ó Some things in life are inherently served with a big scoop
of fun: balloons, bubbles, cupcakes to name but a few.
cyclist Marcia Smith of Dallas says her Saturday bike rides
"make me feel like a 12-year-old."
Samaan of Frisco, Texas, knows that riding her horse "is
super exercise, but I just donít think of it that way
because it is way too much fun."
triathlete Scott Cessac says going on a four-hour bike ride
and one-hour run alone isnít fun. "But having friends
there with you doing it alongside you makes it more
Rayburn says exercise in general doesnít equal fun. But, she
adds, "I love nothing more than to hike in the woods. To
me, itís like natureís gigantic playground."
who has stepped foot on a trail knows hiking is indeed
exercise. But does calling it fun negate its benefits? Or,
looking at fun another way, does exercise have to be fun to
get people to do it ó and to make it a habit?
a really small minority of people who are so disciplined that
no matter what, theyíre going to do it," says Michelle
Segar, author of "No Sweat: How the Simple Science of
Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness" (American
Management Association, $16.95).
of us, thatís not true. Which makes this fun business a
topic of intrigue, and one that researchers take seriously. A
sampling of their findings:
Think of exercise as fun, and youíre more likely to eat
of studies confirms this, including one where relay runners
were asked after the race about their experience. The more
negative their experience, the more unhealthy their snack
Enjoyment is the best motivator for exercise.
doesnít motivate us; emotions do," Segar writes in her
book. In other words, people who exercise for enjoyment stick
with it more than those who do so for medical reasons.
problem is that weíve turned exercise into a chore,"
says Segar, who directs the Sport, Health and Activity
Research and Policy Center at the University of Michigan in
Ann Arbor. "People feel they have to run intensely; they
have to sweat; they have to feel uncomfortable. That typically
makes, in general, people feel worse and derive less pleasure
when the exercise is hard."
alone is not enough, some experts say.
exercise is not really fun," says Molly Setnick, owner of
Crowbar Cario in Lower Greenville, Texas. "Some people
are so lucky to have found something they love to do that is
exercise, whether itís dance or running or swimming. But for
the majority of the population, itís a chore."
at its optimum is a balance of fun, effectiveness and safety,
Setnick says. It makes people feel, "I got something out
of this and I want to do it again," she says.
fun aspect has to be in there, but it canít be the driving
force. The driving force is improving health, getting
stronger, losing weight, and if you donít get those, you
lose the people anyway."
"a touchy subject for me," she says. "Itís
true that people are more likely to stick with something they
enjoy, whether exercise or food. Thatís driven a lot of the
fitness industry: ĎMake it fun and theyíll come. Play
music and theyíll come.í"
drive to make exercise fun is never ending, she says, and she
thinks it can cause people to miss the point. "ĎLetís
start bringing giant tractor tires to the gym. Letís start
hip-hop dancing in sync while cycling.í The problem is,
unless someone wants to exercise and is committed to it,
putting a bike on a roller coaster wouldnít keep them
committed and coming in."
whole make-it-fun idea could be construed as part of our
society in general: Keep it interesting so (heaven forbid) we
wonít be bored.
like nobody has an attention span," Setnick says.
"Everything has to be changing. Itís like weíre all
looking for the next new thing, and there isnít always a
next new thing."
isnít to say exercise should be drudgery.
have to find something you can at least enjoy, and youíre
more likely to stick with it if youíre having a good
time," she says. "But I think sometimes that good
time might need to come from a friend going with you as
opposed to the class itself."
in the seven weekly classes she teaches is that people leave
"knowing they had a great workout and hopefully it will
be one they enjoyed. If they donít have a pleasant time,
they wonít come back."
primary thing to keep in mind, Segar says, is that the reason
for exercising "has to be truly compelling. Itís giving
you something positive you can immediately experience."
gives you more energy, or helps you manage stress, or gives
you time to laugh. Stick with it long enough and ó though
some days will be tougher than others ó the overall
enjoyment factor gets ingrained.
youíll begin seeing physical and emotional results.
we know something we do gives us something we like, we keep
wanting it again and again," Segar says. "Thatís
the neuroscience of reward. Thatís why itís so important
that people design their physical activity based on what they
want and what feels good to them."
liking exercise is no guarantee people will make it a
priority, she says. And thatís the next step ó reminding
people that spending time in activities we enjoy makes us more
leads to better health, more resilience, more creative and
flexible thinking. It leads to more patience with people we
love. Itís like feeling good revitalizes us for everything
we care about."
you balance fun with fitness? Author Michelle Segar offers
your own physical activity based on what you want and what
feels good to you. Finding that takes "discovery and
awareness," she says. If you donít like something, you
wonít stick to it. And if it doesnít make you feel good,
well, "why would you prioritize things that donít make
you feel good?"
might not be enough to keep you going. Does the workout make
you feel centered? Does it relax you? Do you enjoy the social
aspect, the results? "If it means we have to run faster,
be willing to push ourselves for something that actually isnít
joyful so we can get social cohesion benefits, thatís
OK," she says.
yourself permission to discover the ways that moving your body
feels joyful. "We have to let people know that walking is
OK and it does count," she says.
realistic. "Itís about starting slow and doing it in a
way that will eventually lead to institutionalizing it into
your life," she says. "Talk to people who own gyms,
and theyíll tell you that those who come in one or two days
are much more likely to stick with it than those who go
gangbusters. If we donít work with reality, reality will
burst our bubble."