Why You Don’t Have to Love Exercise to Do It

Are you among the crazy people who love exercise? Seriously! I don’t mean like to exercise most of the time, I mean REALLY love to exercise.

There are fewer of those people than you think. Yet, most of us have a deeply-ingrained belief that achieving health and wellness requires us to reach a state where we absolutely love to exercise. What if pure love of exercise is restricted to only the obsessive-compulsive among us? How do we mere normal people find exercise that we like enough that we will do it consistently?

The Reality of Pain & Disgust

I am not one of those people who absolutely loves exercise (gasp – this is a blog primarily about health).  I usually enjoy running, but sometimes I have to wrestle with my psyche just to lace up my shoes to hit the pavement. On really good days, I settle into a groove on a long run that dissolves my stress beneath the soft cadence of feet springing from asphalt. On other days, each step brings a violent shock that radiates through every bone in my body.

Even those who claim to love exercise sometimes don’t. There is nothing sexy in that moment of pain that comes from pushing your body to the verge of vomiting, or collapsing (unless you’re really into that sort of thing, which is okay with me). I don’t know anyone who said, “If I’m lucky this weekend, I will experience extreme nipple chafing during my long run;” or, “That oozing blister my my heel is a beautiful thing – I think I’ll wear flip-flops.” And nobody loves following the fat guy at the gym who doesn’t wipe his garlic-scented sweat from the bench after molesting 10-pound dumbbells. The actual act of exercising can be painful and disgusting, without mentioning the gastrointestinal distress that frequently accompanies long-distance running.

The Power of Vanity

One of the benefits we get from exercise is rooted in vanity. Sure, exercise is how I manage my blood sugars and health, and it makes me feel better and more energetic, but I really run because that is how I am able to fit into size 34 jeans (yes, men are vain too). Consistent exercise is the ante to humoring my vanity, while still being able to occasionally indulge on Western Bacon Cheeseburgers. While vanity can be a useful force in starting the exercise you would rather not do, in the long run (pun intended) it is not the powerful, driving force most of us need to make significant changes in our lives and behaviors.

Benefits Beyond Vanity

Those who stick with with a particular form of exercise often fall in love with the benefits associated with the exercise. In other words, even if they don’t always love their exercise of choice, they can fall in love with the events, circumstances, and emotions that are associated with the exercise. It is the collateral experiences and emotional outcomes of exercise that motivate them to be consistent over time.

A few years ago I was trying to convince a friend to run her first half-marathon. I was scientific and behaviorally-based in my argument; I went deep and appealed to her core values. I said, “There is beer on the other side of the finish line.”

“I have all the beer I want on the other side of my kitchen,” she replied, “and I don’t have to run thirteen point one miles to get there.” She was right.

My first half-marathon was at Walt Disney World, on purpose. While I’ve run several fun races since, nothing has come close to that first race experience.

  • Packing into an overcrowded bus at 3:15 in the morning to be shuttled to starting corrals with 20,000 other runners
  • Shivering among strangers in the humid, sub-30-degree Florida weather
  • Running through the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella’s castle, and around the Christmas tree in Epcot
  • That moment around mile 11 when I truly believed I could have trained to do the full marathon
  • The satisfactory exhaustion that came from walking an additional 10 miles in the parks that day with my family.

Love Is the Total Experience

If I had simply trained to run 13.1 miles, I’m not sure that I would still be a consistent runner today. It has been the experience of a Disney Marathon Weekend, of several Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon weekends, and countless other race experiences that has kept me motivated to run. I’ve made new friends, shared experiences with family and old friends, and have accumulated quite a collection of shoes, technical gear, gadgets, and bad habits, which I am both proud of, and which make me happy.

I don’t always love to run, but I love being a runner. I am lucky to have those days when running brings me energy and joy. I appreciate the days when I have to push myself just to tie my shoe laces. Even if I never repeat the experience I had at Walt Disney World, at least I can continue my occasional indulgence with Western Bacon Cheeseburgers, while comfortably wearing my size 34 jeans.

What keeps you motivated to exercise?

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