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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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September 02, 2015

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

By Mark Sisson
33 Comments

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

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2Rae
2Rae
1 year 23 days ago

One of the immediate benefits I got from bike rides with my son is the smile on my face didn’t easily fall off…… Who knows if it was riding through the woods, the beauty, the exercise, the cute face that kept turning around to say “isn’t this fun?” the whole time, but I did notice that I was smiling enough to feel the “burn” in my face muscles.

Tuba
Tuba
1 year 23 days ago
All well and good but I have always hated exercise or physical exertion. There has never been a scintilla of pleasure in it ever. No afterglow. No enjoyment. Period. End of discussion. Zip. Zelch. Zero. Nada. None. Got it? A big nothing. Liking exercise is to me an extreme bizarre mental disorder that I fortunately avoided completely. And psychologically I prefer to lose on my own than win on a team. I am just not cut out of any of that cloth. Team sports? Gawd how boring. Me running for seven miles? Even more boring. What I DO like and… Read more »
Rob Poole
Rob Poole
1 year 23 days ago

A good honest response!

Ben
Ben
1 year 23 days ago

Honest, yes. Good?
He works out to sleep with younger women. He has an addiction, don’t glorify it.

Zach
1 year 22 days ago

He said they could, not that they do. And why are you demonizing sex between two consenting adults? Why would you say its an addiction?

Erica
1 year 23 days ago

Exercise is my anti anxiety medication. It will always be the #1 reason why I workout consistently. When I have to take a few days off for whatever reason – I get all grumpypants.

Monika
Monika
1 year 23 days ago
I hate team sports! If I could, I would do without exercising every day, but I can’t. The reason why I do it now, is the bad example my parents set, and I don’t want to end up like them. I was close to having to take meds because of my lifestyle, and I just dodged that bullet by changing it. I want to be strong enough, and to be able to take care of myself when I’m older (50 now). I don’t want to be bed ridden like my great grandmother, and grandmother were for 20 years before I… Read more »
Tom
Tom
1 year 23 days ago

Lifting heavy weight makes me feel strong. It also makes me look good. I take a look at many guys my age and even much younger and I cringe at the thought of having a big belly and flabby chest. That alone motivates me to work out. I don’t want to grow old and soft. Some day it will come but not now. Not when I can do something about it.

Ben
Ben
1 year 23 days ago
Personally, I find exercise fun. I have a job where I have to sit much of the day. Getting up and lifting heavy weight, hitting the rowing machine, or even a long ride on a stationary bike feels like I am doing something. Like I am using the tools I have. Now I personally, would never, ever, ever play a team sport again or for that matter do any the things that most people would consider fun. I spent 20 years as a competitive athlete, having team mates cheering (yelling) at me, coaches barking at me, having people get in… Read more »
Vince
Vince
1 year 23 days ago

For me, by far the biggest motivator is whatever results I’m getting from what I’m doing. There’s just something about watching your pull-ups get better, your squats get stronger, and your body looking and feeling better.The obvious problem with this is that you need to put in time first to see these results, but this post does a great job of providing short term incentives until you can start seeing your own positive results and continuing to build your own personal motivation for exercise.

Pittzer
Pittzer
1 year 23 days ago

I think about how much longer, faster, better I can ride my mountain bike. Insert your own personal sport.

Dr. Dana Leigh Lyons
1 year 23 days ago
Was so excited to share this post with a particular client of mine–aligned beautifully with an area of exploration that really opened things up for him this past month, so far as changing his relationship to daily movement and making something “he just does.” When we started working together, this client HATED exercise (still refuses to use that word). Now, after a few months of working on movement and eating, he moves his body daily—in ways that feel good, doable, nourishing and supportive. A key piece in this shift toward integrating movement in his daily routine was letting go of… Read more »
Larry
1 year 23 days ago
I think there is a lack of understanding about just how amazing feeling good, energetic, pain free is. I tell people, and I am not really joking, if you are lazy this is the best lifestyle ever. No doctor visits, medicine, aches and pains, just so much easier to live and much better for enjoyment. I think Grok was not out running marathons or doing chronic cardio or even Crossfit. And I don’t do any of that either. But he was energetic and playful probably his entire life. And certainly ready to play. And he had to move a lot… Read more »
Tracy
Tracy
1 year 23 days ago

My main motivation for moving more than absolutely necessary is that I love my food more than I hate exercise. It enables me to have that extra potato or whatever and still maintain a weight I’m happy with. Oh and it gives me a level of fitness that enables me to run for a train if needs be!

Kathy S.
1 year 23 days ago

Hmm, did someone recently read Michelle Segar’s No Sweat? If not, you should as this is exactly what the entire book is about — the motivation behind exercise/fitness. Seriously great stuff. (My immediate reward as a 49 year old woman? Strength and flexibility. I want to be able to lift heavy things and not make that noise — you know the one — when I get up and down off the floor. Or a chair, even.)

Primal Pam
Primal Pam
1 year 22 days ago

No sweat. Sounds like my kind of book. I try to move more than I ever have. But I always say I don’t like exercise that makes me sweat or breath hard. I’m all about long walks, swimming and yoga. Need more lifting heavy things as I head toward 50.

