We all know exercise is good for us, and the “right” thing to do, kind of like eating broccoli and wearing sunscreen. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officially recommends that each week, adults get at least150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening movement.
Yet the CDC found that only 22.9% of adults are meeting those requirements — a trend which harms individual health as well as community well-being.
The problem is that exercise can feel like a chore, just another thing on your to-do list that gets blown off because of work deadlines, family demands or a compulsive need to binge the latest streaming sensation. That’s why we need to change the way people think about exercise, focusing on making it more fun.
“Besides being the best way to make your every-now-and-then workouts into a legitimate routine, people who enjoy their workouts reap more of exercise’s mental benefits, including lower stress levels and a decreased risk of depression,” says Leah Lagos, a New York City sports psychologist, in this Time magazine article.
If fitness becomes something you want to do, instead of have to do, that makes all of the difference in the world. Ryan Makely-Phillips, Studio Leader at the Lifetime Fitness in Sandy Springs, Georgia, agrees. “It’s crucial to make exercise fun, because let’s just be real, no one really wants to do it,” he explains. “If you make it fun, you’re going to stick to it and make a habit of it.”
Makely-Phillips puts his money where his mouth is. In his job, he is responsible for 150 group fitness classes a week and small group training — keeping club members engaged by featuring a great atmosphere and great instructors. So when he teaches a class, entertainment becomes a prime focus.
Drawing upon his previous background as an actor, Makely-Phillips’s challenging spin classes are at full capacity with a wait list — even at 8:45 a.m. on a weekend — because of the fantastic music, comedic pater, and fun vibe for all. As he notes, “being on a stage with a spotlight, colorful lights and loud music is kind of like putting on your one-man show or one-woman show if you will. If you think of it like that, it naturally will be very entertaining for the majority of the room.”
Ready to make your forays into fitness more fun? Here are 4 ways to increase your enjoyment of and commitment to exercise at the same time:
Choose exercise that you actually enjoy.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But consider how many times you find yourself in a boot camp class that all of your friends swear by, when you’d rather be hiking outside — or how you bought that fancy smart connected exercise bike during the pandemic because of all of the hype, but now it’s gathering dust because it doesn’t motivate you at all.
For example, my love for dancing at clubs back in the day motivated me to first try step aerobics nearly 30 years ago, and the pulsating music and coordinated moves hooked me right away. These days, I get that dance music fix in spin classes and with music playlists I create each month to make time on cardio machines fly by.
Change things up.
If you do the same thing over and over again, it can become monotonous. That is certainly true when it comes to exercise.
Research cited in this Frontiers in Psychology article found that a lack of novelty with exercise was a key factor in low participation rates, and that even the most active individuals can become bored and lose motivation when they don’t shake things up with their fitness routines. Trying new things makes exercise more fun and reinforces your commitment to being active.
Let’s say that you are a runner, and typically run 30 miles a week around your neighborhood. Maybe you change things up by running in a completely different location or change the length of your runs in order to compete in a race or add a Yoga class two days a week because all of that running has left you with the flexibility of a brick (i.e., not much at all).
Those slight shifts can make a difference — as can pausing running completely for a month to dive into swimming or barre classes instead of your typical grind. As reported in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, even perceived variety in exercise increased one’s motivation levels.
Treat it like a social event.
Exercising with kindred spirits can increase your enjoyment levels, and support from being part of a shared experience. Makely-Phillips advises treating exercise more like a social event than a mandatory obligation.
“When you find like-minded people that take the class and you become friends, you all hold each other accountable, and then it becomes a more social aspect rather than a workout if you will,” he explained.
Make a lot of sense, doesn’t it? If you look forward to seeing the people you plan to sweat with, engaging in that bonding time becomes part of the pull to exercise. It’s kind of like meeting friends for drinks — except you are guzzling water rather than alcohol, sitting in a fitness room rather than a bar and are getting high on endorphins instead of alternative substances. Much better for your body and well-being overall.
Engage in gamification.
Back in elementary school, the pinnacle of happiness was getting a gold star or smiley face sticker from our teachers when we did something well. These days, numerous fitness apps and classes feature special badges, designations and emojis that validate your exercise experience and encourage you to try harder.
Gamifying movement — treating it like a competition with others or with yourself — can increase your enjoyment of exercise and produce even better results. Sign up for challenges at your gym or with online groups, take classes where participants are ranked on a leader board and explore other methods that make it more fun by getting your competitive juices flowing.
When you look forward to working out, it changes your relationship with exercise. It becomes a regular part of your routine. Fitness can become a place of social engagement, a critical tool for handling stress, the one quiet time to yourself in our 24/7 world — or all of the above. Making exercise more fun will improve your well-being in so many ways.
How have you made exercise more fun? What are some of your favorite fitness activities?