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Need Motivation to Exercise? Science-Based Facts Can Inspire

20 "science-based" sources of motivation to help you stay physically active.

This post is in response to
Fake News 'Vaccine' Inoculates Against 'Alternative Facts'

As I was lacing up my sneakers to go for a jog at sunrise this morning, I glanced at the thermometer outside my front door with a sense of dread. It read -7° below zero. "Brrr!" was all I could say. To get psyched up and readjust my mindset to better cope with the frigid arctic air, I started listening to my "Summer Side of Life" playlist and recited my favorite Norwegian saying, "No such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes." I also heeded President Trump's sardonic advice to "Bundle up!" during this week of historically low, freezing-cold temperatures across the Northeast United States.

A few miles into my long Sunday run, a Bruce Springsteen song started playing on my headphones. As is often the case, the lyrics to his music filled me with a combination of intense emotions that were bittersweet. In one of my all-time favorite summertime anthems, "Racing in the Street," Springsteen sings: "Some guys they just give up living, and start dying little by little, piece by piece." These lyrics reminded me of how easy it is to feel beaten down and fatigued by day-to-day life, including the 24-hour news cycle. Even though it was below zero and I couldn't feel my face. . . I said out loud, "I don't want to be 'that guy' in the Springsteen song." Which inspired me to charge ahead; running a bit faster and farther than usual.

Aerobic exercise is a road-tested way to fortify your resilience when coping with adversity or disappointment. For me, this includes Washington politics and partisanship.

Along this line, I am reminded of the introduction of "alternative facts" into our lexicon by Kellyanne Conway last January during an interview on Meet the Press. Another jaw-dropping headline was a December 15, 2017, article in the Washington Post reporting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had received a list of seven words they were forbidden by the Trump administration to use in next year's budget proposals. This list included "science-based" and "evidence-based." (As a science-based wellness writer, "Grrr!" is all I can say.)

That being said, instead of allowing myself to feel hopeless, cynical, or paralyzed by the war on science, I decided to practice what I preach and "Flip the Script: Turning Naysayer Scorn Into Yesayer Mojo." This technique is the most effective way I've found for morphing negativity into a source of motivation and positivity without becoming a head-in-the-sand Pollyanna. (Full disclosure: "We Can't Stop" by Miley Cyrus, which was Choice Awards 'song of the summer' in 2013, also inspired me to curate all of the science for this blog post. "And we can't stop! And we won't stop!")

Source: ARZTSAMU/Shutterstock

During my run this morning, I compiled a mental list of all the science-based blog posts I've written in 2017 that could motivate Psychology Today readers who've made a New Year's resolution to "exercise more." Notably, any science-based knowledge that resonates for a particular reason is one of the most powerful sources of motivation to make exercise a regular habit and stick with it.

"The Athlete's Way: Sweat and the Biology of Bliss" Psychology Today blog posts from 2017 listed below are a comprehensive one-stop resource of the past year's most noteworthy empirical evidence regarding physical activity and aerobic exercise. Hopefully, the clinical research included herein will give you (and/or your kids) a healthy dose of some science-based motivation to exercise more and sit less in 2018.

20 Science-Based Reasons to Exercise More in 2018

1. Got Inflammation? 20 Minutes of Exercise Could Be a Remedy: 20-minute bouts of moderate-intensity physical activity trigger an anti-inflammatory cellular response.

2. Physical Fitness Keeps Your Brain in Good Shape: Cardiorespiratory fitness boosts brain activity and improves memory performance.

3. 30 Minutes of Daily Activity May Help Slow Chromosomal Aging: Even if you sit 10 hours a day, 30 minutes of activity can protect your telomeres from premature aging.

4. Physical Activity May Protect Against Childhood Depression: Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) lowers the risk of childhood depression.

5. Low-Intensity Aerobic Exercise Has Surprising Brain Benefits: Light physical activity (such as walking) stimulates the visual cortex and sensitizes human vision.

6. Regular Aerobic Exercise in Midlife Protects the Aging Brain: Aerobic exercise in middle age boosts collateral circulation as the brain ages.

7. Physical Activity May Be a Drug-Free Elixir for Chronic Pain: Staying physically active improves pain modulation in older adults.

8. New Research Explains Why Some of Us Really Hate to Exercise: "Placebo expectations" influence perceived exertion during moderate-intensity physical activity.

9. One More Reason Aerobic Exercise Is So Good for Your Brain: Physical activity stabilizes cerebral choline, which inhibits neurodegeneration.

