The best way to develop exercise habits for longevity and weight loss

What if you were only allowed to have a certain amount of fun in life? You can enjoy your life, but you make it a little shorter with every fun activity – like in the movie The Covenant, their magical powers age them rapidly. Still, for us mere mortals, instead of magic, it’s fun. 

Well, that’s kind of how life goes – with one exception – you can increase your fun allowance by doing something difficult. By making yourself miserable doing difficult tasks, you get to have more enjoyment from life – you play the long game.

Diet and exercise are the yin and yangs of being in good health – without one, the other is futile. In this post, I will describe how you can develop habits to help you stay in shape and extend your life and make you happier.

Training for a marathon is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Even if you do, the minimum recommended training of three months. You need to run several times a week, increasing the length of your runs until, by the end of the marathon, you will have run about 600 kilometres. 

You will have dedicated around 40 hours to run those 600 kilometres to reach your goal of completing a marathon – that’s a whole work week.

It is the same amount of time dedicated to earning enough to sustain yourself for a week. Now you are throwing it away to be able to say: “I ran a marathon.” Imagine, instead of working for a week, you just went out jogging – my work is hard, but it is still easier than that. There are many benefits to running a marathon. The main benefits are: getting to say “I did it”, those three seconds of bliss after you’ve finished before the pain starts and maintaining your health. 

Maintaining your health earns you more happiness in the future. We know that if we put ourselves through painful exercise, we will have a considerable sum in our happiness bank.

The happiness bank

  • When filled with meaning and effort and it will never run out
  • When neglected because you are busy chasing happiness – debt accumulates.  

The happiness bank is an imaginary bank that determines how joyful your life will be. Your Constructive habits make deposits. In contrast, unhealthy habits make withdrawals, leading you into happiness-dept. 

The deeper in debt you get, the harder you have to work to enjoy yourself, and as a result, the more indebted you will be – just like if you go and party instead of work. As a result, you never get to enjoy yourself because instead of dealing with your problems, you try to avoid them, hoping that they will go away – but they don’t. This concept is the central idea of The Subtle art of not giving a F*** by Mark Manson. 

It is only by developing healthy habits that you can grow your balance. Then, when you decide to do something fun, you will be spending money you have instead of borrowing from the future. It takes work. Some of these habits are extremely difficult – like having a cold shower or meditating. But you need to persevere and develop them.

By building your life on good habits and attacking the misery head-on, you will enjoy all the benefits of having better problems. The earlier you start, the stronger the compound effect will be and the easier it will be to continue. 

Where to start

We only live once; it’s crucial to make it worthwhile. Doing so means getting out of your comfort zone and doing the things you have been avoiding. Start small; take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further from your destination or get off the bus one stop early. 

Integrating exercise into your life is easy when you make it fun. Everyone has activities that they enjoy, even if they are not physical. I’ll explain later how you can use them to help you get moving. 

What to do

The goal is to get your heart pumping faster and your muscles working; how you get there is up to you. There are two types of activities that you can do: 

  • Robotic activities that are highly repetitive and work specific muscles. Examples include: lifting weights and running.
  • Reactive activities require you to react to something else, thus forcing you to move in unexpected ways and use a variety of muscles to accomplish a task.

There are benefits to both reactive and robotic activities; it is good to incorporate a blend of both into your life. Reactive activities tend to be more fun but require more planning. In contrast, robotic activities can be integrated seamlessly into your daily routine. 

It is much easier to slide a run in before work than a soccer game, but you will get a much better workout from the soccer game. Reactive exercise is better because you do not need to consciously think of each muscle category you will be working on. 

You will automatically transition between sprinting, walking, and footwork throughout the game. For more information on how reactive sports impact how old you feel, I recommend giving this podcast a listen.

I have two suggestions for you:

  • Find exercises that you enjoy (or a way to make them enjoyable)
  • Look for ways to integrate activity into your life

How to enjoy exercise

My reactive sport of choice is bouldering. Bouldering (climbing up to three metres) is a full-body workout that forces you to contort yourself in weird ways as you try to get up the wall. 

I love it, but I rarely get an opportunity to go. Going bouldering requires me to dedicate my evening to it, which is more challenging than committing half an hour to a run.

I don’t like running, but I usually run three to four times a week. I love audiobooks, but I rarely have time or the ability to focus on them while sitting around. My solution to these problems was to combine the two habits

The audiobooks motivate me to go out and run. The high euphoria I gain from completing a run motivates me to go out for another. This feedback was described by Jeff Haden in The motivation myth and is known as the Feedback loop of motivation.

My loop goes something like this: I want to run, so I find an interesting book to listen to. I feel good having run and left the book on an exciting part. I want to find out what happens next, so I go for another run the next day. The cycle continues until I run out of interesting books (spoiler: I will never run out of interesting books). 

How to get motivated

I reserve the book I am most looking forward to when exercising. Running is a fairly mindless activity, so it is perfect for me, especially on long endurance runs where I can listen to a book and learn while exercising. 

Combining these activities has helped me make a habit out of going running, which – as previously mentioned – I don’t enjoy. It was books for me, but you might prefer something else like a particular playlist, podcast, or comedy skit. Use your favourite form of audible entertainment to motivate you to get out and exercise. 

Reserve this form of entertainment for when you are exercising. This way, you will feel that you have “earned it” when listening to it. Starting an exercise habit is all about beginning. Going back to my marathon example would be completely demoralizing to constantly think about how long I will need to run. I ran a half-marathon as training last weekend and was totally destroyed afterward. I didn’t have the energy to continue, but I did have the power to train. 

If you have a specific goal in mind, be it weight loss or a race, plan how you will reach it, then forget about it and follow the procedure. In Atomic Habits, James Clear goes on at length about starting small. His 2-minute habit trick is excellent because it is impossible to fail. 

If you want to get in the habit of running, break it down to what you can get done in 2 minutes. If you get as far as getting dressed and out the door, that is good enough for day one, then go a little further the next day. 

There are many activities to get into better shape. I have talked about running and how to make it more enjoyable. Still, you can also go walking, cycling, hiking, kayaking, rowing, etc. The secret is to find something you enjoy or make an unenjoyable activity better.

Happiness is capricious; meaning is much more durable

Wilhelm Schmid

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