When It Comes to Exercise, It’s All Mind Games


There is a persistent myth that we humans use only ten percent of our brains (it’s not true). When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I’d prefer to popularize the notion that our bodies are only ten percent of the problem- the rest is in the mind. While trying to discipline yourself into a consistent exercise routine, consider the following:

Keep Moving

We all like to relax, but that groggy feeling is better fought off with light to moderate physical activity, than by sitting still. Even though it may sound like a paradox, the body will continue to burn calories after a period of physical activity– a recent study observed an increased calorie burn over a 14 hour period following a mere 45-minute morning workout. This increased cellular activity can translate to increased feelings of alertness.

You can take advantage of this tip at work. If your job allows it, eat and drink at your desk, and use your coffee/lunch breaks to move. Take cues from your environment: if you work in a high-rise complex, use the stairwell; if “urban sprawl” better describes your location, do a lap around the building. Not only will these sessions contribute to your overall fitness goal, but they will help fend off the dreaded post-lunch drowsiness that has ruined so many good afternoons.

Positive Association

Whether working out at the gym, around the neighborhood, or even in the privacy of one’s own home, exercise routines – especially new ones – tend to call attention to everything we find awkward about ourselves. Negotiating the self-consciousness associated with exercise can be more challenging than the workout itself.

With that in mind, strive to create a positive exercise environment; add something fun to the routine. Sometimes, something as simple as a playlist and a pair of well-constructed headphones can make all the difference. If you’re more visually stimulated, incorporate reading into your stationery exercises. Turn your bike route into a mini tour of the neighborhood.

If four-count repetitions and poor diagrams on hydraulic machines aren’t your style, there’s fitness to be found plenty of other places, too. Consider ballroom dancing, or martial arts; organize a volleyball or baseball game- whatever it takes to keep it fun.

Geek Culture to the Rescue

The current generation of movement-based gaming consoles, and the accompanying explosion of the “casual game” market, has helped end the adolescent monopoly on video games, and brought exercise to the living room. Combine that with the recent record-breaking heat waves, and increasing urban pollution, and suddenly the ridiculous becomes reasonable: one can now say to the kids “What are you doing hanging around outside? Get in here and get some exercise!”

Achievement Unlocked

Speaking of casual games. if you, or a friend has ever been captivated by one (water my crops, anyone?), you’ve seen one of the secrets of motivation: an achievement system. What you may not have realized is that it works for exercise too.

For any lifestyle change, the importance of setting reasonable goals cannot be overstated. A unique challenge to physical fitness is that, unlike taking an art class or renovating the bathroom, the need to exercise doesn’t end. Even meeting your goals – whether it’s losing weight, jogging further, or lifting more – is a sign to keep doing what you’re doing, not to stop.

A goal isn’t enough. Your brain wants merit badges, frequent, yet not-quite-predictable, accomplishments that indicate progress. Invent some milestones; keep a list; share them with your friends and compete.

Here’s one to get you started: in the course of a month, try to exercise at least once on every day of the week. After that period, everything else will seem more doable.

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