I just finished reading No Sweat by Michelle Segar, PH,D. a University of Michigan scientist. Her book is all about why we lose our motivation for exercise and what to do about it. I think there are some people out there who just love exercise and have, from the time it was introduced to them. But for some of us it is not, completely enjoyable. We may not have found activities we enjoy or maybe it’s just not important enough to prioritize it over all the millions of other life obligations. If this sounds like you than this is going to be mind blowing!
Michelle’s system consists of four parts. She calls this system MAPS. Meaning, Awareness, Permission, and Strategy. Take a moment to reflect on the questions below and then we’ll get into the first of the four.
- Why do you exercise?
- What do you choose for exercise and why?
- How long do you try to exercise for?/How long do you have to workout in order for it to count?
We all know we “should” exercise. We know the health reasons and weight management reasons. When answering the questions above, did you find yourself saying things like, “I exercise to lose weight.” “I try to do at least an hour of activity that makes me sweat in order to get the health benefits and calorie burn.” “If I don’t have at least 30 minutes to workout than I just skip it.”
Too often we set the bar high in terms of how long and how hard we have to workout. Then next thing you know we have failed at our goals.
This vicious cycle of failure is mostly due to “why” we exercise. According to Michelle Segar, author of No Sweat, we have all the wrong reasons for why we “should” exercise. She claims that calorie burn, weight management, lowering blood pressure, and cholesterol are not really good enough motivators. They are too hard to see in the present, too far in the future or invisible. We need to find more MEANING in the exercises that we choose.
Check out this study from the book:
There were two groups. Both were told to walk. One group was told they were walking for exercise and one group was told they were exercising just to have fun. Both groups would be given an array of food to eat at the end of the walk. The group that was told they were walking for exercise were grumpy and consumed significantly less healthy choices and more food. While those who were told they were to just have fun, ate less, made healthier choices, and claimed they were more energized and happier.
This study is amazing to me. I really feel that reframing or changing our why for exercising will bring immediate pleasurable rewards.
We need to find the immediate benefits from exercise. So ask yourself these questions instead:
- What is that I love about the way I feel immediately after a great strength training workout?
- What types of movement do you actually enjoy doing?
- How are my stress levels after a long leisurely walk with my friend or husband?
- Have you ever noticed that you sleep better on the nights after you exercises?
- Do you feel calmer and less stressed after workout?
- Do you feel more focused and creative when you are exercising regularly?
For me, I find that exercise is crucial to my mental health. I feel crabby, edgy, easily aggravated, and overwhelmed when I stay idle too long. Exercise makes me feel calmer and way more focused. I usually find this from long walks or jogs at a comfortable pace not a sprint. I find strength training makes me feel like I can keep my posture, it builds my confidence, it makes daily activities or once in a while activities (lifting that dresser no one thought I could) easier. I have found that I don’t really like sports so strength training is fun challenge for me.
We need to get back to finding exercise to be a part of your life that is enjoyable and built in so you can’t miss it or skip it or run out of time for it. The way to do this is to find activities that you enjoy and that you realistically can fit into your day. If you hate 60 minutes rides on the elliptical than you should stop trying to do it. If you love long walks than you should do it. Experiment and realize that it may change from month to month or year to year. But if you hate it than you will not do it. If you find something you enjoy than you’ll be way less likely to skip it.
Workouts are effective at all durations and intensities as far as health is concerned
We also need to realize that a workout does not have to be any specific set number of minutes to count! For years the recommendations for physical fitness were rigid. They recommended long bouts of a specific activity at high intensities. However in 1996, the U.S. Surgeon General released a new report and it said that a few short workouts are just as good as one long one. All intensities are beneficial. We should count daily activities when looking at our overall activity levels. This is great, but there is more. In 2007 there was an update. This update recommended aerobic activity for 30 minutes 5 days a week or bouts of 10 minute activity that all adds up to 30 minutes in a day. Michelle Segar, in the book says that she dug deeper into this 10 minute rule. She found that there is evidence that bouts of 10 minute activity is as good as 30 straight but that there is NO EVIDENCE that bouts less than 10 minutes are not beneficial! This means that a 5 minute workout is worth it! A 5 minute walk with your dog around the block, a couple of sets of push-ups, a couple of sets of lunges, or a few flights of stairs are all beneficial to your health and your waistline!