Mark N
Mark N
1 year 23 days ago
I find it hard to start,”OK, so I have to exercise, here we go, damn”. However, I get going, I do five more squats than last session, more sets the next, wow improvement. Then there is the reward of Breakfast, Three eggs and some bacon a cup of buttered coffee, man that’s livin. Then there comes the weekend hikes. My wife used to kick my ass up a trail, not any more. I think I’m even kicking ass on my cancer,(numbers are improving too:) . Every week I see improvement, every day I feel just a little bit stronger. I… Read more »
kay
kay
1 year 22 days ago

Thank you for the motivational reasons Mark! People who are able to get to the gym frequently in consistent basis sure have it’s own kind of motivations! Nobody can push us unless we find our own sustainable reasons and feelings that we want to achieve and addicted to it, then only one will automatically push themselves to do it and make it happen automatically!

Joe
1 year 23 days ago

Before I lost 100 lbs my motivation was to stop being made fun of at school. As I got older my motivation turned to picking up girls. As I roared through my 20’s I was full of piss and vinegar. My motivation was still to pick up girls but also to be the Alpha amongst my friends and other males. Its funny how things change when you get older. My motivation today is my son. I want to set a good example. “Every father should remember his kids will follow is example instead of his advice.” Great post Mark. Cheers

Anna
Anna
1 year 23 days ago

Most of these are true for me, but there’s another biggie not listed here, health-related and yet not long-term but quite immediate. . . ahem, keeping the system moving nice and regular, as it were. I find this a great contribution to how good I feel from day to day. Surely I’m not the only one?

Whitney
Whitney
1 year 23 days ago
I flat out love exercise – walking, running, lifting, cycling, swimming – it is my primary hobby and I do something everyday and look forward to it. I love how it makes me feel and look (and have no problem being vain about it). And I’ve always been that way since childhood now at the age of 48. I have my dad to thank for that – I modeled his behavior from a very young age watching him go running, lift weights and play basketball. Amazing what an imprint it made on me as a child. And he kept at… Read more »
Rich
Rich
1 year 22 days ago

Maybe “we” are going about it all wrong? The thought of “go get some exercise” means something you have to squeeze in somewhere, almost like a mandatory penalty, something negative. What if people were encouraged to just “go out and play “? Sounds like a much more fun approach with very similar results.
A key for a lot of people could be to just find a way to move every day that they enjoy, instead of guilting them into something they hate doing.

Saga
Saga
1 year 22 days ago

I exercise to lower my pain level. i have severe hypermobility and artritis (I am 35). I haven’t been able to motivate myself with health benefits or looking better, but less pain was an effective motivator.

Memo Stephens
1 year 22 days ago

After many years of training to recover from a crippling disease and obesity, I’ve discovered that it’s such an engrained part of my habit-stricken soul that I start to anticipate the next session only moments after I’ve finished one. In the beginning, it was desparately hard, and easy to seek the exit door. I found my conviction to keep going in the love I have for the people who really need me in this world.

Thanks for keeping good motivators out there for your tribe, Mark!

Memo Stephens

Varun Arora
1 year 22 days ago

All of them reasons are quite good i would like to try best one but confused which one is best.

M
M
1 year 22 days ago

The MovNat inspired workout video seems to be private.

Becky
Becky
1 year 22 days ago

I love my midday exercise break! Very straightforward motivation too, if I don’t do it my body lets me know because I get tense and sore standing at a computer all day. I also get a huge charge out of upping the weight or the reps, disconnect from stress of work, and get into a zen state focusing on the moment instead of trying to manage a hundred little details in the future.

justine
1 year 22 days ago

Often, I feel too tired or down in the evening to go to my tennis group. But once I’m there I always have such a good time. I forget about my tiredness and leave feeling energized.

Luce
Luce
1 year 22 days ago

I’ve always hated anything that makes me sweat or out of breath.

I exercise so I can feel strong and capable, and because I want to be able to pick up my nephew for as long as I possibly can 🙂
Also, I wanna LGN 😉

Nadia
1 year 21 days ago

For me, I love kickboxing and it keeps me pretty in shape!
http://www.ufcgym.com has amazing kickboxing classes, and other fun cardio and training options as well! 🙂

wildgrok
wildgrok
1 year 20 days ago

I like to workout!
It is not a big deal, 30 minutes doing a nice workout (many of them based on the WOWs posted in this site), for next Monday holiday it will be a session with sledgehammers in the beach. Beach yoga … aaaaaah
Sprint sessions I like, I have been improving my times

continentalhospital
1 year 20 days ago

Exercise to be fit not skinny.Eat to nourish your body.It is good for health.hospital in hyderabad

Dave Young
1 year 20 days ago

I applaud you in creating this post. There is a whole other world apart from the cosmetic results and competitive bragging rights world of “health”; the world of a quality life. For some that makes no sense, but I know that there is a world of people today who have always believed there was something far better than the highly segmented world of “exercise”. Thanks for being a voice for us.

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