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How to start an exercise programme when you’re a couch potato
You know exercise is good for you.
But, it doesn’t FEEL good. So, you don’t do it.
And…………… your body chemistry suffers.
The disconnect between intellectual knowledge and execution, is not unique to exercise, it happens in all sorts of things.
Big brains THINK deeply
Since we’ve got such big brains, we imagine that our decisions are very rational things.
- We seek out and collect the necessary information.
- Analyse it.
- Weigh up the pros and cons.
- Make probabilistic predictions
- And then DECIDE.
We can and we do, make decisions this way.
But, it’s hard work.
Something ideally suited to a big brain…..
Big brains are expensive
But, there is a problem with a big brain – it is by it’s very nature an energy guzzler. So our brain is wired to “look” for short cuts.
So the cool calculating deep thinking is not the default mode for making decisions.
If it feels good, we do it.
I feel good when….
Around about now, you know why you ate the piece of lemon meringue pie, even though you KNEW that it was going to go………… STRAIGHT TO YOUR HIPS.
In the moment you tasted it…………. it tasted AMAZING i.e. it FELT GOOD.
Exercise does NOT feel good
For most sedentary people……….. exercise FEELS awful.
This is something that the super jacked health guru, encouraging you to get off the couch DOESN’T GET.
For them exercise FEELS good.
And even when it doesn’t, they LOVE it, because for them, FEELING “awful” signifies a BIG WIN. And BIG WINS…………… feel GOOD, in the long run ! Eish !
They haven’t got a clue how the non-exerciser feels, nor do they have any idea, how hard it is to move, when you’ve got bad body chemistry.
I’ve been on both sides of this equation.
Telling versus selling
So I KNOW telling someone to exercise more is often NOT that helpful.
They would if they could…………..
So is there a way to make exercise FEEL GOOD, even for a couch potato ?
This is a question that a group of researchers from Iowa State University asked. And the short answer is YES.
It’s not what you do, but the order in which you do it, that determines your level of enjoyment.
Let me explain.
It turns out, how much you like something depends on which way the “pleasure” is going.
Something that starts off okay, but as time goes by, becomes not so great, is perceived differently from something that starts off, okay-ish, but as time goes by, gets better.
That means for the average couch potato………
The couch potato goes to gym
Climbing on the treadmill initially is OKAY, maybe even a little empowering. But, 15 minutes in, when breathing is laboured, sweat is dripping from your brow and various muscles begin expressing their shock and horror at the situation.
IT NOT LONGER FEELS GOOD !
Of course, it is at this point, the exercise session ENDS.
The overwhelming memory of the event is………….. it was AWFUL.
Why would you do it again ?
You wouldn’t. And you often don’t. Eish !
But it doesn’t have to be this way…………….
Start hard end easy
This was the scenario created by the researchers.
Using a fancy computerized bicycle, following a few stretches to warm up, ordinary somewhat sedentary people, were asked to hop on the bicycle and peddle up a storm…………
Initially riding has hard as they could. Actually the research team set the threshold.
After a while, they were allowed to slack off.
i.e. they did their exercise session BACKWARDS.
Doing the exercise session this way………meant that when they climbed off the bicycle, they weren’t huffing and puffing, about to drop dead. Toning it down, after the initial burst of activity, meant the body was not quite as distressed, when it got off the bicycle.
And this changed it’s perception of the exercise session.
Pleasure and pain
Here you can see the results…
- the red circles are people who did their exercise session “the normal” way.
- the blue squares are people who did their exercise session “backwards”.
The first panel shows how hard the heart was working in the exercise session. The middle panel shows how hard the person felt they were working and the last panel, shows how people were feeling, during the exercise session.
At the end of the day, both groups of people did the same level of exercise – but they experienced it differently.
And………………. remembered it differently too.
Feelings about exercising
The team asked, at three time points….
“How did the exercise session in the laboratory make you feel?”
The start hard-end slow group, definitely felt better about their exercise session, when it ended, a day later and 7 days later.
NB. The bigger the number, the more pleasant the experience.
Who is going to do it again ?
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out who is more likely to show up next week at the gym.
Exercise if you’re not so fit is going to be HARD.
It is the price of admission !
But the health benefits of exercise are ENORMOUS. And if you get into it, is does become more enjoyable.
The trouble is, you’ve got to “grow” into it……….
Growing the exercise habit
By using a little behavioural science, you can make your exercise session feel PLEASANT. Okay, maybe PLEASANT is not the right word, you can make the exercise session feel more TOLERABLE.
If it is more TOLERABLE…… you increase the odds you go back and try again.
Until it becomes something you actually LIKE doing. Thanks to biology, it does happen, EVENTUALLY!
Being sedentary i.e. not moving enough, is a big health issue. TV remotes, cars, obesity are all blamed, but the real culprit, might be what you ate for dinner
Sitting stops leg blood flow, but if you fidget, you can improve blood flow- it turns out, tiny muscle contractions are better than NO, muscle contractions.
Looking for an exercise programme that’ll help you age gracefully, a dancing class is a great option. You get the usual cardiovascular benefits plus brain gains