7 Ways to Make Exercise Fun

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Make Exercise Fun

That same old gym routine can leave you feeling like a hamster on a wheel—
not good for your fitness goals.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong is quoted as saying, “I believe every human has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intent to waste any of mine running around doing exercises.”

Even the most die-hard fitness addict can find herself bored from time to time with the same old routine. When your work out starts to feel like drudgery, you may feel like Armstrong—that you’re just wasting your time.

We all know the multiple benefits of regular exercise. Studies have shown it helps reduce your risk of most of today’s chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, and it can also keep you alert, focused, and in a good mood.

But if you don’t enjoy doing it, it’s unlikely you’ll stick with it.

Exercise or Fun? Study Shows Your Feelings Affect Calorie Intake

Are you someone who feels famished after a workout? Do you compensate for the calories burned by eating more than you would if you hadn’t exercised? Researchers have found this to be the case in some people. A study published in 2011, for example, showed that exercise can affect your desire to eat by altering how your brain responds to the sight of food.

Participants who were overweight began a supervised exercise program, but were allowed to eat at will. Twelve weeks later, 20 of the 34 had lost considerable weight, but 14 had not. Those 14 were called “nonresponders,” and displayed the highest brain responses to food cues following exercise.

You may be one of those people who feels less inclined to eat after exercise, but if you’re someone who feels like downing a whole turkey afterwards, it’s even more important that you find a way to make exercise fun. A recent study sent 56 healthy, overweight women on a walk through a one-mile outdoor course. Half were told the walk was meant to be a workout, and were told to monitor their exertion as they went. The other half were told their outing was a pleasure walk, and were allowed to listen to music and told to enjoy themselves.

Here are the startling differences between the two groups:

  • The women who were told they were exercising reported feeling more tired and grumpy than the other women, although the calories burned were nearly identical.
  • The women in the exercise group consumed more soda pop and pudding during lunch, consuming significantly more calories and sweets than the women who thought they were walking for fun.
  • Researchers concluded that when people thought the exercise routine was fun, they were less likely to consume a lot of dessert and sugary snacks afterward.
  • “Exercise” triggered the search for a reward in the brain, while “fun” was satisfying in itself.

A follow-up study with male volunteers found similar results—participants who were told they were “exercising” took twice as many M&M’s afterwards as those who were told it was “fun.”

Make Exercise Fun

The solution, then, if you want to burn more calories and shed pounds with your exercise, is to frame it in such a way that you won’t feel that strong desire for a reward after it’s done.

But how do you make a work out fun? Here are seven ideas for you. Let us know if you have more!

  1. Listen to the right music. Music just makes exercise easier. The song matters, though. A 2009 study found that syncing beats per minute with your exercise pace increases your efficiency. Subjects who cycled in time to the music required seven percent less oxygen to do the same work than when they just heard music in the background. Music was also shown to help block out the voice in your head that tells you to quit. Try a software plug-in tool like “Tangerine” or “BeatScanner,” which help you build a custom playlist based on heart beats per minute.
  2. Bring a buddy. A 2013 study found that women pushed themselves harder when they exercised with a friend or with a group. They also reported that friends made exercise more fun. A later study that same year showed that people enjoyed physical activity more when they were with others. Just make sure you go with the right friends. You need those who are energetic, upbeat, and as dedicated to their fitness goals as you are.
  3. Play something. We “play” sports like tennis, basketball, and softball—instant shift from workout to fun. Sports also involve other people, giving you the benefit of working out with others. Think back to your childhood days. What sport did you enjoy? Return to that and you’re likely to find yourself having more fun.
  4. Revert to video games. Wii fitness games have grown really popular over the last several years, and for a reason. They’re fun! Also called “exergames,” they not only give you a new, interactive way to exercise, but they also help you track your moves, blood pressure, calories burned, and more, which can help encourage you to try to do better each time. As technology has improved, these games can sense even more subtle movements. Even Harvard Health notes that the games are fun, and that they encourage regular exercise, and help improve balance, muscle tone, and coordination. “The really promising part of using video games is that they are becoming so common and accessible,” said Belinda Lange, PhD., senior research associate at the University of Southern California Institute for Creative Technologies. “They are of interest not only to the young folks but to the old folks, too.” Options include Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Xbox, Sony PlayStation, and Xbox Kinect.
  5. Change it up. Routine is the enemy of fun. If you always exercise at home, go somewhere new. Change gyms. Take a different route. Give your brain something new to concentrate on. Try a new exercise, like rebounding, Zumba, or dancing.
  6. Try new equipment. Who doesn’t like new toys? If you can afford it, try new equipment to make your workout more fun. Even a new jump rope can keep you going for a few weeks, and it’s not too expensive. Other ideas—a new exercise video, a pair of dumbbells or elastic bands, a stability ball, fitness hoop, or Wii fit game. The novelty of something new can keep you interested for awhile. Even a new outfit or new shoes can do the trick for a short time.
  7. Be a kid again. Think back to when you were a child. Did you run around the neighborhood, expending calories without thinking twice? Walk the river? Play frisbee? Take the dog for a jog? How about a roller skating party? (You’d be surprised how much of a workout this can be!) Even a day at the fun park can keep you moving long enough to burn the calories you need to burn.

Have you gotten into an exercise rut? Please share your ideas for making your workout fun.

* * *

Carolina O.C. WErle, Brian Wansink, Collin R. Payne, “Is it fun or exercise? The framing of physical activity biases subsequent snacking,” Marketing Letters, May 2014, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11002-014-9301-6#page-1.

Gretchen Reynolds, “Does Exercise Make You Overeat?” New York Times, April1 16, 2012, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/does-exercise-make-you-overeat/.

Gretchen Reynolds, “Losing Weight May Require Some Serious Fun,” New York Times, June 4, 2014, http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/06/04/losing-weight-may-require-some-serious-fun/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0.

Dan Peterson, “Why music makes exercise easier,” NBC News, October 21, 2009, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/33418663/ns/health-fitness/t/why-music-makes-exercise-easier/#.U7MJLPldV4U.

“Looking for a fitness boost? Workout with a friend—research shows that women train harder with an exercise partner,” Daily Mail, January 15, 2013, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2263099/Looking-fitness-boost-Workout-friend–research-shows-women-train-harder-exercise-partner.html.

Rachael Rettner, “Dread the Gym? Exercise with Friends Puts People in a Better Mood,” Live Science, November 6, 2013, http://www.livescience.com/40977-exercise-enjoyment-friends.html.

Erika Gebel, “Can Video Games Improve Fitness?” Diabetesforecast.org, February 2012, http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2012/feb/can-video-games-improve-fitness.html.

“Fun and exergames: Not just for kids anymore,” Harvard Health Letter, March 2012, http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletters/Harvard_Heart_Letter/2012/March/fun-and-exergames-not-just-for-kids-anymore.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com

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