10. Want to Keep Your Brain Youthful? You Should Be Dancing: Neuroscience-based research shows that dancing may reverse signs of aging in the human brain.

Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock
Source: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock

11. One Surefire Way to Release Endorphins Into Your Brain: High-intensity interval training triggers endorphin release in the human brain.

12. 48 Minutes of Exercise (Per Week!) Has Surprising Benefits: 48 minutes of weekly physical activity can improve quality of life as we age, a longitudinal study finds.

13. One Hour of Exercise Per Week Protects Against Depression: 60 minutes of exercise per week—at any intensity—can prevent future depression.

14. Walking Study Corroborates Hippocrates’s Prescriptive Wisdom: New research reaffirms that Hippocrates was right when he said, "Walking is the best medicine."

15. Harvard Epidemiologists' Rx: Moderate-to-Vigorous Exercise: Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) significantly lowers mortality rates.

16. Aerobic Training Reduces Inflammation in Mind-Boggling Ways: 3 hours of aerobic exercise per week can reduce inflammation via microRNAs.

17. Once and for All: Aerobic Exercise Increases Brain Size: Meta-analysis confirms aerobic exercise is like Miracle-Gro for the human brain.

18. Walking in Natural Environments Nourishes Parent-Child Bonds: Spending time together while walking in natural envrionments increases family cohesion.

19. Letting Kids Run Wild Could Improve Academic Performance: Physical fitness and agility are linked to bigger brains and better test scores in school-age children.

20. Exercise Is a Top Prescription for Mild Cognitive Impairment: New guidelines recommend physical activity (not medication) to improve memory and thinking for patients with mild cognitive impairment (MCI).

*As always, please consult with your primary care physician before beginning any new exercise regimen. If you'd like to read more about any of these science-based clinical studies, please check out the detailed references below. (To expand the gray reference box to show all 20 studies, click on the "More" tab.) The DOI number after each article hyperlinks to the original scientific paper.


1. Stoyan Dimitrov, Elaine Hulteng, Suzi Hong. "Inflammation and Exercise: Inhibition of Monocytic Intracellular TNF Production by Acute Exercise Via β2-adrenergic Activation." Brain, Behavior, and Immunity. (Published online: December 21, 2016) DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2016.12.017

2. Scott M. Hayes, Jasmeet P. Hayes, Victoria J. Williams, Huiting Liu, Mieke Verfaellie. "fMRI Activity During Associative Encoding Is Correlated with Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Source Memory Performance in Older Adults." Cortex (Published online: January 12, 2017) DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2017.01.002

3. Aladdin H. Shadyab et al. "Associations of Accelerometer-Measured and Self-Reported Sedentary Time With Leukocyte Telomere Length in Older Women." American Journal of Epidemiology (Published: February 1, 2017) DOI: 10.1093/aje/kww196

4. Tonje Zahl, Silje Steinsbekk, Lars Wichstrøm. “Physical Activity, Sedentary Behavior, and Symptoms of Major Depression in Middle Childhood.” Pediatrics (Published: February 2017) DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-1711

5. Tom Bullock, James C. Elliott, John T. Serences, Barry Giesbrecht. "Acute Exercise Modulates Feature-selective Responses in Human Cortex." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience (Published online: February 28, 2017) DOI: 10.1162/jocn_a_01082

6. Scott M. Hayes, Jasmeet P. Hayes, Victoria J. Williams, Huiting Liu, Mieke Verfaellie. "FMRI activity during associative encoding is correlated with cardiorespiratory fitness and source memory performance in older adults." Cortex (Published: June 2017) DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2017.01.002

7. Kelly M. Naugle, Thomas Ohlman, Keith E. Naugle, Zachary A. Riley, NiCole R. Keith. "Physical activity behavior predicts endogenous pain modulation in older adults." PAIN (Published: March 2017) DOI: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000769

8. Hendrik Mothes, Christian Leukel, Harald Seelig, and Reinhard Fuchs. "Do placebo expectations influence perceived exertion during physical exercise?" PLoS ONE (Published: June 30, 2017) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0180434

9. Silke Matura, Johannes Fleckenstein, Ralf Deichmann, Tobias Engeroff, Eszter Füzéki, Elke Hattingen, Rainer Hellweg et al. "Effects of aerobic exercise on brain metabolism and grey matter volume in older adults: results of the randomised controlled SMART trial." Translational Psychiatry (Published online: July 28, 2017) DOI: 10.1038/tp.2017.135

