Not everyone likes to work out. Why? Well, according to social psychologist Emily Balcetis, “Some people may literally see exercise as more difficult and some people may literally see exercise as easier.”
The emphasis is on the “see”, you see (ha), because it turns out that vision can negatively affect an approach to fitness, as well as many other aspects of a person’s life. It turns out that what we see, that is what we can accurately focus on at any given time, is small – the tip of our thumb on an outstretched hand. The rest of the picture? A blur that the brain is kind enough to fill in.
We can use that laser focus to our advantage when it comes to exercise. Using waist and hip measurements for participants – a higher waist-to-hip ratio measurement being an indicator of lack of fitness – Balcetis and her team discovered that even though a person might be out of shape, if that person expressed motivation for running and kept their eyes on the prize – the finish line – that person perceived the finish line as much as 30% closer than it actually was. Even when leg weights were added, thereby making the journey more challenging, the participants who were keen enjoyed the journey, felt it wasn’t that hard.
The challenge, then, becomes teaching yourself to see exercise – if you don’t already – as a fun activity and not a chore. Isn’t that the way it is with many tasks in life? I used to hate doing dishes, laundry. Now? I’ve been doing them so goddamned long, I might as well enjoy and take pride in such tasks, because if I don’t do the dishes, the laundry, who will? Well, my husband B, I suppose, but then my cotton stuff might get shrunk. And, to be honest, I do the dishes as payback for not cooking because I literally see cooking as more difficult and B literally sees cooking as easier.
Obviously, I might need to teach myself to see a way around a kitchen, for the times B is out of town, because a healthy diet – along with regular exercise, moderate consumption of alcohol and NO smoking – is key to living a long life. Says Jill Barker, special to Postmedia News, “According to a new longevity study by Ottawa researchers, the payback on all that extra effort is huge. Choosing to live a healthy life will result in a longer one by a whopping 17.9 years.”
Almost 18 years?! Wow. That’s a lot. Think of all the things you could do with almost two extra decades. My motto has always been – well, since I started having kids – “live long enough to be a problem to your children”. I’d have time to become a huge problem to my three kids!
So, how many of us actually lead this healthy kind of life? According to Barker, only three percent of Canadians. According to The Atlantic? Less than three percent of Americans.
That seems pretty low, huh? You know what else I find surprising? The author of this study on unhealthy behaviours and long-term health, Dr. Doug Manuel, says, “Physical activity is really at the same (level of risk) as smoking.” Yikes. Being a couch potato is as bad for your health as regularly sucking nicotine into your lungs.
Want to determine your own longevity? Go to www.projectbiglife.ca, plunk in your lifestyle data and see the projected length of your life and your current age based on your daily choices. I was brutally honest (there were no questions about chocolate consumption) and despite the fact that I’m 58, it told me I’m 49 and holding. Sweet. And if I don’t get hit by a bus after I move into the city next month, I should live 94.1 years. Lots of time to wreak havoc on my offspring.
So, back to working out and keeping eyes on the prize. Perhaps checking out this questionnaire, playing around with the answers, can help a person find a projected length of life to aspire to, something to work toward?
For me, quantity of life is a fine goal, but quality of life is way more important. And I’m lucky. I naturally see exercise as easy. But not all exercise. Not jogging. Not going to the gym. I became a Jazzercise fitness instructor more than 14 years ago because the prizes that I keep my eyes on are these: moving my body in interesting and challenging ways to fun current music, enjoying a sense of camaraderie with my workout partners, sweating, experiencing an endorphin rush and feeling the ache in my muscles after. Oh, and when I do decide to play with my kids and grandkids? I can somewhat keep up because I’m in shape.
Find some regular physical activity you like (or set fitness goals that will give your brain a thumbprint to focus on to see the activity as likeable) and just start. Small. Says Postmedia’s Jill Barker, “It doesn’t take going from a couch potato to a marathoner to add years to your life. In fact, those first few steps are the most effective when it comes to increasing longevity. Study after study has proved the biggest boost in health benefits is realized in the transition from non-exerciser to moderate exerciser.”
Website photo: Picture on the left, 2002 when I first became an instructor. Picture on the right, last spring. I think you can see that my body looks more fit now, a prize I did not have my eyes on.