Sadly, It Doesn’t Involve Eating More Ice Cream

When you step into an ice cream parlor, you are met with a bounty of flavors. Generally, you don’t purchase the same scoop every time (but it’s OK if you do), so why shouldn’t your daily exercise mirror this variety?

In fact, that’s just what psychologist and motivation savant Michelle Segar, director of the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center at the University of Michigan, has found to encourage even the busiest or exercise-averse folks to move more.

In a recent New York Times Well blog article, Segar used the analogy of comparing an ice cream shop’s many flavors to the countless ways you can be active. She recommends reframing exercise (and rekindling the motivation to do it) by making your exercise fit your mood, much like you would pick a flavor of ice cream. Simply, you don’t need to hit the gym each time you want to exercise. Feeling tired? Maybe try yoga today. Wired from that extra afternoon cup of coffee and need to burn off some energy? Perhaps go jogging. (Although, you might need to add some hills if you have that much energy!) When you see the many ways you can be active by matching your exercise “flavor” to your current circumstance, Segar found that you may be more likely to maintain the healthy habit.

“The neuroscience of reward has shown that this approach can foster and reinforce positive feelings about being active,” wrote Jane Brody about Segar’s research and methodology.

Segar has also found that people are more likely to make the effort to exercise regularly when they focus on the immediate benefits of physical activity that day, such as having more energy, alleviating stress, improving sleep, invigorating creativity and more.

Much like you immediately enjoy the taste of ice cream (which is undeniably the top reason to have a scoop), when you focus on the instant rewards of exercise, you are more likely to lace up those tennies again tomorrow.

Focusing on an instantaneous benefit of exercise is motivating because our brains are attuned to immediate gratification. A recent Greatist article highlights an example of this:

“In the famous Stanford marshmallow experiment, children were given the choice between eating a small snack now, or waiting 15 minutes for a larger snack. Two-thirds ended up eating the smaller snack that was in front of them rather than waiting for the bigger promised snack.”

The article shares how instant reward extends to adulthood – Another study’s participants often took an immediate $50 over a future $100.

Help Your Employees Match Their Fitness With Their “Flavor”
Asset Health incorporates this methodology of variety and immediate reward in our daily mini challenges. Here are three things to consider in helping your employees move more:

Opportunity is everywhere. Remind your employees of the boundless variety in exercise. You don’t have to wear gym attire to move more – something as simple as parking your car in the back of the lot to get a few extra steps can make a difference.

Create your company’s flavors of fitness. This will inspire employees and provides an avenue of ideas for ways to exercise. Encourage your co-workers to share their fitness flavor via company social media sites, any internal forums or your corporate intranet.

Show them how. Create, outsource or reference other professionals’ short exercise video clips and post them on social media. Proper technique is important when it comes to reaping the rewards of exercise – not to mention avoiding injury.

Prompt your employees with a set of daily mini challenges focused on exercise. Mini challenges span all areas of health, but you could host a set entirely on exercise. Highlight the immediate benefits of physical activity, as mentioned above.