Why Getting Fit Isn’t the Best Exercise Motivation (and 10 Better Reasons to Move Today)

We’re told time and again that in order to get healthy we need to let go of our “lower” instincts (e.g. conserving energy on the couch or preferring to go out and have fun) and embrace future goals. We need to take things seriously – have concrete objectives and clear steps to execute them. It’s about getting down to business and whipping ourselves into shape through the grit of sweat and discipline. Or?

Sure, a proclivity to plan for the future and to favor self-control over momentary whim, research shows, will get us far on the health front (PDF).

It’s hands down the best mindset when we have emotional access to that “higher” self. The stubborn truth is, I’ve never met someone who could maintain this every day. Most days I get bored of it myself in all honesty.

Like it or not, research has shown that health isn’t an effective incentive for most people to consistently exercise. In fact, people whose primary aim for exercise is health or weight loss end up investing the least time actually following through.

So, if the typical rationales aren’t the most effective or reliable motivators, then what is? According to the research, we tend to be better off finding our initiative in the “affective outcome expectations” – the attitudinal and perceived benefits to our lives. To put it simply, if it makes us feel better on some level, we’re more likely to follow through.

In keeping with this pattern, the more immediate the perceived benefit, the more powerful and influential it is on our behavior. The same short-term gratification that gets blasted as our health’s worst enemy can actually be harnessed for good. Go figure…maybe our primary instincts don’t always have to drive us into the ditch.

In that spirit, let me throw out 10 short-term incentives for getting one’s duff off of the couchor office chair. Forget all about your blood pressure or cancer risk or cardiovascular conditioning. Forget the term body fat or the principles of metabolic functioning. What matters in this list is the here and now – same-day benefits if you will.

  1. You’ll come away from a single workout with better attentional processing, working memory (PDF) and motor memory.
  2. You’ll enjoy a brighter mood and less anxiety for the next few hours – even if you keep it simple with a slow jog or a brief walk outdoors.
  3. Can anyone say post-workout glow – with all the compliments that come with it?
  4. You’ll be able to “walk off” or get some distance from whatever emotional stress is zapping your mental energy.
  5. If you’re like subjects of one study, you’ll experience a significant boost to your body image after just one resistance training session. (Note: a single bout of cardio training didn’t offer the same enhancement.)
  6. You’ll have more self-control – and higher brain function – after a workout thanks to the enhanced blood and oxygen flow to the pre-frontal cortex.
  7. A single workout can offer hypoalgesic effects (temporary pain relief) for those who experience chronic pain.
  8. A bout of exercise primes you for sexual arousal post-workout. Just sayin’.
  9. Finally, according to one study on sedentary women (who had not been diagnosed with insomnia like sample groups in a previously publicized study), you may sleep better even after a single bout of moderate exercise.
  10. Bonus: how about just having fun? Can we dare to drop the interest in physical benefits period and just go out and have a good time with an active pick-up game of whatever sport we enjoy or a competitive run or a some MovNat inspired antics that make the neighbors stare?

Seriously, sometimes the best motivation is the seemingly most rudimentary or even irrelevant. Move around the ways that offer you the most fun and excitement – and forget the rest. Happy primate equals healthy primate. How much more Primal can it get?

What does your daily motivation look like when it comes to fitness? Are you more of a goal-oriented person, or do short-term incentives work better for you? Share your thoughts on the board, and thanks for reading, everyone. Have a good end to the week.

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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