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Thomas G. Plante Ph.D., ABPP

A Few Surprising Predictors of Exercise Enjoyment

Working hard and your fitness beliefs predict exercise enjoyment.

used with permission from the American Psychological Association
Source: used with permission from the American Psychological Association

We all know that exercise is good for our physical and mental health and well-being, but it is so difficult for most well-intended people to sustain a healthy regular exercise program over the long haul. Sure, plenty of people will start a new year off with healthy resolutions to exercise more and get in shape, but within a few weeks they’ll stop, pointing to too much to do without enough time, injury or illness, bad weather, other more important priorities and a lack of enjoyment of the exercise experience, all contributing to their failure to keep their exercise plan going. All you have to do is look at how busy a gym is at the start of the year and how empty the same gym might be a few weeks or months later.

used with permission John Hale
Source: used with permission John Hale

There has been plenty written in both the popular and professional press about exercise. We know the facts pretty well by now and clearly know that exercise is remarkably good for our bodies, mind and souls. From reducing our risk of obesity, diabetes, certain forms of cancer and dementia to reducing stress, anxiety, depression and even enhancing self-esteem, exercise is a bromide for pretty much whatever ails you (or might ail you in the future). Yet, little research has focused on what can maximize exercise enjoyment. This is very important and an oversight among researchers in that the only way people are likely to continue an exercise program that has so many benefits to their health and well-being is if they actually enjoy doing whatever they choose to do. It is pretty plain and simple; you are more likely to exercise if you enjoy it and will find plenty of excuses not to do it if you don’t enjoy it.

used with permission by pixabay.com
Source: used with permission by pixabay.com

With exercise enjoyment in mind, my students and I recently completed a study where we tried to predict exercise enjoyment among 80 college aged research subjects. We had students work out on an exercise bike in my lab for 20 minutes and found that exercise work load (i.e., average speed on an exercise bike) and perceived fitness together predicted exercise enjoyment pretty well. We know from previous studies in my lab that exercising outdoors (rather than indoors), with a friend (rather than alone or with a stranger) and in pleasant environments all help to enhance exercise enjoyment. But what we learned in our most recent study is that working harder and postive beliefs about your personal fitness also added a great deal to exercise enjoyment. So, in order to enjoy exercise more, take it up a notch and work on your attitude related to your improving fitness while doing so.

While further research is always needed from multiple labs and with multiple and diverse populations, our research suggests that your beliefs about your own fitness and working harder might actually help you to enjoy your exercise more. And if you enjoy it, you’ll do it. And if you do it, your body, mind and soul will be healthier and happier to boot!

So, what do you think?

used with permission from the American Psychological Association
Source: used with permission from the American Psychological Association

And by the way, May is mental health month...a great way to help imrpove your mental health in efforts to combat stress, depression, anxiety, low self esteem and so forth might be to exercise. Try it! Research well supports exercise as part of an overall evidence based plan to maximize positive mental health outcomes.

Get resources about mental health, mind/body health, and family well-being at: www.apa.org/helpcenter

And check out some of my previous studies on the psychology of exercise and other topics via my web site at www.scu.edu/tplante.

Follow me on Twitter @ThomasPlante

Copyright 2015, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP

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