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When you think about making time to exercise, do you get excited or exasperated?
For a lot of people, it’s the latter. When we consider being active, some of us think about weight loss and the immense effort required to reach a certain number on the scale. Others think that to be physically fit, our workouts always have to be intense. We have to sweat profusely, tire ourselves out, run ourselves silly and pump serious iron to feel the burn. But that’s not the truth. It’s those types of expectations that often hinder us from embracing a more active lifestyle.
In a study done in 2017, Michelle Segar, who is director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center, did a study about fitness motivation. She, and her team of researchers, found that the best way to motivate people to exercise more, particularly the women who took part in the study, was to encourage them to find activities they love and make them their preferred mode of fitness. When you burn calories doing more of what you enjoy as opposed to feeling as though every workout should require so much, the more likely you are to fall in love with exercise.
“Women need to give themselves permission to use physical activity as a way to relax—to get together with friends or loved ones and take a leisurely stroll, simply because being active and outdoors boosts their mood and makes them feel good,” Segar told TIME about the study. “If you liked biking as a kid, rent a bike and see if it still feels good. Play tag with your kids, take a dance class or even just climb the stairs a few extra times while you’re doing chores around the house.”
Instead of looking at exercise in one way (exhausting), as Segar put it, people can “pretty much do anything that works for them.”
For example, after three years on this journey, I grew tired of walking on treadmills and running long distances to really feel like I was burning calories. So I decided to start mixing things up. What I found was a love of jumping rope that replaced my usual warm-ups. I gained an enthusiastic appreciation for boxing and taking my irritations out on the bag. I got excited at the idea of doing strength training after a stressful day. These new modes of fitness for me not only helped me stay active, but they became an outlet for stress. I looked forward to my workouts more because they felt less like a task and more like a necessary part of each day. I couldn’t wind down and call it a night without getting in my fitness fix.
“You have to evolve your workout,” said Will Torres, owner of NYC studio WillSpace and a fitness expert with more than 20 years of experience. He said whatever you like to do, challenge yourself and you will see a difference in your body and in your interest in working out.
“You have to work on getting better every time you move. There has to be an evolution in everyone’s approach to moving,” he said. “If you like to walk, great. Track your distance. So you can do a mile in 10 minutes. Next time, try and beat that 10.”
For anyone just getting started, it’s hard to look at fitness as a pleasurable thing. This is especially true if you only see it as a means an end: to shed that muffin top and get ready for bikini season. But when you embrace activities that excite you, motivate you and help you decompress, not only will you see the results you’ve been seeking, but you will have fun, too. So here’s to less time on ellipticals and being exhausted and more time dancing, walking, boxing and doing whatever else brings you joy — and results.
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