Do you need to enjoy exercise to make it habit?
It'll be of no great surprise to know it most certainly helps. There are several studies which point to that. (1,2, 3, 4, 5) Going a little deeper though here are a few things to consider:
Enjoyment and fun are not exactly the same
Think fun and you think laughter, amusement and perhaps novelty. And there's certainly nothing wrong with making exercise fun. However if you look at most habitual exercisers while they workout they typically aren't having fun. A 10km run isn't usually fun but safe to say most who do it regularly enjoy it.
They'll report feeling great after, and often during. The environment, the music, some time to themselves can all contribute to enjoying a vigorous exercise session. Many enjoy a challenge and get a sense of achievement from a hard physical feat. It's no secret to get the real benefits from exercise it takes consistency and frequency. In practice though you can't expect workout after workout to be fun. Better to aim to have it be generally enjoyable.
Enjoying exercise is often a process
Most attempts at getting fit fail. It's hard. Initially it can feel all pain and discomfort. That can and does change though as it become habit. Body and mind adapt and can tolerate it better. Getting to that point where you feel worse for NOT doing it, helps a lot with motivation. To give yourself the best chance of reaching that point you need to resist going too hard too soon. Initial over enthusiasm is a great killer of new exercise programs. It may well be that you simply don't find any exercise enjoyable to start. In that case looking to limit the discomfort to a manageable level would be smart. You may surprise yourself one day when you find you enjoy the habit.
Exercise with others to make it more enjoyable
Hard exercise when done with another inevitably becomes both easier and more enjoyable. It can be as much about the banter as the encouragement. This is the most reliable and easiest way to enjoy it more. What's more you create some accountability as well. Whether it's done with a friend, a group or a personal trainer, exercising with others certainly helps with making it habit. Read this post Want the proven benefits of exercising with others? conditions apply! for tips on how to really nail exercising with others.
Just add music
Who doesn't enjoy music? Listening to your favourite tunes while working out definitely not only makes it more enjoyment. It's also been shown to help increase endurance, boost mood and lower the perceived level of effort.
Upbeat music (that you like!) at a speed of 120-145bpm will work best. Naturally mixing it up will help with enjoyment. Don't listen to the same old stuff for months on end.
This is as much about knowing how much fun and enjoyment you need to stick with something (perhaps you're a more goal driven person) as it is about knowing what you find enjoyable. While one person may be capable of regular hard solo runs, another may thrive on the music and atmosphere of a Zumba class. What's worked for you in the past and an understanding of your likes and dislikes will help inform what's likely to work in the future. For more on this, have a look at- 'How to find a way of exercising that works for your personality.'
Goals, enjoyment and motivation
Many people are inspired to start exercising by a lofty goal. Aiming to lose 10kg or 20kg is common. An understandable and often essential aspiration given the impact that'd have on health and even longevity. What may surprise though is that most regular gym goers don't have a goal. They simply have a habit. They generally enjoy exercising because they feel good for doing it. Perhaps more critically they feel worse when they don't! In essence their motivation is intrinsic. This means they're 'doing an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence.' Rippling abs, losing 10kg or bench pressing 300 pounds aren't a driving force. Much of the research on exercise enjoyment and motivation highlights the importance of intrinsic motivation over extrinsic motivation. It doesn't mean those types of concrete goals aren't useful but they just aren't quite as relevant to medium to long term exercise adherence as we tend to think. While knowledge of that doesn't create clarity around how to specifically enjoy exercise, a general awareness of it helps. What it does suggest is even the most meaningful and important of goals will be hard to achieve if the process of attaining it is not enjoyable.
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