So here we are, just one week into the new year, and if you're like half of all adults who start a new exercise program, you've already dropped out. Resolving to exercise, lose weight or build muscles are all noble intents. The trouble is, as Sir Isaac Newton pointed out, a body at rest will remain at rest. Even the promise of looking and feeling better isn't enough for most people to become regular exercisers.
But there is one motivator that can combat spud-itis. Freud called it the pleasure principle: Simply put, people do things that feel good and avoid things that feel bad. No wonder most American adults are sedentary; too many think of exercise as painful, hard work that must be endured. Yet, as children, most of us viewed physical pursuits like skipping and running as play to be enjoyed.
So scratch the resolution to work out. Instead, vow to play, actively, for a half-hour every day. This can mean a solitary walk, a game of ping-pong with a buddy or a dance class with a large group. Nearly any activity you like that gets you moving is fine, since a growing body of research shows that even light to moderate activity can yield significant health benefits.
And study after study shows that the people who stick with exercise are the ones who truly enjoy their activity. They don't view their workout as one more chore to cram in but as a play break that's one of the highlights of their day.
If you think this shift in perspective is just a mind game, you may be right. Getting in shape is, after all, a matter of mind over body. But it is also a healthy way of approaching fitness, of enjoying the journey as much as reaching the destination. Goals can be helpful motivators to shape up. But once you drop a clothing size, then what? Crawl back to the couch?
Instead of being caught up in reaching a certain scale weight, view taking care of your physical self, which in turn boosts your emotional self, as a chance to play. This may be difficult at first since most American adults "are inclined to judge play as neither serious nor useful, something unrelated to the center of human tasks and motives," anthropologist Ashley Montague wrote in his book, "Growing Young." But, he argued, "the ability to play is one of the principal criteria of mental health."
So how do you start? Think back to activities you enjoyed in childhood -- walking, bicycling, ball playing, swimming -- and try one. If you enjoy the social aspects of play, you may want to join a class or seek a partner. If you prefer the meditative zen of a solo body in motion, you may want to go it alone. Just be sure to start slowly. Five or 10 minutes every other day may be enough the first week. Progress gradually, until you're moving continually for 30 minutes, preferably daily, or at least three times a week.
It's helpful to schedule time for your play break, since lack of time is one major reason s people say they don't exercise. The truth is, most of us find time for things that are important to us. It's all a matter of making choices. If you're too tired at night, a commitment to playful movement may mean getting up a half-hour early or walking at lunchtime.
No one said it would be easy. But it will become fun. Once your body relearns the joy of motion, you'll have all the motivation you need to continue. But until you recapture the pleasure of physical play, remember that regular exercise: Spurs creativity. Some of your best ideas will come while walking, swimming or running. Improves your health, with the most benefit coming to formerly sedentary people. It lessens the risk of heart disease and cancer, helps you lose and keep off excess fat, improves your cholesterol profile and blood pressure and reduces the risk of osteoporosis.Boosts mental fitness by helping relieve tension, handle anger, lift depression and reduce anxiety.Staves off the effects of age. Many physical declines considered inevitable are really the consequences of adopting a sedentary life style. One 82-year-old woman I know can touch her toes because, she says, "I've touched them every day of my life."
If you play actively for 30 minutes a day, eat and drink sensibly and don't smoke, fitness will follow.Bodyworks appears on alternate Tuesdays.