“Eating quinoa and going for a run is just not as enjoyable as eating custard and staying still”.
This is a quote I heard on a comedy show today, which made me laugh, but this could feasibly be a firm belief of many.
What determines who has high levels of intrinsic motivation for exercise and who has low levels?
Why do some people enjoy exercise and others really dislike it? Is it in their genes, or does it evolve from past experiences?
I don’t have any answers, but it strikes me how people are so different when it comes to engaging in – what we all know to be health enhancing – physical activity.
My parents, for example, have nearly equal time and resources available to them, and yet my Mum reports daily exercise with weights, jogging in the house or cycling in the garage, whereas my Dad guiltily reports zero structured exercise when I ask him encouragingly what he has done (although he does walk around the shops most days, being the chief getter-of-provisions at the moment: valid exercise). My Mum has always loved exercise and my Dad has always disliked it, even from school age.
How can we increase intrinsic motivation to exercise?
I think one way is to keep trying different activities until you find one you enjoy (there may be one, even if you are pessimistic of finding it). Take up a local dance class, or join a local walking group – something you’ve never tried may be your ticket to regular participation, good fun and resulting benefits.
If, however, taking part in regular exercise for its own sake seems totally foreign, then upping your extrinsic motivation is the alternative. Making a pact with a friend to go to a weekly class helps build commitment to exercise. Exercising with a buddy brings with it the desire to keep a regular date because the feeling of ‘letting someone down’ if you cop out can be strong.
Setting fitness improvement targets with rewards for achievement helps to keep you on track, and entering cycling or running events with the chance of competing for the status of high position in the ranks, can be ways of increasing motivation.
So, accepting the difficulty of changing one’s inbuilt, possibly personality driven feelings about exercise, it is possible to increase your motivation to be active via extrinsic means. If you’ve had a go at every type of exercise under the sun, and still don’t like any, please don’t give up. Include some extra walking in your day, as part of getting from A to B, plan targets for improving your total distance or speed, and consider the subtle motivation of its impact on your long term quality of life.