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But I Hate Exercising: Five Tips for Motivating Couch Potatoes

Posted 6/9/2016 by UHBlog

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But I Hate Exercising! 5 Tips for Motivating Couch Potatoes

You already know that regular exercise can help you in so many ways. From maintaining a healthy weight and inducing better-quality sleep to enhancing your mood and even improving your sex life, the benefits of an ongoing fitness routine are well known. Still, these benefits aren’t enough to get some folks off their duffs.

“People often have a theoretical interest in exercise, but practically, they find it hard to build into their lives,” says psychologist Jeffrey Janata, PhD. “They are also creatures who are oriented to more immediate outcomes than long-term outcomes, so it’s more immediately appealing to watch TV after dinner than to go for a walk.”

He says people who attended schools with strong physical education programs or grew up in active families are more likely to continue exercising as adults. Still, people who have never exercised or who claim to hate physical fitness can learn to enjoy it – or at least find a way to incorporate a reasonable amount of activity in their lives.

Here are Dr. Janata's five tips for motivating couch potatoes:

  1. Find an exercise you enjoy. “People often ask, ‘What is the best exercise to do?’” Dr. Janata says. “The answer is, ‘The best exercise is the exercise that you’ll do.’”
    If you attend a yoga class and don’t like it, try a spinning (cycling) class or simply take a walk through the park. It’s hard to form a new habit, so when you first commit to exercising, it’s more important to stay active than to concern yourself with working this muscle group or that one.
  2. Buddy up. You’re less likely to plop down in front of the TV after work if you know your friend is expecting you to take a bike ride with him. Your buddy may be a personal trainer, who can help you learn safe and effective forms of exercise, or other participants in a group exercise class.
    “If we know somebody else is counting on us, we’re more likely to overcome our inertia and get up and exercise,” he says. “Other people reinforce our commitment and optimize our chances of success.”
  3. Start slowly. Don’t go from playing video games every morning to running a marathon because chances are you’ll hurt yourself, get discouraged and turn back to Minecraft.
    “In the early stages, lay down the habit of exercising and getting into a structured schedule,” Dr. Janata says. “Don’t exercise to the point that you can’t carry on a conversation. Take a very graduated approach. Start with easier stuff, so you feel good when you finish. It’s like the way we dose in the geriatric population: Start low and go slow.”
  4. Set a goal. Make it attainable. Wanting to get down to your college weight when you’re now sending a child off to college is probably not reasonable. Instead, frame your goal in practical terms. Maybe you want to be fit enough to take a walking tour of Rome, play in the backyard with your grandchild for an hour, look good in a tux at your son’s wedding or simply walk up the stairs without huffing and puffing.
    “That goal can be a positive motivator,” he says. “Every time you exercise, you can give yourself credit for moving toward that goal. Goal-based behavior is more durable and makes you more resistant to falling off the wagon.”
  5. Monitor yourself. Take a cue from dieters, who often alter their eating habits when they keep a food journal. Maintaining an exercise log can help you track your progress and provide the motivation you need to keep going.

Jeffrey Janata, PhD is a psychologist and division chief of psychology at University Hospitals. You can request an appointment with Dr. Janata or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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