Joyful Movement: How Exercise Can & Should Be Fun

Three friends run down a city street.

Have you ever started an exercise routine, only to quit a few weeks later? Have you ever dreaded a run or a workout? Research has shown that focusing on enjoyable forms of movement, rather than viewing exercise as a chore, leads to more consistent habits. So how exactly can you find joy in movement?

Learn From Children

If you walk into any youth sports practice in the country, you’ll likely hear children laughing, yelling and playing freely. Is there anything we can learn from the way kids approach sports? How can we make exercise feel like fun and not a requirement to check off our to-do list?

Dr. Maureen Weiss is a professor in the school of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota and has studied positive youth development in sports for over 38 years. Weiss spoke with us about how finding joy in movement can affect how likely you are to exercise, whether you’re a child, an adult or somewhere in between.

Weiss emphasized that while exercise brings plenty of health benefits, it’s important to find a deeper sense of motivation than simply trying to be healthy.

“We want children to find joy in moving — in academic terms we call that intrinsic motivation, where you’re doing it for the activity in and of itself, like the old adage we used to say, the love of the game. Enjoyment is one of the strongest factors that predicts whether someone will participate, persist and work hard,” Weiss says. “If one continues because they found joyful movement, they will glean the benefits pitched by society for being physically active. And when people want to be active, that's joyful motivation.”

As Weiss says, if you expect to keep up a fitness routine, taking a child-like attitude and making it more fun can help you stay consistent.

Bring a Friend

A man and woman walk through a park.

If you’ve ever gotten lost in conversation with your running buddy, you know that being surrounded by friends can make the miles fly by. The sense of camaraderie formed during exercise is one of the strongest bonds, and finding a friend to work out with can make a huge difference in the way you view your routine.

“What we know from research in adulthood is that middle and older adults do physical activity when they can do it with others. Whether they’re doing it with a masters soccer team or walking with their friends,” Weiss says.

Focus on Your Favorite Activities

Even if you view exercise as something to tick off on a daily basis, reframing it in a positive way can help you view it as sacred “me time,” or as a form of self-care that you’ll look forward to.

“I live by the motto that every person has a way to move that makes them feel good,” says Ciara Lucas, a fitness expert and TV journalist. “You don’t have to love to run, or love lifting weights; maybe you like to dance, or swim, or go on long walks, or do yoga. There are so many different ways to move that it’s impossible to not find something that you like. There should always be an aspect of fun and fitness, a level of joy in it, and finding fun in new ways to move.”

Rather than being caught up in what everyone else is doing, give yourself permission to focus on something you truly enjoy.

Seek Variety

A man smiles during yoga.

If your existing fitness routine is starting to feel stale, spice things up by joining a local running group, going for a bike ride or attending a group exercise class. And remember that exercise doesn’t always have to be strenuous. In fact, making time for recovery days and cross training is an important part of a healthy training plan. Overall, the most important aspect of any exercise routine is consistency, which comes easy when you’re having fun.

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