|But I Don't Want to Work Out|
When we see exercise as non-urgent, we ignore it. So what will move it up the list of priorities? It's different for everyone.
When Ande Frayser lacks motivation to exercise, she thinks about the day when she burned a batch of chocolate chip cookies because she was too overweight and out of shape to reach the kitchen in time.
The experience was more than a wake-up call; it was a slap in the face. "It took a mind shift," said the 40-year-old Maryland mom, who used to find all the usual excuses to avoid working out. "I now look at exercise the same way that I do eating, drinking and going to the bathroom: It is not always convenient, but it must be done."
Frayser's experience parallels what researchers are also discovering about exercise: If we don't think it's valuable and vital to our daily lives, we simply won't do it. "It has to be a top priority because we are all too busy to fit anything into our lives that's not essential," said Michelle Segar, associate director of the Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy (SHARP) Center for Women and Girls at the University of Michigan.
Still, men and women aren't necessarily motivated by the same things. Some common reasons people work out, such as weight loss, turn out to be surprisingly ineffective for some people. Our motivation to exercise also changes as we age, because "what we value is determined by our life stage and priorities at the time," said Segar.
Most women, for example, start exercising to drop weight. But this can backfire; it can actually decrease motivation and worsen body image by fostering unhealthy ideals of thinness and creating unrealistic expectations, Segar said. Not only does that set women up to fail and feel bad about their bodies, but it turns exercise into a chore, and that undermines staying motivated, said Segar, lead author of a new study that looks at the type of ads that motivate men and women to exercise.
"For women, messages might be more motivating if they highlighted the connection between exercise and well-being," said Segar. Men, on the other hand, may respond positively to ads promoting exercise for weight loss or better health, according to the new research, published in a special edition of the Journal of Obesity. Many men also value competition as a reason to exercise, but women consider it one of the least important reasons to work out, according to Segar's research.
Segar believes most of us don't stay motivated because "our society has prescribed it in a very one-size-fits-all way: It has to be intense and make you sweat and has to last 30 to 60 minutes to be worth doing." In fact, there's mounting evidence that moving more throughout the day, not just a longer duration, is important for health, said Segar, who advises seeking out any and all movement.