Sold on the feeling, if not the benefits to health

The New York Times

by Gina Kolada

June 18, 2012


Almost everyone has gotten the message that exercise is important for health. Yet most who start exercise programs stop. Perhaps, researchers say, the way to persuade more people to exercise is to study those rare individuals who love it.

What makes someone a committed exerciser? And how motivating are the much vaunted improvements to health?

Recently these questions have became more urgent. This month, a group of exercise researchers published an analysis of five rigorous studies reporting that about 10 percent of people have an “adverse response” to exercise. In them, at least one cardiovascular risk factor got worse instead of better.

Some exercise and public health experts worried that people might use the findings as an excuse not to exercise. But that assumes that exercisers are motivated largely by health concerns to begin with.

“When a physician tells a patient, ‘You need to make a change for your health,’ that can be motivating, especially if the person has a health problem,” said Rodney Dishman, director of the exercise psychology laboratory at the University of Georgia. “But it usually wanes over time. People don’t feel their bones getting stronger, they don’t feel lipids changing.”

Most who start exercising say the goal is to lose weight or improve their health. But those who begin on the promise of imperceptible health effects often stop, Dr. Dishman said, saying they do not have time, or are too tired after work, or they just lost interest.

And there are no good studies investigating why people keep exercising. Dr. Dishman and others suspect the motivation is sheer pleasure — feeling energized, a boost in mood, feeling restless and uncomfortable without exercise. And you may not be able to will yourself to have this response.

Biological traits, Dr. Dishman says, “seem to play a bigger role in both the choice to be active and the outcomes of being active than folks — namely public health advocates— have been willing to admit.”

Read the full article here.