In the flood of information about the benefits of exercise, there is one word that is used to get us motivated, but drains motivation more than any other. Here is an excerpt from the current guidelines for physical activity from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS):
- All adults should avoid inactivity.
- For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity.
- Adults should also do muscle-strengthening activities that are moderate or high intensity and involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
Should—the one little word that can drain motivation in a nano-second. A sense of autonomy has been shown to be a key for lasting motivation in many studies on a wide variety of topics. It is based on the well-established Self-determination Theory. However, you probably don’t need research to know a sense of choice is motivating. Have you ever told a toddler or a teenager what they “should” do, only to watch them choose the opposite? When someone tells you what to do, how do you feel? Motivated?
The 2018 scientific report for the updated physical activity guidelines was just released to the public. The report highlights some of the newest findings confirming the benefits of exercise:
- Physical activity provides a variety of benefits that help us feel better, sleep better, and perform daily tasks more easily.
- Some benefits happen immediately. A single bout of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity can improve that night’s sleep, reduce anxiety symptoms, improve cognition, reduce blood pressure, and improve insulin sensitivity on the day that it is performed.
- Most of these improvements become even larger with the regular performance of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity
Wow! Even more reasons to get enough physical activity and exercise. Yet, even as this pile of evidence grows, it is not likely to motivate in a lasting way.
We are instantly and innately motivated to do the things we want to do because they are important to us, such as spending time with those we love and doing activities we enjoy. We don’t even think of this as motivation, but it is. Motivation is simply choosing to act on something we want or need—not because someone else told us we should value it, just because it’s part of who we are.
This brings us to our second key to lasting motivation. Design your exercise plan to get what you value most. The more you connect exercise with what is innately important to you, to what you value, the more you will have natural motivation to exercise. For example, instead of exercising because you have to lose weight, exercise to feel better (since feeling better is probably what you want from weight loss in the end).
Are you tired of trying get more exercise because you should do it? Let’s stop “living in the should” and start seeing exercise as a resource we choose to do so we can enjoy more of life today and each day going forward. This takes designing exercise to get what we want from it. The next blog in this series will look at just that—how to make exercise a resource to get more of what you truly want from it.