Another study , compared low intensity workouts to short high intensity workouts and then measured power output and VO2 Max, and found that both low intensity workouts and high intensity workouts both delivered basically the same results as far as cardiorespiratory health was concerned. So you are still getting health benefits whether you do a shorter high intensity workout or a bit longer low intensity workout.
All of this is very important. But you might not be sure what you like or what you don’t. You might not have noticed any important pleasurable outcomes from exercise. So start being AWARE as of today. Take notes in a journal on paper, in your phone, on your computer, and start to pay attention.
One of the big reasons we find our plans for a workout derailed is that we have a million obligations all fighting for our time, from carting kids around to soccer, to community volunteer work, to babysitting grandkids, to eating out with friends, and so on. I think that too often it feels like it would be selfish to take time out for ourselves for exercise. We feel like we need to keep working or we will not fulfill our obligations. Do you really think if you put off that report one more day or a couple more ours, or asking your husband to make dinner 3 times out of the 7 times a week will really cause the world to crash down? Setting time aside to take care of yourself is essential! Just imagine… When you take time to take care of yourself, you’ll be more patient with your children, more loving towards your husband, more focused during your hours at work, you’ll sleep better at night and the list goes on. If you are always go go go and never taking time for yourself than other areas of your life are bound to suffer. Explain this to your family. Explain how they will benefit. We have to change the belief that self care is selfish. Stop the guilt. It is not selfish to take care of yourself so that you can better take care of others and perform your other duties.
Michelle has quite a few strategies when it comes to sustaining physical activity. Here are a couple that I think are most important.
Remember that the goal you set is not set in stone. The exercise that you choose for this month may not be the best one for the next month. The intensity that you wanted to go for may not be completely realistic on tough days at work. Be flexible and keep the mindset that your goal and your strategies to get there are going to be constantly changing. Our schedules are constantly changing. Our likes and dislikes are changing. The weather is changing. So re-evaluate your plan often and have fun with changes instead of feeling guilty.
Have a “if then” plan. This is huge! Often we envision a perfect plan. You plan to run on Saturday mornings or go to a dance class on Wednesday nights. Then your Friday night goes too late and you sleep past the time that was set aside for running. Your boss holds you over on Wednesday and you miss your class. Then you should have “if then” plans. If i can’t run on Saturday morning, than I can walk on Saturday night. If I miss Zumba, I can hit the gym for 30 minutes and still be home for dinner. Remember that you can’t follow a perfect plan. It’s impossible. So you have to be able to be flexible, improvise, modify and not ever feel like you have failed when we have to do the “if then” option.
This strategy is also very important when you are sick, haven’t slept, or injured. We need to check in with our bodies. Sometimes I hear clients say I was sick but I really wanted to get in that workout. If you are sick please remember that this is no time to try to workout. This is the time to rest so that your body can heal. If you are feeling an injury coming on, then check in with your body and do something else. For example, every so often my calves freak out from running. When I feel this, I need to walk, bike, or swim instead. If I don’t then I risk not being able to walk right for a week or injuring myself. It’s not worth it. If you didn’t get any sleep than don’t try to do an intense HIIT workout, opt for a easy walk. No guilt. Forcing yourself to do a workout will just associate the experience as a miserable chore and we don’t want that.
This is a lifelong journey. This book is about finding a way that exercise can be an enjoyable experience. Finding MEANING that is specific to you in the movement you choose. Realizing the flaw in thinking your workouts have to be a certain intensity or a certain length of time in order to count. That is ridiculous. Staying AWARE and analyzing what you like and what you don’t and then taking action based on these realizations. Giving yourself PERMISSION to take the time for the activities that you enjoy and take care of yourself. STRATEGIZING in order to be successful. Remember that successful does not mean perfect. It means moving in ways you enjoy for amounts of time that you can and feeling the amazing benefits of it in every aspect of your life. I cannot recommend this book enough. Click below to get it on Amazon or the Ann Arbor Library has it too (as soon as I give it back).