Yesterday while driving home after working a very long day, I could not think of anything else I’d rather do than blow off some steam at the gym. Yes I was tired, but I felt like going for a hard run would make my day complete.  I started to ponder what my strongest motivators were for wanting to exercise. This then lead to a spiral of thoughts about motivation and physical activity.

Motivation Related to Physical Appearance 

I have taken notice that the gym walls are plastered with advertisements featuring only thin and muscular models – likely the ideal body types for gym goers. This type of advertisement presumably is set to act as a source of motivation for patrons. However…is this really an effective form of motivation?  I see a couple of reasons this type of motivation isn’t the best.

  •  These advertisements could actually discourage women and men by creating unrealistic self-standards. They may not feel that their figure is not comparable to these models even after regular gym work. This could result in feelings of a negative body image, and in turn, associate feelings of failure with physical activity. Is this person likely to have motivation to continue at the gym?
  • These advertisements create an over-emphasis on physical appearance. Is this the best type of motivation for being physically active? To look good? Why can’t our we appreciate our bodies for what they do instead of how they look.  Let’s take a look at the new popular slogan for women “Strong is the New Skinny” – as per the picture below.

strong-new-skinny1

I can agree that being strong rocks, and I think all women (and men!) should lift weights. Strength training is good for a number of reasons — from building strong bones to boosting your fitness to managing chronic conditions and even making your brain sharper. However the issue with this slogan and picture is that it still communicates that women should look a certain way to be considered ‘ideal’. I think what we all really need is to not need to look like anything — skinny, strong, whatever it may be. At the end of the day, the thing we’re all searching for is to feel good. To feel empowered. To feel energized and confident in our own skin. This is how I think exercise should be used instead of a tool to mold us into these ideal body types set out by society.

What Motivates Me to Exercise

I have had a love for exercise since a very early age and  it has always been a part of my life in some shape or form – from soccer to cross country to swimming and various other activities in between. What motivates me to exercise currently?

  1. To work towards a goal. I will be running some races this summer and I am working to improve my time. I’m following a training schedule for a 10 K race and have been working on speed intervals, along with increasing my endurance. I also am planning on doing my first mini-triathlon this summer –  a ‘try and tri’ – so working on cycling and swimming have also been on the exercise agenda.
  2. To destress and disconnect. A good chunk of my day is spent in front of a screen: charting at a computer, responding to emails, checking my phone, ect. This is draining. Exercising is a time when I truely get to be alone with my thoughts.
  3. To socialize and try new things. I love adventure and trying new activities. Sports such as skiing and squash are what I have been working at recently. Partaking in activities with a friend is a great way to spend an afternoon or evening.

I would be lying if I said that I didn’t exercise somewhat for physical appearance. However this isn’t my primary motivator, nor do I think it is good for it to be. I try to look at it as an added benefit. I think setting goals beyond the scale and more for fitness is important. This is more likely to result in sustained motivation and enjoyment of exercise. Try to gain value from exercise from a deeper place.

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