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Sneaky Ways to Trick Yourself into Enjoying Exercise, Say Experts

Humans aren't pre-programmed to love exercise. Here's what you can do about it.
FACT CHECKED BY Alex Daniel

Some people can't wait to hop out of bed each morning and begin working out. For the rest of us? Yeah… Not so much.

If you view any form of sweating as an unbearable chore, don't beat yourself up about it. In fact, the leading scientists will tell you that we're actually hardwired to try and avoid any voluntary physical activity whenever it's not necessary.

What's more, some people living among us may be even more genetically predisposed to hating exercise than others. In their research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, scientists recently discovered a specific gene mutation in humans that makes exercise harder. Apparently this gene messes with our cellular oxygen intake, which means that carriers of the gene run out of breath faster—and find exercise more difficult—than people who don't have the gene.

So the first thing to do on your quest to enjoying exercise more is to understand that everyone finds it hard at one point or another. Still, the fundamental fact remains: We gotta sweat. And consider it a bonus that it's never too late to start. Research published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that seniors north of 70 years in age who had never consistently worked out before reaped the same muscle-building benefits from exercise as similarly aged peers considered athletes.

So if you fall in the camp of "I hate exercise," "I'm too old to exercise," or "I'm just too weak to even start exercising," keep reading to learn some sneaky strategies that make exercise easier and more enjoyable—all backed by the latest science. And for more great exercise advice, don't miss the Secret Side Effects of Lifting Weights for the First Time, Says Science.

1

Work out socially

Portrait of young runners enjoying workout on the sea front path along the shoreline. Running club group running along a seaside promenade.

If you can't seem to pick yourself up off the couch alone, try asking a friend or two to lend a helping hand. Multiple studies indicate that working out socially can improve exercise enjoyment.

This research published in the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care concludes that walking in a group leads to both greater workout enjoyment and overall quality of life, as well as more likelihood of sticking with exercise for the long haul. "At a time when we are being encouraged to meet physical activity guidelines, a large proportion of the public fail to do so. Our review found that people may be more likely to exercise if they have social support," explains lead study author Catherine Meads, professor of health at Anglia Ruskin University.

Another study published in Biology Letters even discovered that exercising in a group leads to the release of more "feel good" endorphins in comparison to a solo workout. So phone a friend, and get sweating! And if you love to walk for exercise, make sure you know about The Secret Cult Walking Shoe That Walkers Everywhere Are Totally Obsessed With.

2

Choose a pink drink

Man sitting outside holding drinking glass of red pink lemonade cocktail juice closeup of drink color

Here's an exercise secret you can file under the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction category. Scientists have discovered that consuming a pink-colored beverage during workouts produces a "feel good" effect that can improve both performance and endurance.

Published in Frontiers in Nutrition, the study asked a group of participants to go for a run while enjoying either an artificially sweetened beverage with no color or the same drink with some pink dye added in. "The findings from our study combine the art of gastronomy with performance nutrition, as adding a pink colorant to an artificially sweetened solution not only enhanced the perception of sweetness, but also enhanced feelings of pleasure, self-selected running speed and distance covered during a run," explains corresponding study author Dr. Sanjoy Deb.

3

Start with confidence

Senior woman and young woman walking outdoors by sea pier

Science says that a little bit of self-confidence and positivity goes a long way toward a better workout. Furthermore, one study published in PLOS One even notes that believing in one's athletic ability helps make exercise feel less strenuous. Study participants who reported a positive attitude and belief in their physical abilities found a 30-minute stationary bike session to be much easier.

Also, when study subjects really believed in the benefits of a compression shirt they were wearing, they told researchers that the shirt was an asset during their workout. "The findings impressively show for all those who don't consider themselves to be great sportsmen and -women—the right product really can make sport more pleasant, if 'only' you believe in it," comments study leader psychologist Hendrik Mothes, of the University of Freiburg.

So consider investing in some new gear that will boost your confidence!

4

Think back to happy exercise memories

Happy Asian girl backpack in the road and forest background, Relax time on holiday concept travel ,color of vintage tone and soft focus

If you can recall even just one time in your life when you had a good time while working out, you can use that memory as motivation for your next exercise session.

Research published in Memory asked a group of college students to recall either a positive or a negative memory linked with exercise. A week later, the study authors surveyed subjects on their exercise habits. Those who remembered a positive exercise memory reported working out much more than usual. Curiously, even recalling a negative exercise memory was enough to motivate participants to workout more in comparison to a control group that wasn't told to recall anything.

"This study underscores the power of memory's directive influence in exercise behaviors," says the study. "These results provide the first experimental evidence that autobiographical memory activation can be an effective tool in motivating individuals to adopt healthier lifestyles."

5

Don't forget headphones

listening to music through wireless earphones outdoors
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It may be the most well-known trick on this list, but there's a reason so many refuse to break a sweat without music: It helps! The connection between music and better, more enjoyable workouts is supported by a long list of studies. Consider this one, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Participants were asked to complete a sprint-interval workout both with and without music. A staggering 95% reported having a better time during their workout with music.

Another research project from the American College of Cardiology reports that high-energy, uptempo music promotes longer workouts. "Our findings reinforce the idea that upbeat music has a synergistic effect in terms of making you want to exercise longer and stick with a daily exercise routine," says lead study author Dr. Waseem Shami, MD. "When doctors are recommending exercise, they might suggest listening to music too." And for some great exercises you can do, see these 5-Minute Exercises for a Flatter Stomach Fast.

 

John Anderer
John Anderer is a writer who specializes in science, health, and lifestyle topics. Read more