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Making Fitness Fit

Over the past 20 years I've been training clients and teaching wellness practices, one thing has always fascinated and intrigued me – Why don't more people exercise regularly?

Haven't the relationships between the dramatically lowered risks of cancer, heart disease and diabetes been well-documented? Isn't our culture littered with images of vitality modeled by those for whom exercise and diet are of primary importance? And don't we shell out piles of cash in sometimes desperate, halfhearted and/or unfocused grasping at the hoped-for products of exercise and healthful eating?

It's easy, as a fitness professional, to fall into the slippery slope of arrogance ("Everyone knows it's the best way to stay healthy and vibrant.") or the judgmental trap of ignorance or cynicism ("If they only knew how good they would feel and how much better their lives would be…"). The point is that from our vantage point, we don't really understand the reluctance to commit to a regular fitness program. How could we? This is our livelihood and we enjoy constant reinforcement that what we do helps people. Our perspective is necessarily skewed in favor of fitness. So of course we think we're the best thing since sliced bread and are dumbstruck as to why more people aren't lined up outside our doors!

The study linked here by the National Institutes of Health is enlightening. You can read it if you enjoy research abstracts but I'll summarize the major factors involved here:

  1. Investment in established patterns

  2. A deeply held sense of value for the process

  3. How easy or hard it is relative to one's current abilities

  4. How one's social experience is affected by the practice

  5. Comfort with the facilities and surroundings

  6. Time, money and attention available to devote to exercise

As I've written about before, all of these factors make perfect sense and represent either pathways to potentially enable or obstacles to possibly thwart fitness efforts.

But there's something special about number 2. And it is the only item on the list that single handedly drives decisions in almost every life choice we make.

So that's why I keep coming back to it.

If you want to understand what you can do to make exercise easier to implement, by all means, look for solutions that are close to home, enjoyable, that you feel comfortable trying or resuming, that have you surrounded by friends or in the solitude of nature, one that customizes the expertise of a professional devoted to you or one that doesn't cost a dime.

However, if you truly want to make fitness an integral part of your life, look to your sense of self-identity. Do you think of yourself as a devoted mom? A high-powered executive? A trusted friend? A loyal and talented business partner? If you do, and you get some satisfaction out of identification with that role, it's because it aligns with your most deeply cherished values.

And if you want to be able to make that shift with fitness, you simply need to notice how much better it makes you feel and then invest that appreciation in the actual process that created the outcome, instead of thinking of it as a necessary inconvenience. That makes it part of you. Then you've arrived.

Once you've done that, you'll find the other factors either fall into place, or fade into the background where they belong.

Dan Taylor, ACE, NASM-CPT, is owner and head trainer at Pleasanton-based Tri Valley Trainer. They offer personal training and small group fitness solutions and an innovative, medically endorsed web-based group healthy eating coaching program.

More of Dan's columns are here.

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