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The Benefits of Quick, Easy, Pleasant Exercise

States of mind

In a post (“Stepping Outdoors Boosts Mood, Self-Esteem“) on her blog at Psychology Today, Kelly McGonigal talks about a new study (“What is the Best Dose of Nature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis” by Jo┬áBarton and Jules┬áPretty) that seems to indicate that even a tiny amount of activity in a pleasant outdoor environment can make a noticeable difference in mood and self-confidence. This is the five-minutes-walking-by-the-woods exercise, not an-hour-jogging-uphill-in-the-freezing-rain exercise.

All of this reinforces the important idea that exercise is not just for losing weight: see my article Nothing to Do With Weight Loss: 17 Ways Exercise Promotes Willpower and Motivation.

It’s also a good reminder of an important fact of motivation: short-term payoffs tend to be more motivating than long-term payoffs. In my post Good Exercise Motivation and Bad Exercise Motivation, I talk about a study in which participants who focused on the immediate mood benefits of exercise were a good bit more successful in sticking with it and losing weight than participants who had weight loss in mind as a goal.

And that in turn brings up an interesting insight from looking at the process of flow, in which a person is powerfully motivated by and involved in an activity in the short term. One of the prerequisites of flow is that you have some kind of feedback as you’re going along. If you can’t tell how well you’re doing, whether you’re getting closer to your goal, etc., it’s much harder to stay motivated, because you keep hesitating and questioning yourself. Feeling confident that you can be effective at making progress, according to yet more studies, is essential to self-motivation. And little wonder: who wants to work really hard at a goal when there’s no guarantee they’ll accomplish anything? Weight loss is such a relatively slow process, it’s very hard to get any definite sense of how well we’re doing it except over the course of weeks, and it’s therefore a pretty lousy motivator, no matter how much we want the end result.

This has been a bit of a rambling post, but there is one single, essential lesson here for us to take away and think about: enjoying what we’re accomplishing in the moment is extremely powerful for helping motivate us in terms of both mood and long-term accomplishments.

Photo by kandjstudio

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