If you don’t enjoy physical activity, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), less than half of all Americans meet their Physical Activity Guidelines. Researchers have tried for decades to find out why Americans tend to avoid exercise. They found that there are many practical reasons, including chronic pain, lack of access to childcare, and safety concerns about working out in dangerous areas. But there are also mental and emotional reasons people don’t stick to exercise plans. One of the biggest factors is enjoyment. If you don’t feel satisfied after exercising, research shows that you won’t keep doing it.
With this in mind, researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands looked at about 400 physically active men and women to see why they enjoyed exercise. They wanted to know if mindfulness, or the practice of paying close attention to the present moment, played a role. The subjects filled out an online survey to answer questions about their emotional experience during physical activity, and how this helped them stick to it. The results of the survey showed that those who were mindful when they exercised were most satisfied with the experience. While more research is needed to confirm these results, this study shows that it may be possible to practice enjoying exercise. If you don’t like physical activity now, that doesn’t mean you can’t teach yourself to like it.
So how can you be more mindful during physical activity? Mindfulness will look different for everyone, but a big part of it is tuning into your senses. Many people start with a few long deep breaths. If you run, try running outside and paying attention to the sights, sounds and smells around you. If you lift weights, try observing how each muscle feels during the process.