Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Effect of Motivation on Exercise

Somewhere over the decades I got the screwy idea into my head that it's only exercise if you're wearing exercise clothes and the time slot on your calendar says "work out." And no fair getting anything else accomplished at the same time. Among other sources, I actually read this in some magazine years ago -- that you can't count activities like vacuuming your entire house or gardening as exercise. I found that so discouraging.

I'm an extremely thorough vacuumer, but after that, whenever I vacuumed, even though I was super tired afterwards, I had this underlying awareness that it didn't really count. Good grief, with that in your mind it probably doesn't count -- because I think your psychological state really matters. Now, when I get ready to vacuum, I jump into it as if it were a workout. In fact, next time I do it I'm going to wear the heart monitor and do it as fast as I can. Just watch, next thing you know vacuuming will show up in Sports Illustrated. (Everyone always copies me.)

I used to ride all the way across town several times a week to withdraw into my hidey hole and write. Took me half an hour each way. Nowadays, since I'm always going out to work in Gresham, I don't get over to my hidey hole as much.

The ride to the train to Gresham only takes ten minutes. I'd been feeling horrible about this, and thinking that ten minutes was so short as to be worthless. But according to the heart monitor, even though it's a third the time it's far from worthless. Especially given that I leave the house so late I have to ride my clothes are on fire. Which brings me back to yesterday's theme: Did I say that you'd have to ignite my clothing to get me to move quickly? I meant that I have to have a real reason. The reason can't be something like "See this line? You have to make it over this line ahead of all these other people." That's a fake reason. When I hear that, every molecule in my body answers: "No I don't. If I don't make it over that line, nothing bad will happen."

Whereas, if I didn't get to work on time, undesirable eventualities would occur.

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At 12:53 PM, Blogger Dale said...


I know I'm getting more exercise just out of riding my bike than I did back when I was deliberately setting out to exercise every day. Because "every day" seemed mysteriously to morph into "twice a week," whatever my intentions. But riding the bike is pretty much every day, just because I need to get places and my wife needs the car.

I believe that in this, as in so many things, changing habits is a matter of making the way you want to do things the path of least resistance. If we still had the second car, no doubt I'd still be driving it, and I'd be riding the bike twice a week, if at all.

If I remember right early exercise research turned out to be deceptive -- I don't remember why -- but it strongly gave the impression that less than 20 minutes sustained exertion didn't do much for you. And, in exercise as in diet, standard advice doesn't change just because the science moves out from under it :-)

At 5:36 PM, Blogger steve said...

I would say gardening and vacuuming both count as exercise - I don't see any way to do either of those things without burning calories. It may not be a huge number of calories burnt, but they're being burnt all the same.

The 20 minutes of sustained exertion is, if I recall correctly, the point at which glycogen in the muscles is depleted enough to kickstart other sources of energy in the body getting tapped. Ironically if you exercise too hard fat will stop being burnt - this is where people who ride for exercise (as opposed to fun, utility, commuting, etc) talk about riding in the right "zone". Speaking for myself, I don't give a toss about that stuff and just ride my bike and generally keep active. As a result I can have 3 heaped tablespoonsful of sugar in my coffee in the morning along with a cinnamon bun and not worry about it!

At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooh, vaccuuming. I just love vaccuuming. I think I might qualify as a compulsive vaccuumer. It's probably how I keep my weight down.


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