Finding Joy Through Exercise
Everyone has dreaded working out at one point or another. To be honest, exercise isn’t enjoyable for some, no matter what they do. Here’s how you can make exercising less result-oriented and more about the experience so you can enjoy your fitness journey more.
According to a WHO 2020 Fact Sheet on Physical Activity, 1 in 4 adults globally don’t meet the recommended physical activity levels. With the COVID-19 lockdowns introduced worldwide, the number has only increased. Not exercising regularly can have long-term consequences, especially when your eating habits are not the healthiest.
While it might seem like a no-brainer to some people, regular physical exercise is required by the human body to function properly.
If you are trying to hack your exercise routine or want to start working out, it might be worthwhile to understand why you dread exercising in the first place. Here’s what you should know:
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Why Do We Dread Exercise?
A 2017 study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise reveals that up to 37 per cent of differences in our response to exercise are due to our genetics. The study showed that identical twins collectively either liked or disliked exercising regularly. However, this doesn’t mean that your response to exercising is all based on genetics.
In his book, ‘Exercised: Why Something We Never Evolved to Do is Healthy and Rewarding’, Professor Daniel Liberman states that people today have been programmed not to like exercise. He believes that people have to choose to be active, and many today have not evolved to be active. People tend to get nervous about exercising because they’re made to feel lazy when they’re not doing it and feel bad when they are exercising because they feel like it isn’t enough compared to others.
Exercise is an activity that can mean something different to everyone. What I consider to be a good workout might not be a fulfilling workout for you. But, the misconception that everyone needs to exercise the same way makes many people dread the idea of doing it at all. One person might feel like a 20-minute walk is enough for them to get an endorphin release, whereas someone else may only get an endorphin release from an hour-long strength training session. Find what works for you mentally and physically to see the progress you’re looking for.
Don’t Get Sucked Into Social Media
When you want to feel motivated and pumped to go to the gym or even just take a walk, the last thing you should be doing is checking your social media. While you might feel like everyone is living a great life based on their social feeds, that’s not actually the case. Just like you, everyone is busy showcasing the best times of their life or building a public portfolio on Instagram. It doesn’t necessarily mean that their reality is identical to what’s being portrayed on social media, and there’s no reason you have to cater to someone else’s version of being fit.
While you might be tempted to go check out fitness transformations on Instagram or YouTube, it can do the opposite of motivating you. A 2020 study at Flinders University (Australia) shows that looking at fitspiration images increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction. Even after working out, it can lead to increased body dissatisfaction and negative emotions.
Many people may also feel like their workout isn’t relevant unless they are wearing a fitness band or tracker that actively calculates how many calories they are burning. The experience of working out itself can be ruined when you are constantly glancing at your fitness band to check whether you’ve burned enough calories. Taking a photo at the end of the workout to upload on social media might also be another thing that can prevent a person from fully enjoying and experiencing the workout.
Photos and videos only depict a part of someone else’s reality, and there is no reason why they should control the way you exercise.
Set Your Pace (and Tunes!)
Music serves as the soundtrack of your life and can help you get motivated, happy, energetic and much more. You might have seen a lot of playlists on music streaming platforms that are related to working out, and there’s a good reason why. You need the right music to help you set the tempo for your workout.
A 2017 study published in Physiology and Behaviour shows that listening to music can relocate your attention and make you forget how fatigued you feel. The study states that individuals can exercise harder without feeling as much perceived fatigue. Think about matching the type of exercise you are doing to the tempo of your music. A National Center for Health Research (Washington) report shows that the best music tempo for treadmill exercise is between 123 to 131 bpm (beats per minute), whereas for cycling, it was 125-140 bpm.
Sometimes, it might be challenging to work out for the sake of working out. You might want to set a concrete goal and begin visualising yourself achieving it. It can be something as minor as completing a 1 km walk or lifting more than 10 kilos during your muscle-building workout. The more you reorient your mindset towards achieving something “tangible” during your exercise, rather than just getting it done, the better you will feel about it.
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport backs up the power of mental imagery for working out. Individuals who see themselves achieving a goal before working out improve accuracy and overall strength as they exercise.When we can imagine ourselves fulfilling a goal, it makes us more confident about succeeding at it in real life.
Don’t Overwhelm Yourself
The logic of ‘go big or go home’ can apply to many situations, but not working out. Many imagine themselves running 5 km or lifting 25 kilo weights the first time they bench press. However, going to the extremes while working out for the first time isn’t just harmful to your body but your mind too.
Exercising too much and too soon can lead to injuries, exhaustion and even depression. It can make your body feel extremely sore the next day and prevent you from working out further. The goal should be to get stronger every day, not do it once and quit.
You should start slow when you want to make exercise integral to your lifestyle and find something you enjoy doing so it doesn’t feel unnatural to be doing it. There’s no need to do it how others are doing it; instead, listening to your body might be the best way forward.
Make It ONLY About You
Some people begin exercising as a way to appease external perceptions. Losing a certain number of kilos or fitting into a specific pair of jeans can initially seem like reasonable goals, but over time, they will not prompt you to be completely healthy and can even be detrimental to you mentally. A 2019 study presented at the Canadian Obesity Summit showed that fat-shaming, instead of motivating people to be thinner, actually made them sicker and heavier.
So if you are planning to begin working out because someone else has pointed out your weight or because you want to fit into smaller clothes, it might be time to reorient your mindset. You are the master of your body, and ultimately, working out is a way to gain better control over your body.
Think about working out as something that will contribute to a fulfilling life for you, both physically and mentally. It shouldn’t be done because you want to appease someone else or even society. Find activities that you enjoy and that enable you to exercise for even 30 minutes. Exercise is simply a physical activity, and how you manage to do it is up to you.
Start your fitness journey with these resources: