do. We set forth to accomplish a task: “I can lose weight”, “I can eat healthier”, or “I will exercise.” As we strive to succeed, our behaviors and habits can get in our way of achieving that weight loss goal or having the time to exercise. So how do we get around this?
This month I attended a behavior change seminar with Dr. Michelle Segar, a motivation scientist and author of “No Sweat! How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness”. Dr. Segar talked about why sometimes we do not succeed, and the evidence based research on why exercising to “lose weight” or “to be healthy” is not long term. There are two different approaches one takes when deciding to begin exercising. One is exercising to feel better. The other is exercising to be healthy. These sound the same, right? Isn’t it good to strive to be healthy? The difference lies in how we measure this success. When we exercise to feel better, it can be measured almost instantly. We decipher how our physical fitness based on internal feedback of how we feel afterwards (i.e. more energized, accomplished, strong). However, when we exercise to be healthy, we have to wait a week, or a month, or perhaps a year to see results. This measurement is through external feedback (i.e. losing pounds, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure). The process of waiting for results begins to make exercise feel more like a chore that reaps few rewards. Dr. Segar explains that when we exercise to be healthy, the factors that make it short term are because it becomes a self-objectifying activity, we focus on calories, is associated with guilt or pressure (feeling guilty because you didn’t exercise or exercising because you feel like you have to), causes ambivalence, and it doesn’t compete well with our other daily to-do’s.
“So if I change how I view exercise, I will stick with it?” Essentially, yes. If we change our focus from how exercising is “important to make me healthy” to “exercising makes me feel good”, then it helps us to be in touch with our bodies in the now. We start to focus on self-care and view exercise as a part of that. For example, I started running a few years ago because a friend of mine talked me into a 10k. This was the only goal I set, so once I completed my 10k I quit running. I went from being full of energy, focused, and ready to go, to sluggish, moody, and distracted. I realized that I needed to run because it made me feel good. Losing a few pounds or getting toned can be a great asset, but the way that I feel after a good run motivates me to continue to do it. It becomes a choice rather than a chore. It becomes part of my self-care. Just as taking a shower or getting enough sleep effect how I feel, running has found some significance in my life as well.
Work on changing your “why” to exercise. Get rid of the rules and common beliefs associated with physical fitness that hinders you from realizing all the benefits exercise can bring you right now. Start with your daily needs and see if exercising can fulfill any of those needs. See how you feel after a ten-minute walk or a visit to the gym. Focus on one behavior at a time and pay attention to your body. As Michelle put it, it’s your move.
Editor’s Note: Sydney Johnson is an Area Family & Consumer Sciences Extension Agent, with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached by calling the Sampson County Center at 910-592-7161.