Can the fun of fitness make fitness fun?

With a bunch of obesity discussion circulating the office of late, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the type of motivation required to change behavior, specifically when it comes to diet and exercise. To the unaffected, it seems obvious that if there’s a problem, especially one that potentially impacts your life in so many ways, you’ll seek out options to try to solve it and then go out and do them. When it comes to obesity, the solutions are cut-and-dry obvious, right? Exercise and diet? Well, yes and no.

After a recent doctor appointment in which I was told my cholesterol was nearing a high figure and that daily exercise needed to find a home in my daily routine, I learned that even though the goal and tactics might be apparent, execution is an all-together different story.

I hate to run. I can’t state this more clearly. I truly hate to run. Even though a mile can take less than ten minutes, I view it as a theft of time I don’t have to give. Why? Because it feels like work and there are other things much more pleasurable I could be doing. I started playing ice hockey as a kid solely so I wouldn’t have to run (well, checking is fun, too), and to this day I still play at least once a week. But as a 31-year-old male that sits at a desk most of the day and loves to eat and nap, that’s not enough. And I know it’s not enough because my doctor has told me so. Twice. So why haven’t I done something about it? Well, here are some of my obvious excuses:

  • I have a job/spouse/toddler, so I’m tired
  • I have a job/spouse/toddler, so I have no time
  • The gym costs money
  • The gym takes more time and effort than running
  • Gym people
  • The doctor hasn’t made it seem that urgent

Even I can call BS on myself with most of those excuses. The real truth is buried between the words of a couple of sentences I wrote above:

I view it as theft of time I don’t have to give…Because it feels like work and there are other things much more pleasurable I could be doing.

Translated: I just don’t feel like it right now. Maybe later.

Well, later never comes. Obesity is a problem not because people don’t want to fix the problem or don’t know how to, but because in many cases the reasons to postpone the fix are often more appealing in the short-term. And they’re often instantly tangible, whereas exercising doesn’t typically offer real-time results. So how can we (specifically me) find the motivation to actually get up and do something when there are so many internal voices telling us not to?

What if exercise became…dare I say it…fun?

With its Nike+ technology, Nike has essentially turned running into an interactive game. Through a chip that goes in a shoe and connects to a phone or an iPod, Nike+ allows runners (and gym-goers) the opportunity to set goals and get feedback (and positive reenforcement), view results from your exercise, and store personal workout statistics tracked as you go. The device also provides access to an online community where you can interact with other runners, create and participate in challenges, and map out running routes. Although on the market in some form for half a decade now, iterative versions have leveraged new technologies to add features that would make running sound exciting and cool to the most bitter runner (read: me).

On a smaller scale, another example of how being active can be less dreadful is an exercise group from San Francisco called Team Motion Starved. The group’s goal is to ‘Fit more fun into your fitness while exploring the outdoors,’ and from the looks of it, they clearly achieve it. Among their upcoming planned activities is a race against a San Francisco bus line, which will find the team following (and likely passing) the 22 Fillmore Muni line with prizes to the first to reach the top of Fillmore Hill. To top it off, after completing the run, they get together for food, drinks and good company.

So is it enough to make exercise fun or engaging or competitive to get more people motivated to participate? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know for sure if Nike+ is responsible for attracting new runners or if most participants were already runners, or if Team Motion Starved has recruited anyone that wasn’t previously a diehard. But I do know for sure that those two examples above managed to get me excited to do something I previously avoided like the plague. I’m sure for some others making exercise fun isn’t enough to build it into a regular routine, but it does make it seem like the issue isn’t, as Team Motion Starved says, getting out there, but getting out of our own way.

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