Exercise does all kinds of wonderful things for us: It boosts our mood, helps keep our weight under control, and can even prevent injury and signs of aging. On top of that, it’s long been connected to stress reduction, which can vastly improve our mental and physical well-being. But even with all those benefits, many of us still don’t truly enjoy working out — and research indicates that if we don’t like it, it might not be doing us as much good as we hope it is.
Why do we exercise?
A study published in the academic journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise looked at whether all forms of exercise relieve feelings of pressure and tension, or if people need certain kinds of motivation in order to benefit from exercise. To study moods and how fitness levels affected them, researchers looked at data taken from 864 Swiss participants over a 10-month period, where subjects completed questionnaires about life satisfaction, physical activity, stress levels, and why they exercise. (While the study focused on adolescents and young adults, researchers believe the results are applicable to older people too.)
Interestingly, scientists discovered that folks weren’t necessarily driven to exercise solely by outside, or extrinsic, motivation. In other words, they weren’t working out just to see results. Rather, they were more likely to do it because they enjoyed it — also known as intrinsic motivation. Furthermore, when participants liked exercising, and how it made them feel, they were more likely to reap its stress reduction benefits. When people were excited about a certain form of exercise, they were more likely to have positive feelings about their results, too.
Should you force yourself to exercise?
While getting in any form of movement is better than not exercising at all, this study indicates that we’re all better off focusing on activities we actually love, as opposed to slogging through something we simply don’t enjoy — or absolutely hate. So if you don’t like exercising, try doing something different!
Not only are you more like to keep doing that exercise over the long run, but you’re more likely to lower your stress levels than if you did something that wasn’t your favorite. So if Zumba classes get you going every time, focus on those. And if long walks after dinner are the highlights of your week, head outside as often as you can.
If we’re going to exercise, we might as well have fun doing it — and science backs that up!