The mind is a powerful thing. In fact, sometimes it’s the only thing standing between people and their fitness goals.
It’s no secret that exercise is important to your health. Research shows 8.7% of deaths are attributable to lack of physical activity. But keeping your body moving reduces the likelihood of diseases such as coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke.4
Exercise may also help support brain health. A recent analysis of more than 33,000 people suggested those who reported high levels of physical activity experienced a 38% lower risk of cognitive decline.5 Exercise can play an important role in reducing negative feelings for those struggling with stress or other mental health issues. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reduced feelings of anxiety and depression are some of the immediate benefits of physical activity.6
The cost of inactivity is steep — estimated at $117 billion annually, which accounts for more than 11% of total health care expenditures.7 Unfortunately, most of us struggle to get moving. Less than 25% of U.S. adults report getting the recommended amount of physical activity. The federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week (or a combination of the two). In addition, at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities per week are recommended. Children and adolescents should aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day.8
Adjust your attitude
Exercise experts say the push we need to get off the couch and sweat our way to a healthier lifestyle can be a matter of changing our mindset. According to Panteleimon Ekkekakis, professor of exercise psychology at Iowa State University in Ames, that’s no easy task. But one way to change your mindset may seem deceptively simple.
“Try to focus on fun rather than physical achievements such as sculpted abs or running a marathon. By finding an activity you actually look forward to doing, the memory of exercise will bring feelings of joy rather than dread,” suggests Ekkekakis.
“The notion of exercise and physical activity will eventually register as something positive,” Ekkekakis said. “I’d urge people to prioritize pleasure and enjoyment over maximizing fitness improvements.”
Listen to music
Even if you don’t love exercising, there are ways to train your brain to think more positively about it. Ekkekakis suggests listening to something interesting or distracting, like music or podcasts. A 2018 study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise found participants who walked 400 meters on an outdoor track — whose brain waves were measured with electroencephalogram technology — experienced an increase in enjoyment while listening to music compared to listening to nothing.9
Make it a game
Turning your workout into a game can result in more physical activity. A 2018 study from the Journal of the American Heart Association found office workers took an average of 2,092 more steps per day when using a gaming exercise app that allowed users to explore other parts of the world based on the distance they walked.10
Make exercise a social affair
“Perhaps the biggest catalyst for mindset change could come from incorporating a social element into your fitness routine,” said Jacob Barkley, professor of exercise science at Kent State University in Ohio. He recommends coordinating workout schedules with friends or relying on loved ones for social support and encouragement by sharing your fitness goals.
“If you have active friends, you’re more likely to be an active individual. You’re more likely to stick to workout plans,” Barkley said.
Set realistic goals
It’s important to approach exercise in ways that are least likely to feel overwhelming. Avoid getting discouraged by setting realistic expectations and goals. Experts suggest starting with a simple walk around the block and increasing goals over time. Not a morning person? Don’t commit to early-morning workouts. Instead, plan physical activity for times of the day when you feel most energetic.11
Plus, don’t focus on the scale. While many are motivated by weight loss goals, Ekkekakis cautions against obsessing about pounds lost as the only barometer for success. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlines other health benefits of staying active. Regular physical activity can lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol and blood glucose levels and help you sleep better.12
Sneak in more time
Don’t have time to exercise? Research shows even as little as 15 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity can lower your risks. 13 Building physical activity into other activities can help you sneak it into a busy schedule. Park farther away from a store entrance while doing errands, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk in place while listening to a conference call, or opt for walking with a friend instead of having coffee.
“Blocking off calendar time to have a set schedule for physical activity also can be a motivator,” Barkley said. “If you schedule at least a loose routine, that can be helpful. Start with a 10- or 15-minute walk and go from there.”
Things to Consider:
- You don’t have to run a marathon. As little as 15 minutes of daily moderate to vigorous physical activity can lower your risk for various health problems.
- Having a workout buddy may keep you on track. Experts say exercising with a friend or sharing your goals with a loved one can help you stay motivated.
- Make exercise more entertaining. Find an activity you enjoy, listen to music that inspires you, make it a game, or exercise with a friend.
This article was prepared by the American Heart Association (AHA). Transamerica is not affiliated with the AHA and does not control, guarantee, or endorse the information. This information does not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911, or call for emergency medical help immediately.
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1 “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2020 Update,” American Heart Association, January 2020
2 “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2020 Update,” American Heart Association, January 2020
3 “Public Health Impact: Physical Inactivity, 2019 Annual Report”, United Health Foundation, 2019
4 “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2020 Update,” American Heart Association, January 2020
5 “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2020 Update,” American Heart Association, January 2020
6 “Benefits of Physical Activity ,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020
7 “Public Health Impact: Physical Inactivity, 2019 Annual Report ”, United Health Foundation, 2019
8 “Physical activity ,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019
9 “The Way You Make Me Feel : Psychological and cerebral responses to music during real-life physical activity,” Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 2018.
10 “Gamifying Accelerometer Use Increases Physical Activity Levels of Sedentary Office Workers,” Journal of the American Heart Association, 2018
11 “Barriers to fitness: Overcoming common challenges,” Mayo Clinic, 2019
12 “Benefits of Physical Activity,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020
13 “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2020 Update,” American Heart Association, January 2020