When you think exercise, what comes to mind?

Work out.

 Play hard.

 No pain, no gain.

 Go big or go home.

 Just do it.

Geez, what ever happened to having FUN?

These days even our leisure and recreation is taken very seriously.  We are driven. We want results. And it’s in our never ending quest to do it bigger, better, harder, faster, stronger, that I think we have really messed up.  I can’t tell you the number of clients I have who consider the ‘exercise’ word as repulsive as the ‘f’ word.  No, really.

“As soon as I start exercising all I can think about is what I am going to eat when I am finished. Maybe if I push myself really hard I can ‘earn’ that chocolate bar”.

“I’ve never really liked exercise. Ever. The thought ofgetting all sweaty and gross really puts me off. I know I should do it. And I feel bad, but I just won’t do it. I guess I am lazy.”

“I tried going to the gym but it didn’t help me lose weight so what is the point?”

Exactly. What is the point? Too many of us view exercise as a way to burn calories, fit better into our clothes,  lose weight or earn the right to eat.

And that makes me sad.

What ever happened to the sheer physical pleasure of moving our bodies?

The rhythmic ecstasy of dancing, the calming stillness of your swim strokes slicing through the water,  the tension in your legs and the pronounced  beat of your heart as you reach the final ascent of your hike. Yes!

What about the pure joy of movement?

We think if it is fun, or joyful or playful somehow it doesn’t count.  It is not “real” exercise. And it won’t get us “real” results.

It’s simply not true.

There is PLENTY of research that shows that when it comes to physical activity, enjoyment and adherence are strongly correlated. Go figure. If you like what you are doing, you are going to keep doing it.

What the research also clearly shows is that when our motivation to move is linked to fitness or appearance we do not stick with it in the long run. Wow. No wonder so many of us are “on again, off again” with our exercise routines.

We may get started because we want to drop a few pounds, look good for our reunion or be buff for the beach but the truth is it isour internal or intrinsic motivation that keeps us going.  Spontaneous enjoyment ofan activity leads to increased persistence, stronger positive psychological feelings and reduced stress. These findings have been tested across a variety of activities – aerobics, Tae Kwon Do, walking and strength training at the gym-and in a variety of ages.

Amazingly, even just how we think about ‘exercise’ makes a difference in how we act.

A recent report by the author of Mindless Eating, Brain Wansink showed that simply calling physical activity “exercise” changes our behaviors.

In two studies when physical activity was perceived as fun (labelled as a scenic walk rather than an exercise walk), people ate less dessert at the following meal or consumed fewer sugary/fatty snacks when they were offered immediately afterwards. The participants also reported enjoying the fun walk way more than the exercise walk, despite the fact that both walks covered exactly the same ground.

A third study showed that the more fun people rated a running race the more likely they were to choose a healthy snack (cereal bar vs. chocolate bar).

Why would that be?

When we work hard, put in effort, push ourselves we expect a reward. The authors of the study agree, “engaging in a physical activity seems to trigger the search for reward when individuals perceive it as exercise but not when they perceive it as fun.”

It’s time to ditch ‘exercise’ altogether and find ways to move our bodies for pleasure and joy.

Ask yourself: How can I make physical movement fun?

Completely stumped?  Here are 3 simple ways to get you started.

  1. Bring on those tunes!

Listening to music while moving has been shown to improve mood, reduce perceived effort, reduce fatigue, and enhance skill and endurance.  Load up your iPod with your favorite tunes or simply Google ‘exercise playlist’ for some inspired music to get you going.

  1. Mix it up.

Nothing kills pleasure faster than boredom .Variety is key to keeping it interesting.  Doing new and novel activities actually makes the pleasure center in our brain light up. Start now and make up a list of different activities that you think might be fun to try.

Nothing come to mind? Think: Zumba, kayaking, belly dancing, rock climbing, geo-caching, yoga, square dancing, synchronized swimming, pole dancing, skating, Wii-Fit, bowling, beach volleyball, badminton, dog agility training(seriously- a friend of mine started training her new dog and discovered how much fun this was and how active it made her, not just her pooch).

  1. Make it social.

Next to enjoyment, social interaction was found to be a key motivator, enhancing overall well being while significantly increasing the amount of time that someone sticks with their activities.

Who can you enlist in your new move for fun adventure?

I’m off to the dog beach now to see if I can convince my water phobic spaniel to go for a swim but I would love to hear about your favourite ways to move, so go ahead and comment below.

Feel free to share this post with your friends-maybe you can come with something fun to do together.

Intrigued by this idea and want to explore more about moving with joy? Curious to learn  more about enhancing your health from the inside out? Stay tuned as my online wellness program is coming soon.  Better yet, send me an email and I will happily put you on my VIP notification list so you won’t miss it (or the sweet early bird deal!).