When it comes to the recommended amounts of exercise that we hear all the time, there is a huge Catch 22. Each time guidelines and recommendations are updated, there is more and more evidence about how much exercise can help us live healthier lives. It should be very motivating.
For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) first put out guidelines for physical activity recommendations in 2008. A 2018 scientific report was just released to the public and it will be used for the updated guidelines coming out later this year. The report highlights some updated findings about the benefits of exercise:
The Scientific Report demonstrates that, across the full age spectrum, regular physical activity provides a variety of benefits that help us feel better, sleep better, and perform daily tasks more easily. The report also demonstrates that 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… There is newly documented health benefits” as well
- reduced risk of excessive weight gain in adults, children, and pregnant women
- improved cognitive function
- a reduced risk of dementia
- reduced risk of cancer of the bladder, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, lung, and stomach
- for adults who have a chronic disease or condition such as osteoarthritis, hypertension, or type 2 diabetes, a reduced risk of developing a new chronic condition and reduced risk of progression of the condition they already have, plus improvements in quality of life and physical function
We now have more reasons we should increase our physical activity and exercise regularly. This is where we get into tricky territory, with that word “should”. More should’s do not lead to more motivation. In fact, the opposite is true. The bigger our “should” the lower our motivation.
We as humans are motivated by having a sense of choice. When we are told what to do, we tend to shut down. Sure, we can tough it out for a while to “do the right thing” or because we “have to” or “make” ourselves do something we know is good for us. The problem is all of this takes will-power. As it turns out, will-power is a limited resource because it takes brain energy. Eventually, we will need to use our will-power for another area of our life, without enough left over for exercise. This is how “life gets in the way” and our best plans to “be good” are out the window.
The things we want to do because they are important to us are instantly motivating. Hobbies, spending time with family and friends, working for a cause you are passionate about, these are most likely instantly rewarding in some way. Yes of course you want to lose weight and be healthy, but that is not instant enough. Our brain likes instant positive “rewards” or benefits, a lot! (which is why comfort foods are so attractive to our brain)
Life is dynamic. We need will-power for those unexpected changes that are a normal part of life. Everything from changes in weather to major life changes take will-power to push through. We can’t rely on having the will-power to do what we should do for exercise in any sustainable way.
Those instant benefits mentioned above are a key. Pick the ONE instant benefit that you want the most each day. Do you want to sleep better, feel better, elevate your mood or calm nerves? Pick the ONE that is most energizing now and make THAT your reason to exercise each time. Design your exercise to get those results. Let’s make exercise motivation easier. Letting go of the should’s is one of the first steps to exercise motivation that lasts.