February 3, 2007


I want to exercise -vs- I should exercise. There is a difference.

Human beings tend to repeat behaviors that are rewarded and avoid behaviors that are punished. Some people would say that it is part of our human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Rewards are pleasureable and punishments are painful. To further explore this concept, ask any responsible parent who works hard to discipline their child. When a child is rewarded for doing well in school, the positive behavior is more likely to be repeated than if it were punished or ignored. When parents reward achievement, the child learns to achieve. Some people may argue that the "reward-punishment" concept teaches us to avoid the punisher because we are going to do what we want to do anyway. Think of the speeding driver who slows down after seeing the police in order to avoid getting a ticket and higher insurance premiums. Others may say that using rewards and punishments to teach a child creates a frustrated child, one who is always trying to please his/her parents. STOP. Lets keep this simple. Lets avoid thinking deviously for right now and apply the "reward-punishment" concept to exercise.

Based on the theory, "seek-pleasure" and "avoid-pain", I assert that the people who are most likely to want to exercise on a regular basis are those who associate exercise with pleasure. The feeling of pleasure is the reward. Likewise, the people who do not exercise on a regular basis are those who associate it with pain. The feeling of pain is the punishment. The pain is not necessarily physical in nature. It could be emotional like viewing exercise as an inconvenience because "there is no time to do it." When we think there is no time to exercise, we are choosing to do something else instead. The emotional pain is felt as an anxiety that asks us to choose. When we are emotionally torn to do one of two things, we tend to do the one thing that is most important at the time.

Based on current polls (year 2002), about 30% of us associate exercise with pleasure and work-out on a regular basis. The numbers are up from 30 years ago when approximately 15% of us regularly worked-out. If we extrapolate the numbers, 100% of us will be physically fit by the year 3042. Current trends to live a physically fit lifestyle show a 5% increase in the numbers every ten years. This is in spite of all the "doom and gloomers" who say that we are getting lazier and lazier as a society because we are spoiled with our technology. Even though the numbers are based on a poll rather than a scientific study, it is encouraging to hear that people are more motivated to stay in shape today than yesterday, despite the convenience of driving our cars, the luxury of playing video games and the luxury of using the remote control for the TV set.

What is the difference between "wanting to exercise" and "shoulding to exercise?" That's easy. The latter is more messy than the former. It would be messy to "should" all over ourselves. (Another unintended reference to stool from the Stoolman). "Wanting to exercise" implies an internal motivation. It is a choice based on what we are thinking and feeling. What do we think about exercise? Is it an important part of our life? What do we feel about exercise before, during and after exercising? Sometimes the motivation to exercise comes after a good work-out, when we feel euphoric from the release of endorphins in to our bloodstream. The more pleasureable the thoughts and feelings, the more likely we are to exercise. On the other hand, to say, "I should exercise", implies another emotionally painful experience. Many of us have been conditioned to equate exercise with pain, so we either exercise once in a while or not at all. When we do, there's a part of us that tells us that we "should", but another part of us that says we really don't want to exercise.

In general, our society does not view regular exercise as important. Why then "should" we view it as important? School boards do not view physical education classes as important to the curriculum in schools. Coaches punish athletes who do not meet their expectations by demanding laps or push-ups. What ever happened to intra-mural sports at school? When will health insurance companies pay for memberships at the gym as an incentive to work-out? Do they still think there's a difference between physical fitness and health? I believe the research suggests more of a correlation between fitness and health, which would mean fewer health insurance claims in the long-run. If the societal odds are against us, and if we are struggling to improve our fitness and health levels, what can we do about it? It begins with an "internal locus of control.

It is very important to consult with our primary care physician before starting an exercise program. Each consultation is individualized, but depending on our age, our doctor may want to do an EKG and cholesterol level check to identify which fitness program best meets our needs. Once we get medical clearance, we are ready to begin the mental preparation that will keep us motivated for as long as we choose.

If we are having a difficult time believing how natural it is for us to be engaged in playful, physical activity, think about how a little baby enjoys being carefully lifted up in to the air by an adult. As the mom or dad gently raises-up their baby to get a view of the world from above shoulder height, the baby usually responds by smiling and laughing. The baby is responding favorably to the gentle physical movement. As adults, when we are exercising, we are rekindling that need for playfulness and physical movement that we enjoyed as babies. This rationale is part of Freudian theory, and it sounds good to me.

When we want to start or continue a regular exercise plan, we need to set goals and objectives to give us a specific direction. Without a goal, we may end-up where we are headed, and it may not be where we want to go. The goal could be related to decreasing our percentage of body fat, improving our self-esteem by having a more positive body image, managing our hormone levels to improve our daily mood or any other goal of which we can think. Our objectives would include specific action steps to be taken to accomplish our goal(s). This might mean engaging in a walking program, pumping iron, participating in a yoga class, joining a softball league or any other physical activity that helps to get us moving. Our objectives need to be measureable and have a time frame for which to be completed. This means doing something "x" number of times by such and such a date to help us get results to realize our goal(s).

Here is an example of an exercise plan that provides us with direction. We can modify it to meet our own needs:

GOAL #1) I want to decrease the percentage of my body fat from 40% to 20% by next year at this time.

OBJECTIVE A) I will see my doctor to get a physical exam within one month.

OBJECTIVE B) I will consult with a nutritionist to learn ways to modify my diet so I am eating more healthful foods on a daily basis within three months time.

OBJECTIVE C) I will engage in one or more of the following chosen activities every other day for at least 30 minutes each time during the next year: walking, jogging, running, stretching, bicycling, swimming, lifting weights, other.

OBJECTIVE D) I will take the necessary steps to make each exercise enjoyable and safe. (Wearing protective gear, working with a Personal Trainer or coach, other).

OBJECTIVE E) I will get adequate rest/sleep each night to help my body and mind recharge itself. (Yes, body and mind act as one). Current research defines "adequate" as 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night.

Once a goal and objectives are determined, the challenge then becomes doing it. The mental preparation has already started. Follow-through is key to getting results.

Knowledge is power when we apply it to our lives. It helps make life better than before. If not better, certainly different! Here are some interesting links worth reading to add to your knowledge base:

1) Dr. Mirkin. A website authored by Dr. Gabe Mirkin and wife, Diana. Both keep-up with current research in the areas of health, fitness, nutrition and sexuality.

2) The American Council On Exercise.

3) Macomb Athletic Club.

4) The Presidential Sports Awards. Have your commitment to fitness recognized.

* "POWER-UP" with physical conditioning!


Written by,
Mark S. Rogers, LPC.
Licensed Professional Counselor and
Nationally Certified Sports Counselor.

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1 comment:

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