Many people join the gym with great expectations and exercise goals. Within four or five months, however, they’re not using their gym membership for a variety of reasons. Eventually, it’s canceled. Until a few months later, when the cycle begins again.
If this is you, think twice before you blame yourself for lack of motivation or willpower. The problem may have more to do with how you define exercise and physically activity.
You might think exercise only counts when it’s at a high-intensity level for 30 minutes. Maybe you consider physical activity running on the treadmill or working up a big sweat.
Unfortunately, this kind of thinking can sabotage exercise goals. For women, a better plan to stay physically active is to find something that makes them happy, according to a new study.
“The traditional recommendation we’ve learned to believe is that we should exercise at a high intensity for at least 30 minutes, for the purpose of losing weight or improving our health,” said Michelle Segar, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Research on Women and Gender. “Even though there are newer recommendations that permit lower intensity activity in shorter durations most people don’t know or even believe it…Our study shows that this exercise message conflicts with and undermines the very experiences and goals most women have for themselves.”
The study found three main reasons why expectations about exercise works against women feeling happy and successful:
- They believe “valid” exercise must be intense, yet they want to feel relaxed during their leisure time.
- They feel pressured to exercise for health or to lose weight, yet during their leisure time they want to be free of pressures.
- Success comes from achieving goals, yet their expectations about how much, where and how they should be exercising means they can’t achieve these goals.
“The direct conflict between what …women believe they should be doing when they exercise, and their desire to decompress and renew themselves during leisure time, demotivates them,” Segar said. “Their beliefs about what exercise should consist of and their past negative experiences about what it feels like actually prevents them from successfully adopting and sustaining physically active lives.”
So how do you get past that to stay physically active? It’s partly redefining what you consider physical activity, according to the study. Instead of forcing yourself to push through a punishing workout, find movement that makes you happy.
“We need to re-educate women they can move in ways that will renew instead of exhaust them, and more effectively get the message across that any movement is better than nothing,” Segar said. “To increase motivation to be physically active, we need to help women to want to exercise instead of feeling like they should do it.”
Here are some things to remember to help you want to exercise:
- Physical activity and exercise can and should feel good to do.
- Physical activity can help you connect with others.
- Any kind of activity counts and it worth your time.