We all know exercise is good for us but the challenge for humans in the 21st Century is to find ways to move our bodies when our day-to-day lives don’t require it. I, for one, find it hard to go for a walk when the only point of that walk is to get some exercise.
If I had to walk to find water or collect food, I would be far more motivated to do so, and would probably do it quickly and raise my heart rate in the process. But humans have come up with so many ways to avoid moving that, as a race, I can only conclude that we must be inherently lazy. Winding the windows up and down in our cars was clearly too hard – what a relief we only have to press a button – and, if you have to close your own car boot by hand, the car you own is definitely outdated. I recently got into a car only to find the doors slid shut themselves. Thank goodness I didn’t have to lean forward and use my arm muscles to pull the door shut. And why do people stop moving when they get on an escalator? Why not keep stepping? Because it’s easier not to, that’s why.
So where does that leave us? If our natural inclination is to take the easy way out, where do we find the motivation to exercise? Is looking for an exercise that’s also fun the answer, or is it unrealistic to expect we will find a particular exercise fun every time we do it? Given that we are advised to exercise at least three to five times a week, is the exercise we find fun likely to stay fun or would it become a chore?
Of course, what’s fun for one person might also be hell on earth for another. I can’t think of many things worse than a boot-camp-style workout on the beach at dawn, for example, whereas others might hate the idea of busting a move on the dance floor to break a sweat (I don’t like that idea either, by the way).
In a quick survey around the MiNDFOOD office, favourite exercises included dancing, swimming, pump classes, bushwalking, yoga and skipping, but most-hated exercises included swimming, yoga, weights, running and bushwalking! Running was the most-hated exercise by far, despite the promise of “runner’s high”, and several people said they regularly endured exercises they seriously disliked just for the end result (a buff body and feeling good afterwards).
We took our survey one step further and asked MiNDFOOD’s Facebook subscribers what they thought. We discovered a real loathing of the rowing machine at the gym and a real love of exercising outdoors surrounded by nature.
Numerous scientific studies back this up. Compared with exercising indoors, a study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology found that exercising in natural environments was associated with greater feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, and decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Participants also reported greater enjoyment and satisfaction with outdoor activity and said they were more likely to repeat the activity at a later date.
However you like to exercise, doing so with other people is likely to enhance the payoff. A study in the British Journal of Psychiatry of 40,000 Norwegians found people who exercise in their leisure time and experienced social interaction at the same time, are much less likely to have symptoms of depression. Lead researcher Dr Samuel Harvey, from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said these results may help to explain why leisure activity appears to have benefits not seen with physical activity undertaken as part of a working day – a physically demanding job, for example.
So the next time you’re looking for exercise inspiration, grab a friend and head outdoors. Chances are you’ll have more fun and feel better as a result. If all else fails, and you have a dog, get out there and give that dog a run. Research shows dogs also experience the euphoria of runner’s high!