There's a big reason why the average American only gets 17 minutes of physical activity a day, barely half of the recommended amount. Many people give excuses for falling short, usually attributing the gap to some variation of having "no time." The reality is it all comes down to one issue—value.
People do things that are important to them. Every day you set priorities, schedule your time and, for the most part, follow your "to-do" list. The most important things get done and things you care less about are most likely to fall off the schedule.
So why does the typical American value exercise less than other tasks? My theory is that it has to do with a lack of purpose for exercise. It's not meaningful. Arguments like "helps manage weight," "gives you more energy," and "helps prevent disease" just fall on deaf ears. People know that exercise has its benefits—even that it can help save their lives. But it just doesn't resonate enough with their day-to-day values to become a priority and eventually a habit.
If you talk to people who are committed to exercise, they will tell you a different story than someone who can't seem to string together any type of regular activity. An avid exerciser needs the workout. They love the challenge. They love the way they feel afterwards. They value the "thinking time" exercise provides. Whatever it is, the reasons for staying active go beyond fitting into a pair of pants. An honest, avid exerciser would also tell you that they aren't always motivated to work out. They take days off, and they may even take a break, but they always come back to it. Exercise is more meaningful to them.
If you find yourself getting "average American" activity—around two hours a week or less, when you should be exercising at least four hours a week—don't just settle. You can change … if you want to. All you have to do is find your meaning, your value, your motivation.
Here are five steps you can take to make exercise more meaningful for you:
1. Come up with a list of reasons why exercise is important to you. Take note of what exactly you get in return for your investment in exercise.
2. Take a look at your list, and find a deeper meaning for each one of your reasons. Ask yourself, "Why do I care about _________?" For example, you might have written: "I need to exercise because I'm concerned about my health." But why is that important? Now you might follow up by writing: "My mom had a heart attack and didn't have healthy habits, and I don't want that to happen to me." Dig even deeper. Why is that important? You might follow up by writing: "Because I have a child whom I want to be there for as long as possible and a partner who makes me happy beyond belief. I want as much time with them as possible." Get the idea? For whatever reason, "concern about health" does not carry as much meaning or value as "be with my partner and child as long as possible". You aren't just exercising for you. You are exercising for them.
3. Come up with as many meaningful statements as you can and review that list. These are your anchors—the things that will keep you grounded and focused on making exercise a priority. Like the anchor that keeps a ship from sailing away on a breeze to "no man's land," your anchors will keep you focused on your goals.
4. Open your calendar and schedule your workout time every day for the next two weeks. That's right, every day. I'm saying that because something is bound to come up that will have you bailing on your exercise time. Even with your anchors and new, meaningful motivations to exercise, you are human. You will inevitably opt for other activities at times, choosing to get more sleep, watch TV or spend some time with the family. It's better to schedule more exercise than you think you will do, and take it off your calendar when you miss a workout, than to plan for your typical exercise schedule.
5. Use your anchors. Whether you write them on post-it notes, attach them to your workout schedule, or just review the list daily, you need reminders for WHY you are doing what you are doing—and skinny jeans just ain't gonna cut it. If it were that simple, everyone would be getting the exercise they need.
In fact, if you look at the data, exercise is actually a poor weight-loss strategy. It does, however, protect and promote your good health and long life. You care about more than weight loss. You just have to find your motivation.
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Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RD, ACSM Health Fitness Specialist, helps empower people to build healthy lifestyles. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University, Scritchfield is a Washington, D.C., based registered dietitian and fitness expert who encourages clients to find exercise that feels great, learn to manage stress, and establish lifelong eating skills that balance individual nutrition needs with hunger and pleasure. Visit her blog at: www.rebeccathinks.com.