BY DALE BURG
Yet another group of researchers—this time from Indiana University—has found a correlation between even very modest physical activity and a positive mental state. It’s another incentive to get yourself moving.
But when you’re trying to get started, instead of vowing to exercise more, resolve to find a physical activity you enjoy. You’re far more likely to persevere, says Bryan P. McCormick, Ph.D., an associate professor of recreation, park, and tourism studies and a lead author of the study.
McCormick explains that any pursuit can be viewed in terms of avoidance goals and approach goals. Either you do it to avoid a negative outcome or because you enjoy it. Many people engage in physical activity for the former reason (I’ll do it so I won’t get fat and die) rather than the latter. When an obstacle arises—I’m tired; it’s raining; I can’t find my sneakers—avoidance goals are quickly abandoned.
The IU study involved patients with mental illness, but the conclusions were in line with others that have linked exercise to positive feelings. And physical movement was defined as any form of sustained movement—including walking for transportation and gardening. “It doesn’t have to be exercise. Physical activity beyond a resting state appears to be related to mood,” Dr. McCormick says.
He suggests that instead of focusing on the notion of exercise, find any activity you like that has a physical component. Enjoy visiting friends? Then walk to meet them or take a walk together. “The desire to move is really basic to the human organism. As cliché as it sounds, find your passion,” he says.
One possibility: The technology that sprouted couch potatoes has developed a product that is now encouraging them to get up—Wii (pronounced “we”). The game, which involves interacting with a computer and using the actual physical motions involved in playing tennis, bowling, archery, and other activities, is now being used in nursing homes and rehab, says Dr. McCormick. “It’s effective because it gets people to move in a way that engages them.” Maybe Wii is for you.