Humans didn’t evolve to “exercise”
For most of human history, food was scarce and being active was not a choice. For millennia, humans had to move to find food, and once fed, they rested to conserve energy, because they didn’t know where their next meal would come from.
So if you feel like sitting down and watching Netflix rather than hitting the gym, you might take comfort in knowing that rest is a natural human tendency.
That said, our 21st century lifestyles involve far too much sitting and resting. With technology, cars, and other labor-saving devices, commuting is no longer necessary for day-to-day survival.
Yet physical inactivity is terrible for our health. A meta-analysis published in a prestigious medical journal The Lancet found that physical inactivity is associated with a 30-40% increased risk of colon cancer, a 30% increased risk of breast cancer, a 20-60% increased risk of type 2 diabetes and at a 30-50% risk of premature death, compared to being physically active.
So how much physical activity do you really need?
It is advised Australian adults (aged 18-65) get at least 150 (but preferably 300) minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. Moderate-intensity exercise can be brisk walking, light cycling, or mowing the lawn.
If you’re willing to do vigorous physical activity, you only need half of it (75-150 minutes per week). Vigorous activity is something intense enough that it’s hard to have a conversation: jogging or running while playing a sport like soccer or tennis.
A variety of activity types are encouraged since different physical activities result in different benefits. Muscle-strengthening exercises, such as lifting weights or doing push-ups, are encouraged twice a week, to keep bones and muscles strong.
If this is all starting to seem too complicated, rest assured that ANY exercise is good for you. You don’t have to meet physical activity guidelines to benefit from physical activity.
What is the scientific advice to motivate yourself?
According to psychologists, there are two main types of motivation: extrinsic motivation and intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes from within – doing something for personal reward or challenge. Extrinsic motivation comes from external factors, such as trying to earn a reward or avoid a punishment.
You can increase your intrinsic motivation by identifying why exercise is important to you.
- Identify your “why” – do you want to exercise for your health? Is it for your children? Is it for the way the workout makes you feel? Exercise has long-term health and function benefits, benefits for your children, and immediate effects on mood and vitality. Being clear in your mind about what you want to gain from exercising can help you stock. Extrinsic motivators can also help you start exercising.
- Arrange to meet a friend to exercise together. You’ll be more likely to follow through because you won’t want to let your friend down. Additionally, research suggests that people exercise during longer when exercising with family and friends compared to those exercising alone
- Reward yourself with a new piece of clothing or shoes that you’ll enjoy exercising in. Be sure to do the reward conditional by doing a certain amount of exercise, so you have to earn it
- Get an activity tracker. Fitness trackers have a host of features designed to boost motivation, such as prompts, self-monitoring, and goal setting. There’s a plethora of research suggesting activity trackers increase physical activity
- Exercise at the same time every day, so it becomes a habit. Research suggests exercising in the Morning leads to faster habit formation compared to evening exercise
- Do an activity that you enjoy. Starting a new exercise habit is hard enough. Increase your chances of collage with him by doing an activity that you find enjoyable. Plus, you can be exercising at a higher intensity without even realizing it, if you’re doing a form of exercise that you enjoy. If you hate running, don’t. Go for a long nature walk
- Start small. Allow yourself to want more, rather than overdoing it. You are also less likely to have pain or hurt yourself
- Listen groovy music improves mood during exercise and reduces perceived exertion, leading to increased work performance. These benefits are especially effective for rhythmic and repetitive forms of exercise, such as walking and running.
- Walk your dog. dog walkers walk more often and longer than non-dog walkers, and they report feeling safer and more socially connected in their neighborhood
- Commit yourself financially. Behavioral economic theory recognizes that humans are motivated by loss aversion. Some commercial websites have exploited this for health by encouraging people to enter into a “pledge contract” in which they make a financial deposit that is forfeited if the health behavior pledge is not met. This approach has been shown to improve physical activity, medication adherence and weightloss.
Be patient with yourself and keep the long game in mind – it takes approx. three to four months to form an exercise habit. After that, the intrinsic motivators take over to maintain your exercise routine. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the only one exercising and inspiring your friends and family in a few months.
Carol Maher is a professor at the University of South Australia while Ben Singh is a researcher at the University of South Australia.