The Motivation to Move

Posted on Posted in Career, Career Change, Mary, Wellness

By motivation to move, I’m not talking about moving to another place of residence. I’m talking about move as in moving your body! As in physical activity. Or, for those of you so inclined, exercise.

Last week, Maria and I had a stimulating discussion about moving and not moving. What is the secret to being motivated to be physically active on a regular basis? Do you have the answer? If so, I’d like to hear about it. Seriously.

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Cover shot of one of my wellness videos — me working out in 2004.

The motivation to move conundrum is really the key thing I’m interested in researching for my doctorate, and in my subsequent career in academia.

Of course, I’m sure all of you can list the reasons WHY it’s good for us to do regular physical activity. And I imagine that most of you even know the “rules” for what to do in order to be healthy, and in order to be fit. Quick, cover the paragraph below — and name five benefits of regular physical activity! Got it?

Actually, there are dozens and dozens of benefits that have been scientifically proven. Here are a few:

  • Reduces the risk of heart disease (our nation’s #1 killer)
  • Reduces the risk of many cancers
  • Reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, many musculoskeletal problems, and depression and anxiety.
  • Increases the ability of your immune system to ward off colds, flu and the like.
  • You’ll have better sleep.
  • Improves your brain function — you’ll think more clearly after a good workout. Etc.
  • But the real plus is that life is simply easier when you’re reasonably fit.
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Taking off for a 4-day hike on the Appalachian Trail in CT in 1992 (with my 5-month old son!).

It’s easier to walk a brisk mile to the bus stop. It’s easier to carry out the trash and put your suitcase in the overhead compartment on an airplane. It’s easier to get out of a chair and go up the stairs. You can do more work or exertion with less effort.

It just doesn’t feel as hard to do everyday activities, so the payoff is that you have much more energy and stamina. You feel better! You like yourself better! You are much more likely to thrive!! Sold? Well, maybe. You may have already known all this, but that still isn’t enough to get you to commit to daily activity. Hmmm.

How about the rules or recommendations for physical activity? What are you supposed to do to get all these benefits? The US government (actually the Centers for Disease Control) has published recommendations for all Americans to know and follow. Can you state these guidelines?

Well, the main thing is to accumulate at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to-vigorous exercise. How does that actually play out? You could do 30 minutes per day, five times per week, for example. Daily movement is better than 150 minutes all on one day.

And what feels like moderate-intensity movement to you? We are all different, so the best thing is to listen to your body and ask yourself: Does this activity feel easy? Does this activity feel moderate? Or does this activity feel hard? Moderate (or, actually, easy) is best if you’re just starting out. It’s less likely to make you sore, and it’s less likely to make you discouraged and quit.

So, are you motivated yet? Well, if you’re like a majority of Americans, probably not. We have a real public health problem of physical inactivity in this country. Millions of people would be healthier, happier and have lower medical costs if they’d just move more. What to do? (Again, if you have the answer to motivating those who are inactive, I’d like to know!)

As I’ve written previously, I’m working on my doctoral dissertation in health behavior. The main behavioral theory I’m modeling my work on posits that people are motivated to do a behavior if it’s fun, popular and easy. (Actually, the specific language used is much more obtuse and theoretical, so I’ve watered it down a bit).

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Hiking in Rio de Janeiro in 2002.

When you think about being physically active, are you thinking about something that’s fun? That makes you feel good? Is the activity something that others around you also do, or something you can share with like-minded people? Does the activity feel socially acceptable within your crowd of friends and family? And, do you know what to do?

Perhaps in order to make it “easy,” you need a trainer or a skilled person to get you started. The activity also needs to be doable, convenient and affordable for you. If it isn’t, then you probably won’t stick with it.

So, what comes to mind for you? Water Zumba class? Gentle yoga? Walking the dog outdoors in a beautiful park? Weightlifting with a friend? Frisbee with your significant other? It’s great to have a couple of different activities that you really enjoy; that way, if one of them isn’t available, you always have a backup plan.

Over the years, I’ve taught just about every type of group exercise: step, slide, kickboxing, hi/low impact, stationary indoor cycling, mini-trampoline, water aerobics, Pilates, yoga, bootcamp, etc. For two years, I even taught a jump and pump class, which entailed three minutes of crazy jump rope moves, followed by three minutes of weights, repeat, repeat, etc.

I was also a fairly serious recreational runner. Now, I’m 62 and have to watch excessive joint stress. No more running or jumping for me. So, in case you’re interested, here’s what I generally do: 13,000+ steps per day, every day (that’s about 6 miles of walking).

I wear a Fitbit so I’m able to keep track of my steps. I lift weights for 30-40 minutes twice per week. I teach gentle yoga 2-3 times per week and do a 20-minute yoga routine at home on two or three of the days when I’m not teaching.

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Deepwater running with a flotation belt (head stays dry!)

Right now, it’s summer time and hot in Indiana, so I really enjoy doing deep-water exercise in the pool (I’m a terrible swimmer, so I wear a flotation belt to keep me vertical). The pool is great for allowing me to exercise intensely without any joint stress or noticeable perspiration — and I love it!! During the fall and spring semesters I teach a group exercise class (the format varies throughout the semester) twice a week to about 50 freshmen.

Are there days when I have to push myself to move? Um, sometimes, but not often. Fitness has been a big part of my life for 35 or so years, so I have a well-established habit. I’m used to feeling great physically, and I don’t want that to stop.

I also constantly remind myself of the immediate benefits (like abundant energy, increased productivity and clearer thinking), and I definitely choose activities that I really like, that feel good, that light me up and that help me thrive. How about you?

Let’s start a conversation and solve the motivation conundrum together!!! Please let me know if you were previously a couch potato and are now a motivated mover — how did you do it?

by Mary Yoke | email | facebook | linkedin

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