The positive health effects of a consistent exercise are well proven. Why then, is it so hard for some people to stick to a consistent program? It’s a vicious cycle right? You start on an exercise program, it goes well for a while, you don’t quite get to the point of being addicted to it, and all of a sudden you haven’t exercised for a month. It’s time to consider that it might not be what exercise you are doing, but where you are doing it that is affecting your ability to stick to a program.
Let’s start with the reasons that people exercise. Researchers tend to divide motivation to exercise into intrinsic (feeling better, better health, less stress, etc.) and extrinsic (looking better, compliments, etc.). Intrinsic motivation is a positive means of motivation, promoting health, self-esteem and wellness. Extrinsic motivation is generally derived from negative means, such as body image and appearance. Research from the Psychology department at Southern Utah University showed intrinsic motivation had the greatest effect on perceived competence and adherence to an exercise plan in the 130 college students tested. Research from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health studied 645 elderly (average age 63) adults. Enjoyment (intrinsic motivation) had the greatest effect on the activity levels of the subjects. So from college students to seniors, people are most consistent when they are intrinsically motivated.
So how can you get over the hump? How can you get to the place where you are internally motivated to exercise on a consistent basis? Research from the Department of Kinesiology and Health Sciences at Southern Louisiana University showed that participants were more likely to report intrinsic motives for participation when they were involved in a sport, than when they merely completed exercise routines on their own. Now, sports aren’t for everyone. But, the environment that competitive and recreational sports create can often have many positive effects. Social interaction, a sense of team, mutual motivation and competition are all factors of sports.
Therefore, if you are having trouble sticking to a particular exercise regime, consider changing your environment. If you like yoga, but your class is often not well attended, try finding a class with consistent class members and a motivated instructor. If you like riding a bike but can’t summon the motivation to go on a ride, try a spinning class. Part of the reason ergometer rowing and “cross-fit” work-outs are so popular is because there is an online forum where participants can upload their work-out results and compare them with other people in their age and fitness level.
Many SPARTA athletes are as obsessed with the training environment here, as they are with the actual training. Parents can’t believe the lifestyle changes (improved nutrition, sleep, etc.) that their kids make after training with us. Once our athletes see the physical gains they are making, and develop some intrinsic motivation, the lifestyle changes come easily. So if you want to stick to an exercise program, find an environment you can really get excited about.