A New Approach to Exercise Motivation

By: Jenna Savage

For most people, finding the motivation to exercise isn’t always easy. Usually, exercise is portrayed as an activity that will help prevent disease, spur weight loss, and encourage a long life. Doctors, advertisements, and well-meaning individuals have all used those factors to help motivate people to get on the treadmill, lift some weights, or try biking. However, new psychological research has shown that it might be time for a shift in motivational tactics. Rather than portraying exercise as offering rewards that won’t happen for a long time and that are speculative at best — like future health and weight loss, both of which rely on other factors in addition to exercise — researchers are beginning to encourage doctors and others to portray exercise as rewarding individuals with current well-being and stress reduction. According to a recent article in The New York Times, a research investigator with the University of Michigan, Michelle L. Segar, suggests that making exercise relevant to everyday life will result in higher motivation and an increase in activity.

That may seem a little surprising — after all, don’t we want to exercise because we want to lose weight or prevent disease? — but Segar isn’t alone in her opinion. University of Wales psychologists David K. Ingledew and David Markland conducted a study of 252 office workers to determine the role that motivation plays with exercise. They found that using exercise as a way to lose weight and improve body image did not work in the long-term. As a result, the researchers concluded that enjoyment of exercise and other immediately gratifying results should be used as motivational tools, instead.

Of course, individual motivation varies by many factors, like age, life circumstances, and gender. However, the effectiveness for instant rewards as motivational tools is consistent — even if those exact tools vary. Most people start exercising with a weight loss goal, but quickly give up if they don’t lose weight, which is common — exercise is only one part of the weight loss puzzle,  after all, with other factors, like eating habits, also playing a part. As a result, researchers believe that people should exercise because it makes them feel less stressed and because it improves their daily wellbeing. With exercise, people have been proven feel better, more productive, and happier. That’s what should be the focus — not possible weight loss or far-off disease prevention.

In addition, it is recommended for people to stop thinking about work outs as being extremely time consuming. A recent article on PsychCentral indicates that 30 minutes of exercise each day can be just as effective when it comes to weight loss as 60 minutes of exercise, making exercise quicker and easier to spare.

Ultimately, it’s time for a change in thought. Exercise should be come to viewed as something worth doing for personal wellbeing — and as something that won’t ruin your schedule or interfere with other important activities. It’s relevant and worth it — that’s what matters.