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Making Exercise More Fun

by Richard M. Weil, MEd, CDE

Just about everyone knows that exercise is a healthy thing to do. Regular exercise helps control blood glucose levels, reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, helps control high blood pressure, strengthens and tones muscles, improves balance, burns calories, helps maintain body weight, alleviates the symptoms of depression, and helps you feel better about yourself. But in spite of all of these benefits, more than 50% of American adults are sedentary, meaning they spend the majority of their time sitting, reclining, or lying down during waking hours. In fact, many people burn only a few more calories during the day than they would if they stayed in bed all day!

Why don’t more people exercise? There are many reasons, but for some people, it’s because they don’t enjoy it: Exercise simply isn’t fun.

Interestingly, research shows that the main reason kids like to exercise is that it’s fun. So is it possible to make exercise more fun for adults (and kids) who don’t currently enjoy it? This article offers some suggestions to help you find the “kid inside you” and to find the fun in exercise.

Indoor exercise equipment
Admittedly, walking or jogging on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike is not usually a barrel of laughs. But if going to a gym or using home exercise equipment is your only or most convenient option, can it be made more enjoyable so that you’ll do it more often or spend more time working out? Here are some ideas:

Distraction works well with kids, so why not try it on yourself? For instance, try listening to music you like, a comedy CD, a book on tape, or even a college course lecture on CD while you walk, jog, or pedal. If audio alone doesn’t take your mind off what you’re doing, try watching movies, music videos, or a TV show as you work out.

One technique that’s often effective is to watch a movie you’ve chosen only while exercising. If you exercise for 30 minutes, you only permit yourself to watch the movie for 30 minutes. That means you’ll need three more half-hour sessions to watch an entire two-hour movie. Discipline yourself to follow this technique, and you might even look forward to your next workout.

If distracting yourself with music or other entertainment isn’t an option or isn’t enough, try some interval training. Interval training simply involves increasing your speed or the intensity of the activity for an interval of time (anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes), then going at a slower speed or lower intensity for another interval. On a treadmill, try altering the incline so you work harder at times and easier at other times. On many machines, you can select a program that will automatically alter the incline, speed, or resistance over the course of your workout, but by doing it yourself, you keep your mind engaged with what your body is doing and how you feel.

Some other ways to keep things more interesting at the gym include using different aerobic machines on different days, and doing some resistance exercises in addition to your aerobics. You’ll build different muscles and give your mind and body a new challenge.

Another option for gym workouts is circuit training. First, pick out up to 15 resistance exercises to do. You can use weight machines, dumbbells, resistance bands, other equipment, or a combination of these for your exercises. You can also include exercises that use your own body weight for resistance, such as abdominal crunches, pushups, and squat thrusts. And you can include jump rope stations between exercises to keep your heart rate up, if you wish. Perform each exercise at a moderately difficult resistance for 45 seconds, then move briskly to the next machine or station. (If someone else is using the machine you want to use next, just skip it, move on to the following exercise, and come back later.) Fifteen exercise stations should take about 30 minutes if you do the circuit twice. The benefit of circuit training is that as long as you keep moving briskly around the circuit and keep your heart rate elevated, you’ll get a great aerobic and resistance exercise workout at the same time.

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