Flexible schedule is a strategy to be faithful to the exercises

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Flexible schedule is a strategy to be faithful to the exercises

I was very tempted to skip the race. It was a Thursday afternoon in early December, and by the time my five Zoom meetings ended, it was getting dark and the sky was spewing hail. Still, I walked out the door, because my last call of the day had been with a few professional runners, each with multiple national championship titles in long-distance running.

A doctor, Megan Roche, and her husband, David, encouraged me to think of my workout as a break after a long day at work, rather than just another item on my to-do list.

“I struggle with motivation all the time,” David said. What makes you overcome laziness is finding joy in the activity itself. Sometimes it’s good to be a little silly, he said. “It sounds ridiculous, but if you’re going down a gentle hill or just tired, open your arms like you’re a plane and suddenly everything will become less serious.”

It sounded silly, but when I tried the airplane trick with my arms, my dark, cold run became surprisingly lighthearted. Here are some other ways to find inspiration and maybe even some joy in your daily workout.

Don’t think of it as exercise

When exercise doesn’t appeal to you, exercising feels like something else can help. Crystal Steltenpohl, a psychologist at Southern Indiana University in Evansville, who studies exercise motivation, recalls a conversation she had with a study participant who said, “I’m going to play basketball, but that’s just finding the friends”. In other words, although the activity qualified as exercise, this was only a secondary benefit, not the motivating factor.

I spent years as a competitive runner, cyclist and skier. And while I keep doing these activities, I usually get the recommended 22 minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise automatically, without thinking about exercise. Instead, I take my morning walk to clear my head, feel present in my environment, and connect with my husband and dogs.

“If you ask, most people will say they want to exercise for their health, and that’s a big goal,” said Katie Heinrich, an exercise scientist at Kansas State University. “But what gets people really moving is doing something they enjoy.”

There is no perfect activity for everyone. “How do you like to move?” asked Dr. Heinrich. “Maybe it’s dancing, or it could be a walk in the park. For some people it could be CrossFit or Peloton.”

Casey Johnston found weightlifting in a Reddit thread from a woman who started a strength training program. That post inspired Johnston, a health and science writer who now publishes the She’s a Beast newsletter, to try a similar program.

She found she liked it a lot more than running. While running gave her plenty of time to ruminate on anxious thoughts, “you can’t think about anything else when you have 200 pounds on your back,” she said.

Group your incentives

Researchers published a mega-study that tested the effectiveness of 54 different approaches to motivating people to exercise more. The experiment, which recruited more than 60,000 members of the American network 24 Hour Fitness as test subjects, found that offering a free audiobook was one of the most effective ways to get people to the gym.

The idea was to give participants something to look forward to while they exercised, said one of the study’s organizers, Katy Milkman, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and author of the book “How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” (How to change: the science of going from where you are to where you want to be, in Portuguese).

It’s a familiar approach to Roche’s. She enjoys taking pictures, and running gives her the opportunity to look for interesting things to photograph, especially when traveling. “These photos take me through my running journey,” she said.

Make exercise a priority

“The number one reason people give for not exercising is time,” Heinrich said, and the only reliable way to find time is to prioritize it. “You have to make the decision to put exercise in your day, it won’t magically happen.”

Johnston used to try to put exercise in his life by doing things like climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator. “But it never held me or gave me any validation that I was doing anything meaningful,” she said. “Giving exercise a clear place in my life was motivating.”

If you think of the exercise as optional, you give yourself permission to ignore it. Instead, try to think of it as an essential part of your job, said Brad Stulberg, author of “The Practice of Groundedness” and a regular writer on human performance.

“Whether you’re a parent, entrepreneur, doctor, writer, artist, lawyer or educator, exercise will make you better at what you do,” he said. “It will help you focus, stay calm, be in control and improve your energy.”

be flexible

Making exercise a priority doesn’t mean you’ll need a rigid schedule. A 2020 study by researcher Milkman and colleagues published in 2020 found that giving yourself flexibility to achieve your goals can increase your chances of success.

The researchers studied more than 2,500 Google employees, randomly assigning some of them to get paid to go to the company’s gym during a window of time that they identified in advance as the most manageable, while others could choose to go at any time.

The researchers hoped that committing to specific times would help people form stronger habits, said lead author John Beshears, a behavioral economist at the Harvard Business School.

Instead, people who had flexibility ended up going more often after payments ended. When the hard program group missed their planned workout, they didn’t go anymore, while the group that practiced finding time continued to do so, Milkman said.

get some support

“The best fitness motivator is a friend. He holds you accountable for showing up and supports you when you don’t,” Stulberg said.

In a 2017 study, Heinrich interviewed CrossFit gym owners and coaches and found that feelings of community were a strong motivator for people who stayed in classes. “It’s not that you have to go, it’s that you want to go and you’re drawn to the group,” she said.

Having a cheerleader nearby can also give you a boost, Steltenpohl said, stating that you’re working and acknowledging the obstacles you’ve faced. “If you exercise alone, having someone to comment on can be helpful.”

Create an environment for success

Look for ways to make the environment more inviting for physical activity, Steltenpohl said. Find or create a place where exercise feels attractive. It could be a gym, a park, a walking trail, or even her bedroom with a mat and a fitness app, she said. The key is that your surroundings are preparing you to succeed.

Roche usually runs first thing in the morning, and prepares in advance, packing his clothes, preparing the coffee pot and an energetic playlist as he gets ready to run. On winter mornings, she also turns on bright lights and occasionally warms her muscles first in a hot bath.

Anticipate how you will feel about the exercise

It’s tempting to think you’re too stressed or tired to exercise, but often exercise is just what you need to feel better. “You don’t have to feel good to move on, you have to move on to feel good,” Stulberg said.

Exercise can help you control your mood, Steltenpohl said, and when you feel terrible sometimes exercise is a powerful antidote. “When I get really frustrated, I think it’s a good time to go for a walk.”

Johnston is motivated by the feel of her workouts. “I really like the physical sensation of using my muscles and doing a concrete task,” she said. She is also spurred on by the progress she makes with weightlifting. “It’s impossible to make people understand what it feels like to get stronger, especially when they’re new to it,” Johnston said. It’s a benefit that happens very quickly, she said, and can create a positive feedback loop.

If you make a mistake, try to recover right away.

The most effective trick identified in the 24 Hour Fitness mega-study was to inspire people to get back into their routine when they missed a session. In this scenario, people committed to going to the gym on certain days and times, and if they missed one of those planned visits, they would receive a reminder and also the chance to earn extra points if they made the next planned visit. (Participants earned points they could convert into cash on Amazon.)

It didn’t take much — about nine cents in extra points — to get people back to the gym, and Milkman theorizes that it was the “don’t miss your workout twice” sign that nudged people more than the banal bonus.

You can make this idea of ​​not missing a workout twice as potent if you hit the gym with friends, she said.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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