Has working out become too much like work? Or does just thinking about working out make you want to go lie down? You know you need to move to burn calories and get fit, but mustering the motivation is another matter. And if you're not feeling motivated to work out, chances are it's because you're not having any fun.
The No. 1 reason people say they don't get regular physical activity is lack of time, says Cedric Bryant, PhD, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (ACE) in San Diego. Yet, he adds, "we'll find time to do what's enjoyable."
The good news is that you can get fit by playing, says Charles Swencionis, PhD, co-author of The Lazy Person's Guide to Fitness: I Get All the Exercise I Need Walking Around the Office. "Forget about 'This kind of exercise does that', and 'That kind of exercise does this,''' he says.
To remind yourself of the fun in physical activity, just watch your pets -- or your children.
"I have a parrot who's in terrific shape," Swencionis says. "He's like an Olympic athlete compared to me. All animals are naturally active. Kids are, too, unless they're prevented by their parents or circumstances."
To help you put the fun back into your fitness routine, fitness experts who spoke to WebMD had these seven suggestions:
1. Make play your workout. Remember begging your mother to let you stay outside five more minutes? Whatever you were doing -- playing catch, jumping rope, or riding your bike -- it was too much fun to quit. The key to fitting more activity into your life is rediscovering that joy of movement.
"If you have children, play backyard games like tag, hopscotch, and capture the flag," says Bryant. But you don't need kids to play. Shoot hoops. Go swimming. Play tennis, volleyball, badminton, croquet, or golf.
2. Put on your dancing shoes. Not the sporty type? Dancing is a great way to get fit, and there's a type to appeal to everyone: ballroom, country and western, salsa, African, folk dancing, square dancing. You don't even need a partner; try belly dancing, hula, clogging or tap dancing.
One of the latest (and most strenuous) physical fitness crazes is Capoeira, a blend of dancing and martial arts. "It was developed by slaves in Brazil who weren't allowed to have martial arts or weapons," says Swencionis. "So they developed a martial art that came from a part of Africa that's now Angola. It looks like dancing, and it's all done to music. They turn on their backs and heads using moves that could either be dancing or kickboxing."
3. Go on a treasure hunt. Take the whole family (or a group of friends) on a geocaching adventure. Geocaching is a hot new adventure that involves using a handheld global positioning system (GPS) to find a hidden cache of trinkets and a logbook. It's not as easy as it sounds, and cachers add new twists all the time. For example, an item that's labeled "hitchhiker" is supposed to be carried from one cache to another. (Mr. Potato Head is a well-known hitchhiker.)
Getting to a cache is half the fun. It can be as leisurely as a walk in the park, or can require expertise such as rock-climbing ability. All you need to get started is a GPS device (about $100). Information, including geocaching etiquette and cache locations in and around your ZIP code, is posted on geocaching web sites.
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4. Train for an active vacation. Ever thought of doing a wine-country bike tour, escaping to a ski resort, or living out your dream at a fantasy sports camp? These are the kinds of vacations you'll never stop talking about. But whether you come away with fond memories or a pulled ligament can depend on how well prepared you are. To prevent muscle soreness and injury, train before your trip (using the upcoming vacation as your inspiration). Do general strength, cardiovascular, and flexibility training, including exercises that target the muscle groups for your sport.
5. Spice up a dull routine. Tired of your routine walk around the track? Walk to the park instead, and fly a kite. If you're bored with the treadmill or elliptical trainer, spice up your workout with multimedia. Clip a tape or CD player to your belt, get audio books from the library, and enjoy "reading" while you work out. Or set up a portable DVD player and watch a movie.
6. Try something new. Go horseback riding. Try inline skating. Join in a community trash pickup. Build houses for Habitat for Humanity.
7. If you love a challenge and want to see real results, sign up for a civilian boot camp. Dave Johnson of Austin, Texas, generally keeps fit by running alone. But when a friend urged him to enroll in CPT Luke's Total Boot Camp, he was game. The month-long boot camp met three nights a week, and (except for the mosquitoes) Johnson found it highly motivating. "There's a big difference between thinking I have to get out of bed and run, and knowing that I paid money and people expect me to be there," says the 48-year-old engineer.
Johnson found he enjoyed the social aspect of boot camp: "You're passing a medicine ball or holding a partner doing sit-ups, and you develop camaraderie with your workout buddies." And in the end, he saw "a huge improvement" physically. "They used the exact same fitness scale as the Marines. I'm not sure where I started, but I finished in the 98th percentile. And my running time improved dramatically."
A Change of Perspective
In an ideal world, people would spend at least 5-6 days a week doing a balanced program of cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility exercises. But for many people, that's neither realistic nor appealing. The fact is, only a little more than one-fifth of Americans get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise a minimum of five times per week, according to a survey published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In spite of all the emphasis on exercise over the last 20 years, the percentage of people who exercise regularly hasn't changed significantly. Perhaps we've gotten the idea that unless we follow the national exercise recommendations to the letter, buy all the latest gear, or hang on every word of the fitness guru du jour, why bother?
"We need to modify our perspective," says Bryant. "Too often, we want to focus on what's 'best,' and that may be one of the reasons we've been ineffective.
"We need to look at 'good, better and best.' Walking is good, maybe jogging is better, and maybe running is best. But our goal is to encourage people to make physical activity something they do consistently. Movement is key. Identify those activities you find enjoyable, and make the choice to move."