This is an excerpt from Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple:
Exercise is something you do to lose weight. It’s a mechanistic way to churn through the calories you’ve eaten and make room for the calories you want to eat.
Exercise is something you do even though it’s unpleasant. It’s like brushing your teeth, taking out the trash, and emptying the cat litter.
Exercise is about attaining a far-off goal.
Meanwhile, the journey – the actual experience of exercising, of moving your body through space and time, of challenging your physical capabilities – is forgotten. It’s not just forgotten, it’s willfully ignored. We actually try to shut it out, because the act of exercising is all pain and suffering and drudgery. It’s the goal that matters to us, the weight lost, the weight lifted, the miles logged, the calories burned, the beach body attained, the tickets to the gun show redeemed.
When working out feels like a chore, we demand compensation upon completion, often in the form of junk food.
This can derail weight loss efforts, but it also perpetuates an abusive relationship with physical activity. There’s also evidence, at least in non-human animals, that voluntary exercise is less stressful than involuntary or forced exercise. If that’s the case, workouts that feel like chores heap additional systemic stress on top of the local stress the exercise already applies to the muscles. This could make it harder to recover from exercise and easier to recover from play – even if the total work done for each was identical.
How do we change our relationship with physical activity?
How can we re-frame exercise to make it less unpleasant and more effective? How can we train ourselves to appreciate the journey of movement?
Re-framing our own activities and appreciating movement for movement’s sake can be tough. You won’t have a guy in a white coat wielding a clipboard and considerable amounts of authority telling you to “enjoy the walk” you’re about to take like the people in the studies.
You can’t expect to make everything fun and games. Few people think of hill sprints as “fun.” I can’t ever recall seeing a powerlifter rock a Cheshire grin in the power cage. But it has to be rewarding. You have to get something from it immediately. The activity must be its own compensation. The key, I think, is finding immediate value in the activity rather than relying on some far off goal, like weight loss, to motivate you. The weight loss, the hypertrophy, the fitness gains, all those “bigger” goals will happen anyway, but they’re not enough of a primary motivator for most people. I mean, everyone has those goals. They’re the reason most people decide they need to start exercising and why there are over 50 million gym memberships in this country. But by and large, they’re not reaching those goals. Something’s gotta give.
That’s easier said than done. Undoing a lifetime of acculturation isn’t easy. You have to willingly appreciate the flowers along the sidewalk, the birds in the trees above, the sunlight shining down, the refreshing sensations of unused muscles finally used. You have to realize that our bodies are built to move and need to move. We’ve got these shoulders that rotate almost 360 degrees. We can draw our knees up to our chins and touch our toes with straight legs and do the splits (in theory). It’s a crime not to use them – and you have to feel that. You have to find something of worth in the exercise as you’re doing it.