By Dr. Mercola
You've heard it all before... exercise can help you lose weight, help prevent diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and help you live to a healthy old age -- all spectacular benefits that are well worth a bit of sweat and exertion.
So why, then, do the majority of U.S. adults get no vigorous exercise, and only 28 percent do so three times or more a week?1
Clearly, something in the message is not getting through... or it is not motivating enough to make most people think of exercise as a priority in their day – like working, eating and sleeping. New research has revealed that part of the problem may, in fact, be in the way exercise is advertised, which is missing out on a key motivating factor.
Would You Exercise More If...
You thought your workouts would enhance your well-being today? If, after you walked out of the gym or got home from a run, you knew you would feel happier, more optimistic and better able to deal with all of the stress that comes with living?
Research by Michelle L. Segar, a research investigator at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan, and colleagues suggests you would. The study found that while many people started an exercise program to lose weight and improve their appearance, they continued to exercise because of the benefits to their well-being.2
Once people recognized this connection to their emotional health, they continued to work out because it made them feel good mentally. Dr. Segar stated:3
"It [Exercise] has to be portrayed as a compelling behavior that can benefit us today... People who say they exercise for its benefits to quality of life exercise more over the course of a year than those who say they value exercise for its health benefits.
…Immediate rewards are more motivating than distant ones... Feeling happy and less stressed is more motivating than not getting heart disease or cancer, maybe, someday in the future.
…Physical activity is an elixir of life, but we're not teaching people that. We're telling them it's a pill to take or a punishment for bad numbers on the scale. Sustaining physical activity is a motivational and emotional issue, not a medical one."
Exercise 'Marketing' Should Focus on Its Benefits to Your Happiness
Perhaps in order to entice people to want to exercise, we do need to change the way we "market" the idea. Rather than viewing exercise as a medical tool to lose weight, prevent disease, and live longer, why not view it as a tool to immediately enhance your frame of mind?
It does this well, after all.
Regular workouts, even during the winter months, will boost your mood naturally and chase away the blahs or even more serious feelings of depression. Exercise has been found to work at least as well as antidepressants to treat symptoms of depression. Just getting outside for a walk or to the gym for a 30-minute workout can dramatically improve your mood, both short and longer term.
Exercise boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress. Many avid exercisers also feel a sense of euphoria after a workout, sometimes known as the "runner's high." It can be quite addictive, in a good way, once you experience just how good it feels to get your heart rate up and your body moving.
So if you're having trouble motivating yourself to exercise, there are immediate benefits to help get you over the hump. Aside from the emotional "high," other immediate or near-immediate benefits include:
- Better sleep
- Boost your immune system
- Improve blood flow to your brain
- Enhance learning
- Build self-esteem and body image
Once you experience these personally, you'll likely have a high level of self-determination or autonomy when it comes to deciding to exercise. Rather than viewing it as a chore that you have to do, you'll view it as a choice that you value spending your time doing – and probably also start to think of it as essential to keeping your emotional sanity. And exercise is, indeed, essential.
"We need to make exercise relevant to people's daily lives," Dr. Segar continued. "Everyone's schedule is packed with nonstop to-do's. We can only fit in what's essential."4
Turning on Some Tunes Will Improve Your Exercise Performance Effortlessly
Since we all want to make the most of our exercise time, it's worth noting that listening to music while exercising can increase your endurance by 15 percent,5 and your movement will likely follow the tempo of the song. For instance, in one study when the music's tempo slowed, the subjects' exertion level reduced as well.6 And when the tempo was increased, their performance followed suit.
Your body may be simply responding to the beat on a more or less subconscious level, but the type and tempo of the music you choose while working out may also influence your conscious motivation. Certain music may also have an enhancement effect by either reducing perceptions of fatigue or increasing work capacity with higher than expected levels of endurance, power, productivity or strength.7 To get the most benefits, the "right" music has to be chosen, and researchers determined the most effective music for exercise should be:
- Functional for the activity (rhythm should match up with your movements)
- Selected with desired effects in mind (loud, fast, percussive music with a lot of bass will increase arousal, slower music will help you unwind, cool down, etc.)
- Accompanied by lyrics associated with movement, such as "the only way is up"
- Within the tempo band of 125-140 beats per minute for most people
You needn't get bogged down with the details, however, as selecting music is a highly personal and intuitive process. When a song gets you energized and rearing to go, you'll know it, and these are the types of songs you should add to your workout playlist. Most of the music playing in typical gyms I have not found very helpful, but you can use your own music with a pair of high-quality lightweight headphones.
Another Motivating Factor – Your Workout Only Needs to Take 20 Minutes
If you dread exercising because you associate it with grueling hour-long sessions on the treadmill, you're in luck. This is the "old-school" way of doing cardio, and it's becoming increasingly apparent that it is not the most effective way to work out. Since time (or a lack of it) is one of the most often cited reasons why people don't work out, being able to cut your workout time by more than half should help you to find a way to fit it into your schedule.
In the case of Peak Fitness exercises, less truly is more, as you can get all the benefits you need in just a 20-minute session performed twice a week. In fact, you should not do Peak Fitness exercises more than three times a week. If you do, you may actually do more harm than good. Because while your body needs regular amounts of stress like exercise to stay healthy, it also needs ample recuperation, and if you give it more than you can handle your health will actually begin to deteriorate. So it is really crucial to listen to your body and integrate the feedback into your exercise intensity and frequency.
With high-intensity interval training like Peak Fitness, you can literally reap greater rewards in less time. The same can be said for the super-slow form of weight training, which mirrors many of the health benefits of high-intensity interval training.
You can see a demonstration of this type of high-intensity exercise below, and read more about it here. The key to remember is this: the more you get into the habit of exercising, the better it's going to make you feel. And soon you'll begin to regard your daily workout, whether that be a session of Peak Fitness, strength training, yoga, or a hike in the woods, as a type of respite or solace from the stress of your day... and that will probably be all the motivation you'll need.