Researchers Have Discovered the Surprisingly Simple Trick to Actually Loving Exercise

Updated: Jun. 08, 2017

Does your exercise interfere with your life? Or enhance it? How you answer may predict whether or not you'll meet your workout goals.

rawf8/ShutterstockIf you’re not fitting workouts into your life—and you’d like to, the first thing you might want to do is stop thinking of it as a workout, suggests a new study published in the journal, BMC Public Health. The study revealed that women who take the attitude that exercise interferes with and interrupts their lives are less likely to be physically active than women who believe that exercising enhances their lives.

The study’s lead author, Michelle Segar, PhD, Director of the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center, has been studying how culture fosters or undermines people’s ability to sustain healthy habits for 20 years. In her 2015 book, No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness, Dr. Segar first floated her theory that the key to achieving lasting fitness is finding reasons to enjoy physical activity and discovering realistic ways to fit it into our lives, including broadening our view of exercise to include less intense forms of physical activity such as walking and playing with the kids. These household chores certainly count as “exercise” because they burn a ton of calories, especially if you try these tricks for turning chores into legit workouts.

For the newly published study, Dr. Segar and her team asked 40 women between the ages of 22 and 49 (recruited from the greater Washington, D.C., area) what makes them feel happy and successful and how working out either fosters or undermines those feelings. All of the women, regardless of activity level, turned out to want the same things out of life, including having “meaningful connections with others,” feeling “relaxed and free of pressure during their leisure time,” and accomplishing whatever goals they’ve set for themselves, whether personal or professional. Where the more physically active women differed from the less physically active women was in their attitude toward working out. The women who were less active viewed exercise as counterproductive to connecting with others, relaxing and accomplishing their goals—even their fitness and weight-loss goals, because the idea of exercise tended to inspire dread, in part due to a narrow view of exercise as “seriously heart-pumping and sweat-inducing.” The women who were more active viewed exercise as an opportunity to connect with friends and family, a means to relaxation and a sense of accomplishment.

Ultimately, the study’s findings support Dr. Segar’s belief that in order to change our bodies, we have to change our minds. For example, as Dr. Segar suggests in her blog, “Instead of dragging yourself to the gym because you want to lose weight, consider how moving makes you feel….Do you tend to feel an energy boost? Do you sleep better? Does your stress go down? Make those your reasons for exercise—and watch your desire to exercise increase.”

The study itself provides a handy reference guide for substituting exercise-sabotaging attitudes for exercise-positive attitudes in the context of a variety of scenarios.

For days when you still find you need that extra “push,” check out these gym hacks to make your workout less of a chore.