Health & Well-being

July 1, 2020

Why the brain sabotages our fitness efforts – and what we can do about it.

By Sally

Are you like me?  Do you find it really hard to make exercise part of your life?

We aren’t alone.

Almost everyone who has started a fitness program has, at some stage, given up.

I know my New Year’s resolutions about healthy eating and regular exercise seem to fizzle as fast as the fireworks.

And my intention of shedding winter kilos and having a toned body for summer …. that would be lucky to last a week.

It’s weird.

When I do exercise… I actually like it! So why is it so hard to make myself do it?

New research suggests that our brains might be getting in our way. Yes – we can blame our brains for our lovehandles and flabby bits.

Studies have shown that it takes a lot more effort for our brains to work on tasks WITH physical activity than on tasks WITHOUT.

I’ve noticed that the hardest part of exercise ISN’T the actual physical activity.

It’s convincing myself to do it in the first place! 

There’s something so appealing about being lazy. Doing anything physically engaging causes our brain to scramble for any excuse to skip our workouts.

One of the main theories about why we’re so naturally sedentary traces back to our pre-civilization roots. When humans were primarily hunters and gatherers, energy conservation was a major concern.

Fatigue could be fatal, especially as a member of a nomadic group, so we only exerted ourselves when necessary. The human body isn’t used to doing physical exercise just for fun or to compensate for our low-effort, modern lifestyle.

In fact, the entire notion of exercise and sport is quite new. For most of our history, we only pushed ourselves for work or for survival, so it’s only natural that our brains have wired in physical exercise as something negative.

So how do we rewire our brain so that we can enjoy our workouts and look forward to exercising?

Here are some ways to train your brain to see exercise as a positive –

Affirmations –.

Positive affirmations are very effective because they release you from negativity and anxiety. When affirmations are repeated over and over again, they slowly change your pattern of thinking and rewire your brain.

I’m a bit of a slacker - even though I believe in the power of affirmations, I tend to forget to say them. This approach works for me - write them on StickyNotes and put them on the bathroom mirror so you are reminded to do them.

 Here are examples of positive affirmations focused on health, fitness and weight loss -
  • I am healthy, happy and radiant.
  • I appreciate and love my body
  • I love feeling fit and strong. It is easy for me to eat well and exercise regularly
  • My body maintains its ideal weight and health
  • I am filled with energy for all the daily activities in my life.
  • Accountability

    Buddy up with a friend who is also serious about exercising. You will encourage each other and keep each other motivated. Most people are much more committed to an obligation to someone else than to themselves.

    Company can make working out a lot more fun and your brain will start to register your exercise sessions as something enjoyable instead of something to be avoided.

    My partner and I tried this but it didn’t work for us as we are both slackers. If one had an excuse not to go for a walk then the other didn’t push the issue. It wasn’t long before we forgot we had ever planned a daily walk.

    Don’t put two slackers together – you will only encourage each other to be lazy.

    Had either one of us encouraged the other and cracked the whip a bit, this method would have worked.

    The moral of the story is – FIND a buddy who makes it happen or BE a buddy who makes it happen.

    Engage a Personal Trainer

    For me, this works far better than any of the other methods.

    Having a personal trainer is a much more effective form of accountability than having an exercise buddy. Paying someone to ensure that you workout not only regularly, but also correctly, adds a whole other level of commitment.

    It’s your personal trainer’s job to help you reach your fitness goals, and they take it very seriously. Your brain and body will benefit from exercise becoming part of your routine thanks to your personal trainer not letting you make excuses.

    My PT is worth every cent. Thanks to her I am doing at least two sessions per week – and enjoying it! That’s a big improvement on none!

    Reward yourself

    Celebrate your wins!

    Reward yourself for working out a certain number of days without missing any. You could make the reward some form of selfcare you wouldn’t often buy for yourself eg a pedicure or massage. This really honours your body for all the hard work and gives your brain something special to look forward to.

    Chocolate is probably not the best reward BUT I figure if I only have a bit of chocolate on the days I work out, then I’m streets ahead of having chocolate every day.

    Friends of mine go for a 10km walk once a week and reward themselves with fish and chips for dinner that night.

    I’m sure experts will say food isn’t an ideal reward but hey…. whatever works…

    Use these methods in a combination that suits you.  And remember that it takes 21 days to rewire our brain by changing the neural pathways - so stick with it. The whole idea is that it becomes easier and easier as our brain stops fighting us and becomes our ally!

    I now look forward to PT sessions and would miss them if they stopped.

    Retrain your brain so exercise becomes a habit and you will find yourself enjoying it rather than looking for excuses.

    The mind and brain are very powerful and can make exercise either a pleasure or pain.

    Putting in a little groundwork now has a big long-term payoff in making exercise an integral and enjoyable part of your life.

    Be healthier, Feel happier …. You are worth it.

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    I'm many things but predominantly a writer :-)

    I solve my own problems through writing and share my thoughts and findings in hopes they make your path easier too.

    Connection, collaboration and communication are my passions.

    Nature, family, photography and art are loves of mine too.

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