Attitude adjustment can lead to fitness love

Susan Dawson-Cook, M.S.

“Once the pants fit and the belly is flat, then I’ll be happy.” Some people think that the first day they show up at the gym. The new exercisers embark on the most uncomfortable activities possible, desperate for quick results. When the weight doesn’t fall off after two weeks of sweating and heavy breathing, they feel like a failure and return to the couch. Not a big surprise, really. Who wouldn’t avoid this mire of discomfort and discouragement? How can a person who has tried and failed turn the tables on this situation and look forward to exercise?

Let’s first examine this concept that being thinner will make you happier. Research shows this to be a fallacy. Although health may improve and quality of life benefits may improve a person’s happiness, losing weight for the sake of acquiring a better shape doesn’t put a permanent smile on anyone’s face. Many people who’ve recently trimmed down continue to compare their bodies to the media’s idea of ideal and undergo a new bout of dissatisfaction.

If you ask most regular exercisers what keeps them in motion, most mention enjoyment or non-weight-loss-related benefits. When people exercise only to lose weight, reshape bodies or out of obligation, the daily activity often becomes a miserable chore. Why would anyone elect to pursue an activity tied up with self-doubt, self-criticism, body hate and/or judgment?

Finding the happy factor in exercise and placing an emphasis on short-term, easily achievable goals will cast a sunny glow on the idea of exercise. Martin Seligman, author of Flourish, A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well Being, has concluded that five areas affect happiness: positive emotions, engagements, relationships, meaning and achievement (PERMA).

All these areas can be nurtured during the exercise experience. Here are suggestions on how that can be accomplished:

1. Exercise with friends and/or family who approach exercise positively.

2. Attend classes where the atmosphere is fun instead of classes people say are torture.

3. Shop for workout attire flattering on your shape and skin color so you feel good about yourself and excited to wear it to exercise.

4. In addition to setting long-term goals, write down immediate benefits you expect to reap such as reducing stress, improving creativity, mood or energy level.

5. Use positive language. Instead of saying, “I’m going to a killer class,” tell your friends, “I’m taking a fun dance class.” A recent research study showed people taking the same walk enjoyed it more (and ate less afterward) when it was a presented as a scenic walk rather than an exercise walk.

If you’re frowning at your reflection in the mirror, remember it is how we feel about our bodies, not actual body shape that determines level of contentment. Reframe your vision of yourself, notice each positive attribute and you’ll enjoy workouts—and the rest of your life—a whole lot more.

Susan is an instructor and personal trainer for Vital Moves (850-4089).