10. Kathrin Rehfeld, Patrick Müller, Norman Aye, Marlen Schmicker, Milos Dordevic, Jörn Kaufmann, Anita Hökelmann, Notger G. Müller. "Dancing or Fitness Sport? The Effects of Two Training Programs on Hippocampal Plasticity and Balance Abilities in Healthy Seniors." Frontiers in Human Neuroscience (Published online: June 15, 2017) DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2017.00305

11. Tiina Saanijoki, Lauri Tuominen, Jetro J Tuulari, Lauri Nummenmaa, Eveliina Arponen, Kari Kalliokoski, Jussi Hirvonen. "Opioid Release After High-Intensity Interval Training in Healthy Human Subjects." Neuropsychopharmacology (Published online: July 17, 2017) DOI: 10.1038/npp.2017.148

12. Roger A. Fielding, Jack M. Guralnik, Abby C. King, Marco Pahor, Mary M. McDermott, Catrine Tudor-Locke, Todd M. Manini et al. "Dose of physical activity, physical functioning and disability risk in mobility-limited older adults: Results from the LIFE study randomized trial." PloS One (Published: August 18, 2017) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0182155

13. Samuel B. Harvey, Simon Øverland, Stephani L. Hatch, Simon Wessely, Arnstein Mykletun, Matthew Hotopf. "Exercise and the Prevention of Depression: Results of the HUNT Cohort Study." The American Journal of Psychiatry (Published online: October 3, 2017) DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2017.16111223

14. Alpa V. Patel, Janet S. Hildebrand, Corinne R. Leach, Peter T. Campbell, Colleen Doyle, Kerem Shuval, Ying Wang, Susan M. Gapstur. "Walking in Relation to Mortality in a Large Prospective Cohort of Older U.S. Adults." American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Published online: October 19, 2017) DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2017.08.019

15. I-Min Lee, Eric J. Shiroma, Kelly R. Evenson, Masamitsu Kamada, Andrea Z. LaCroix, Julie E. Buring. "Accelerometer-Measured Physical Activity and Sedentary Behavior in Relation to All-Cause Mortality: The Women's Health Study." Circulation (Published online: November 6, 2017) DOI: 10.1161/circulationaha.117.031300

16. Jessica F Boehler, Marshall W. Hogarth, Matthew D. Barberio, James S. Novak, Svetlana Ghimbovschi, Kristy J. Brown, Li Alemo Munters, Ingela Loell, Yi-Wen Chen, Heather Gordish-Dressman, Helene Alexanderson, Ingrid E. Lundberg, Kanneboyina Nagaraju. "Effect of Endurance Exercise on microRNAs in Myositis Skeletal Muscle—A Randomized Controlled Study." PLOS ONE (Published: August 22, 2017) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0183292

17.Joseph Firth, Brendon Stubbs, Davy Vancampfort, Felipe Schuch, Jim Lagopoulos, Simon Rosenbaum, and Philip B. Ward. "Effect of Aerobic Exercise on Hippocampal Volume in Humans: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis." NeuroImage (Published online: November 4, 2017) DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.11.007

18., Dina Izenstark, and Aaron T. Ebata. "The effects of the natural environment on attention and family cohesion: An experimental study." Children, Youth and Environments (Published: November 17, 2017) DOI: 10.7721/chilyoutenvi.27.2.0093

19. Esteban-Cornejo, Irene, Cristina Cadenas-Sanchez, Oren Contreras-Rodriguez, Juan Verdejo-Roman, Jose Mora-Gonzalez, Jairo H. Migueles, Pontus Henriksson, Catherine L. Davis, Antonio Verdejo-Garcia, Andrés Catena, Francisco B. Ortega. A whole brain volumetric approach in overweight/obese children: Examining the association with different physical fitness components and academic performance. The ActiveBrains project." NeuroImage (Published: October 2017) DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.08.011

20. Ronald C. Petersen, Oscar Lopez, Melissa J. Armstrong, Thomas S.D. Getchius, Mary Ganguli, David Gloss, Gary S. Gronseth, Daniel Marson, Tamara Pringsheim, Gregory S. Day, Mark Sager, James Stevens, and Alexander Rae-Grant. "Practice Guideline Update Summary: Mild Cognitive Impairment Report of the Guideline Development, Dissemination, and Implementation Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology." Neurology (Published online: December 27, 2017) DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000004826

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