A Lifestyle Choice: Getting Fit

Use the Pleasure Principle

The discomfort of exercise is one of the primary causes of quitting, according to Annesi. "People vary in their ability to tolerate the discomfort of exercise," he explains, "and there's not much you can do about it. But what you can do is try to make sure that your tolerance is not overtaxed initially."

In a study, Annesi and colleagues tracked the post-workout feelings of subjects participating in a voluntary exercise program. They discovered that subjects who felt exhausted after workouts tended to quit, while subjects who felt revitalized after workouts tended to stay in the program. In another study, Annesi found that subjects who were allowed to choose their own exercise intensity were almost twice as likely to stay in a voluntary exercise program than subjects who were required to exercise at a fixed, high-intensity level.

Based on these results, Annesi advises beginning exercisers to "adjust their exertion so that feelings of revitalization tend to go up following exercise and feelings of exhaustion go down." The better you're able to do this, the more likely you are to be back for more tomorrow.

More: 4 Steps to Recover the Right Way

Give It Purpose

Bill Morgan, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin has found through his research that people are more likely to stick to an exercise routine if workouts have an immediate practical purpose. For example, walking on a treadmill has no immediate practical purpose, but walking your dog does. Riding a stationary bike has no purpose, but riding a bike to and from work does. If you can find a way to kill two birds with one stone with an activity, chances are greater you'll keep at it.

Set Goals

Why are goals so effective? According to exercise physiologist Robert Sonstroem, Ph.D., of the University of Rhode Island, goals set us up for what are called "success experiences," which motivate us to keep doing whatever sort of activity leads to them. In order to experience successes in exercise, it helps to set measurable goals, so there's no doubt whether you've achieved them.

Bob Anderson, co-author of Getting in Shape, advocates a special short-term goal that he calls the four-week rule. You simply promise yourself you won't miss a workout for the first four weeks. This gives you the no-excuses attitude you'll need to build momentum, but at the same time, because it's a shallow time horizon, it allows you to see light at the end of the tunnel.

Other examples of sensible short-term goals are as follow:
  • Increase your training schedule from four workouts to five next week
  • Increase your circuit training workout from one circuit to two circuits next week
  • Complete a 10K running race in three weeks
  • Reduce your waist measurement by one inch in one month
  • Lose 10 pounds in one month
  • Reduce your body fat percentage by five percent in 50 days

More: 7 Resources to Reach Your Fitness Goals

Make It a Team Effort

All kinds of research has shown that people are more likely to stick with exercise if it's a social affair than if it's a solo exploit. For example, in one recent study, researchers followed 64 people who started a new exercise program, including 16 married couples and 30 married individuals who joined the program on their own. A year later, 43 percent of the individuals had quit, compared with only six percent of those who worked out with their husband or wife.

Not married? Training with a friend, getting a personal trainer, and joining some kind of exercise group (e.g. a bicycling club) are other effective ways to get social motivation.

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