How to Motivate Yourself to Exercise


Research has suggested that exercise and physical activities consist of be­haviors that are more complex than other health-related behaviors. Al­though exercise has some commonalities with other health behaviors, it is inherently unique. Researchers continue to attempt to develop a model of behavior applicable to exer­cise that will enable them to identify potential dropouts as well as individ­uals who will persevere. If potential dropouts can be identified early, they can be targeted for appropriate intervention that might increase the probability of their adhering to an exercise regimen.

One of the personality traits asso­ciated with adherence to exercise is self-motivation, the desire to persist at a task without constant help or praise. Exercisers in this category tend to (a) set short-term goals that are attainable, (b) select activities they enjoy, (c) keep the workout manage­able in terms of time and effort required, and (d) join a group for a portion or the entirety of a workout.

The reasons that exercise dropouts offer most often are lack of time, inconvenient or inaccessible exercise site, work conflicts, and poor spousal support. They also cite situational factors, such as the travel require­ments of their jobs, as impediments to regular participation.

Determining whether these barriers to exercise are actual or perceived is difficult. Those who adhere to exercise often live farther away from the exer­cise facility and have no more leisure time than dropouts do. Support from mates repeatedly has been shown to be a predictor of adherence to exer­cise, but some adherents indicate that it is less important than other factors. Perhaps one of the differences between those who continue to exer­cise and those who don’t is that the dropouts perceive impediments to exercise as real barriers. Adherents perceive these same barriers as mere inconveniences that they can easily surmount. Turning dropouts into adherents, therefore, might be accom­plished by changing dropouts’ percep­tions. Providing instruction in time management and flexible exercise hours and developing home exercise programs for these people might be productive.

Some generalizations regarding adherence to exercise are as follows:”

1. Blue-collar workers, smokers, the elderly and obese people are less likely to begin and sustain exercise in either a supervised or an indi­vidual program.

2. People who are highly self-motivated are more likely to continue unsupervised exercise.

3. Perceptions of lack of time and inconvenience lead to dropping out, but some exercisers continue despite the same barriers.

4. Reinforcement from health and exercise professionals, particularly physicians, support from significant others, feelings of well-being, and attainment of goals seem to be important factors in continuation of exercise.

Learning theories indicate that the assimilation of new and complicated patterns of behaviors, such as moving from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one, might require an incre­mental approach to attain the desired behavior. For example, if the long-range goal is to walk 45 minutes a day, the person might begin with 15-minute daily walks. When the exerciser adjusts and becomes comfortable with this level of energy expenditure, 5 minutes could be added each week to the daily walk until achieving the target. At this point the exerciser might be satisfied to continue this level of exercise for a lifetime (maintenance) or might establish a different, more difficult goal. The success associated with accomplishing the first goal will contribute to attaining the second.

Adhering to the program depends substantially on the reinforcement or rewards received from participating in exercise. Rewards can take many forms. A reward can be extrinsic (external) reinforcement or intrinsic (internal) reinforcement, or it might have physical parameters. Receiving praise and encouragement from others for example, are extrinsic rewards. Ex­trinsic rewards are necessary during the first few months of the exercise program because they help to shape and establish the exercise habit.

After a couple of months of regular participation, intrinsic rewards be­come more important, and eventually become the primary reinforcer because at this point the exerciser begins to experience some of the physiological and emotional benefits associated with consistent effort. A feeling of accomplishment for reaching a goal that required commitment and effort is an intrinsic reward. Examples of the physical benefits that result from exercise are a gain in muscle, loss of fat, and an increase in energy. Any or all of these forms of positive feedback can provide the incentive and motivation for persisting in the program. The new exercise behavior, which requires time and effort to sustain, will have to compete with or replace former sedentary behaviors that also were satisfying and reward­ing, such as watching television and “surfing the net.”

The ultimate goal is to participate consistently in deliberately conceived physical activities such as jogging, cycling, rowing, cross-country skiing, swimming, weight training, and the like. On the way to achieving this goal, we should take advantage of the opportunities in daily life to increase the level and frequency of our energy expenditure by mowing the lawn, washing and waxing the car by hand, taking the stairs instead of escalators and elevators, walking instead of driving, and many other activities.

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About the Author: Andrew Reinert is a health care professional who loves to share different tips on health and personal care. He is a regular contributor to MegaHowTo and lives in Canada.

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