For those of us who have never been very health-focused throughout our lives, it can be very difficult to build a new healthier lifestyle.
We often see exercise as a “chore” that needs to be done. We try out new routines and diets because we think they are what we should do to “lose weight,” or to “look better,” or to “live longer.”
But while these are good goals to have, they usually aren’t very motivating.
Why? Because they are based on external factors (“we exercise because society says it’s good”), rather than internal factors (“we exercise because we like it and it makes us feel good.”)
Imagine how much easier it would be to build a healthier lifestyle if you genuinely enjoyed the physical activities you participated in?
This is one of the major themes in the new book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by behavioral psychologist Michelle Segar.
In this article, I’ll describe the key ideas mentioned in the book and how these have transformed my own health-related habits.
Create an “everything counts” mindset
The first theme I want to discuss from the book is the “everything counts” mindset.
When we start a new exercise routine, we often think we need to exercise for a specific amount of time everyday or we’ve failed and there’s no point.
But it’s very difficult to automatically start exercising an hour everyday of the week. And if you try to do this, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sustain it for any long period of time.
When you take an “everything counts” mindset, you permit yourself to do as much or as little exercise as possible, because something is always better than nothing.
Maybe you’re very busy and you only have 15 minutes free today. Many people will probably think, “Oh well I guess I don’t have time to exercise today.”
However, those with an “everything counts” mindset will take that 15 minutes and do something with it – even if it’s just something small, like going for a short walk.
If you’re someone who spends a lot of time sitting at home or at work, the simplest thing you can do is stand up for a few minutes. One study shows that sitting for long periods is associated with many different health risks. Just standing up more often is important.
The “everything counts” mentality doesn’t just include the amount of time you spend moving around, but also how you choose to move around. It all adds up.
Find opportunities for exercise that fit your daily life
Another big theme in the book is to find opportunities for exercise that fit into your daily life.
Exercise doesn’t have to be something that you schedule for a specific time of the day. It also doesn’t have to be something that you need to go to a specific place for, like a gym or your basement.
Instead we can find ways to be more physically active that fit naturally into our routines.
Maybe you can ride your bike to work instead of driving? Maybe you can take your dog on walks more frequently? Maybe you can do more physical activities with your children, like going to a park or playing sports?
As you can see, all of these fit into the “everything counts” mentality. You may not typically think of playing with your children as an opportunity for “exercise,” but it can be as long as it gets you moving.
Of course the types of opportunities for exercise that you discover will depend on your daily routine. What works for you may not work for someone else, and vice versa.
Take a minute to think about your daily routine. What are some ways you can naturally add more physical activity to it?
One simple thing Dr. Segar mentions in the book is that she often parks far away from her job. This gives her an extra 10 minute walk every morning before she gets to work. It’s small, but everything counts.
In the insightful book No Sweat, psychologist Michelle Segar reframes how to think about health, while sharing the most exciting and newest research on exercise and motivation.
Reframing exercise from “work” to “fun”
As mentioned before, we often see exercise as “work” rather than something “fun.” This perspective can have a very negative effect on our motivation when it comes to health.
One interesting study discovered that when we reframe exercise as a “fun run” or a “scenic walk,” we are less likely to snack on junk food afterwards (because we don’t see exercise as “work,” we don’t feel like we need to reward ourselves for it).
Naturally, when we enjoy something and it makes us feel good, we are much more motivated to do it – because we see the activity itself as its own “reward.”
Maybe going to the gym by yourself or running on a treadmill seems like a tedious chore to you. But what about starting a softball team with friends? Or going on more nature walks with your spouse? Or joining a yoga class?
Find physical activities you enjoy doing, and it’ll be much easier for you to be naturally active throughout your day.
Take a moment and think about some of the physical activities you enjoyed as a kid. That can be a good starting point for discovering new activities to do.
For example, I’ve always really enjoyed baseball as a kid. So part of my new routine has been going to the batting cages and having catches more often with my brother.
The best part is I don’t see this activity as “work” at all. I’m driven to do it because I really enjoy it and it makes me feel good. Just because it’s “fun” doesn’t mean it isn’t exercise. Everything counts, even the fun stuff.
Applying these principles to my own health habits
The principles in this article have really helped me put together my own “health routine.” One that both fits what I enjoy doing and is also easy to fit into my daily lifestyle.
Here are some physical activities that I’ve been doing more often:
- Walking my dog
- Riding my bike to the store/library
- Going to the batting cages
- Throwing baseball around
- Playing in the park with my friend and her kid
- Pull-ups whenever I enter my room
- Nature walks with friends
- Swimming in the pool or ocean
- Playing billiards when people are over (better than sitting in front of TV)
- Stretching before I take a shower
All of these activities work for me because they are both fun and convenient. While some of them are definitely more physically demanding than others, they are all a reason to get up and move around a little.
The baseball activities stem from my enjoyment of sports as a kid. The nature walks and playing in the park are just good reasons to get outside and in the sun. And riding my bike instead of driving everywhere has been very rewarding (plus I enjoy bike riding a lot more than running).
It may not look like a rigorous workout routine, but for me these are all good steps in the right direction. Everything counts.
And most importantly? These habits are sustainable for me, because I enjoy them and they fit nicely into my daily routine.
This is why the No Sweat perspective is so important: it’s not about working your ass off for a few months to lose weight, it’s about building healthy habits that last a lifetime.
What are some small, fun, and easy exercises you could start adding to your own routine? What opportunities for physical activity are hidden throughout your day?
Remember, it doesn’t matter how small you start: everything counts.
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