If you avoid exercise because you see it as intense, onerous and time consuming, you’re not alone. But you’re keeping yourself from something you could enjoy while reaping benefits from better physical and mental health. And all it may take is reframing your thoughts about it, suggests a new study.
Titled ‘Rethinking physical activity communication’, it was conducted at the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health and Activity Research Policy Centre under director Michelle Segar, and published in the journal BMC Public Health*.
Many people, Segar says, either duck exercise altogether, or are driven to it by guilt or the pressure to shed weight, only to quit when they don’t see results soon enough.
The researchers asked 40 women aged 22 to 49 what made them feel happy and successful, then analysed how their ideas about exercise either enhanced or undercut those feelings.
It turned out that all the women, whether they exercised or not, wanted much the same things in life: to have meaningful connections with other people, to have relaxing time away from pressures, and to achieve their goals in their work and personal lives.
But while the women who weren’t active saw exercise as undermining these things – taking too much time, putting them under pressure, making it hard to commit to routines or meet expectations and leaving them feeling like failures – the women who were active saw exercise as complimenting their desires, helping them connect socially and have relaxed leisure time, and giving a sense of achievement.
The key to shifting from being inactive to active, suggests Segar – who is also the author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness (Amacom Books) – is to change how you see exercise so you are no longer alienated by it, but encouraged to do it, and enjoy it.
Leon van Niekerk, associate professor and HOD of Human Movement Sciences at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, agrees. “Changing people’s lifestyles from inactive to active is very difficult, even if they know it’s good for them,” he says. “The way people perceive exercise plays an important role in getting them to change. If we can change their minds, they might change their behaviour.”
Try these tips:
- Don’t think you have to go for the burn: just 30 minutes a day of moderate activity, such as a brisk walk, can do a power of good, burning kilojoules, strengthening muscles and bones, revving circulation to promote heart health, and releasing feel-good endorphins to fight stress and depression, “Even exercising three days a week increases fitness levels significantly,” Van Niekerk says.
- Remind yourself you don’t need to do the 30 minutes at once – you can split it into 10 minutes here or there.
- Think of exercise as a way to unwind: Go dancing, play games with the kids or the dog, or try a fun sport, from kite-flying to croquet. At work, take desk breaks every hour and walk around the building or the block, incorporating a flight or two of stairs.
- Think of exercise as a way to socialise: Walk or swim with friends, get away together for hiking weekends, or enter a fun-run.
- Use exercise to help achieve your work and personal goals: Involve your family, or your work colleagues over lunch hours.
- “Start small, with anything that gets you moving, and work your way from there to higher fitness levels,” says Van Niekerk.
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- Clicks Full Basic Screening (BP, Body Mass Index or BMI, meal guide and exercise plan)
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