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Posted: October 17, 2020

Why is it so hard to keep exercising?

By Christian de Milleville 

We all know that exercise is good for us. We’ve heard it from our healthcare providers, the media, as well as our friends and family. The benefits include helping to prevent cardiovascular disease, improving our mood, increasing our energy levels, improving sleep, and it is an important part of managing many chronic conditions.

This list is just the tip of the iceberg and yet it is not uncommon to have trouble getting around to exercising. So if we are aware of these benefits and have experienced them ourselves, why is it so hard to exercise?

It’s often not too difficult to get started, just think about those New Year’s resolutions! Our good intentions and goals put us on the right path and yet we’re back to our usual habits in a short period of time. It turns out the reasons we choose to exercise often dictate the chances of us continuing with it in the long run.

For example, exercising to lose weight, to look better, or to “get healthy” all have one thing in common. They are what we call extrinsic motivators, which means that you do something for the reward it brings. Those motivators are a great way of getting started and are effective in the short term. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long until these reasons are no longer enough to keep us active. It’s interesting that the majority of campaigns to get us to exercise, although done with good intentions, rely heavily on these extrinsic motivators.

If your goal is to make a longstanding, permanent change, then a shift in focus to include more intrinsic motivators is the best thing you can do. This means that you do an activity for the pleasure it brings. For example, you may exercise for the challenge, the skill it takes, the endorphin release, the relaxation we feel after, or the increase in your energy. There are many different reasons we exercise; the key lies in finding what you enjoy most about doing the activity itself.

This is what will get us exercising on those days where extrinsic motivators just won’t cut it. The days when we are tired, busy, and stressed.

There are a few other tricks that make it even more likely we will stay active. Doing something with friends, listening to music, and choosing activities we inherently enjoy are all great ways of increasing our intrinsic motivation.

So as the daylight starts to fade away and winter approaches, take some time to think about what you get out of different activities, focus on that during the activity, and use every tool you can to make it a great experience you’ll want to keep coming back to.

– Christian de Milleville is a physiotherapist and co-founder of PhysioFITT, a company specializing in home physiotherapy appointments, serving Cranbrook and Kimberley.

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