What is Intrinsic Exercise Motivation?
Why is it that some people need to move? They seem to have this little voice within telling their bodies to get out there and walk or swim or bike. Why is it that others have to battle themselves everyday to exercise? They seem to have a little devil on their shoulder telling them that there’s something else more important than exercise, and they continue putting off their plans to work out. Is it that some people are just lucky and the rest of us are meant to sit around?
Who are these people who are “intrinsically” motivated to exercise and how can others learn from them?
The people most successful at maintaining a fitness program view physical activity differently than those who fail at maintaining a program. The majority of us start exercising because of the long-term benefits. These include weight loss, disease prevention, and longevity. Unfortunately, focusing on benefits in the far future are not enough to keep the mass of people motivated.
By shifting our focus from lofty expectations, like losing 20 pounds, to the positive, internal experiences of exercise, like its effects on mood and feelings of well-being, we’ll likely find more success in maintaining an exercise program. Those who are able to stay in the present and make physical activity meaningful become “intrinsic exercisers.” These lucky people are able to exercise for its own sake and get something out of each exercise session.
Finding Your Intrinsic Exercise Soul
Intrinsic exercisers share three common characteristics. Try to adapt these suggestions to your exercise routine to make physical activity second nature.
- Make exercise personal and in the moment. That way, it becomes rewarding in and of itself, motivating you to continue on a regular basis. Let your senses take over and feel the pleasure in moving your body. Focus on how moving a specific set of muscles feels — the stretch and contraction of your leg muscles when walking, for example. Feel the tension leave your body as you extend and relax your limbs.
- Challenge yourself. Set goals and then monitor improvements. Seeing how far you have come in your exercise program motivates you to challenge yourself to the next level. What’s more, challenging ourselves is far more rewarding than comparing ourselves to others.
- Integrate physical activity into other aspects of your life. Use your walk to socialize with friends. Make your exercise a time to explore your spirituality. Participate in a charity run to help others. Whatever you choose, make physical activity more than just exercising for thirty minutes at your target heart rate.
Exercising for the rest of your life is about enjoying it. Realize that moving your body feels good, and exercise is a positive addition to your life. Focus on the internal benefits rather than the external. Most importantly, be active because you want to — not because you have to.
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