Disclaimer: The following is a hypothesis based on solid observational evidence. It is, nonetheless, not rigorously tested by, for instance, analysis of blood samples post-exercise. I encourage ambitious scientists and doctors to do exactly that and report back with results, and credit the source of the idea when receiving their Nobels.
Ever wonder why some people stick to near-obsessive exercise schedules and get fidgety and restless when they skip a day, while others repeatedly try and fail to establish a routine at all?
If you’re like me, you do – chiefly because you desperately want to be in the first category.
And after years of observation and talking to people, I think I finally have the answer.
Is it hard work, determination and self-control? Nope. Fundamentally, it’s about who gets what hormonal rewards from their body for exercising. It boils down to hedonism, a matter of pleasure or displeasure, and the outcome is predetermined by physiology. The mechanism that decides who will be a lifelong enthusiastic athlete and who will be a lazy fatass is simply an endocrine lottery.
There are people who go running and within minutes feel a rush of endorphins and don broad smiles that threaten the tops of their heads will fall off. There are even people who have actual orgasms during exercise.
Then there are people who go running and only get sore legs (and maybe psychological self-satisfaction, which diminishes with repetition and won’t sustain the habit).
Identical inputs. One person gets an orgasm. Another person gets agony. Hmm. No wonder the first person exercises religiously, while the latter struggles to do ten pushups once a month. Shit’s unfair. I expect protests and demands to steal endorphins from athletes by syringe and transfer them to angry fatasses. This would be keeping with the tone of public discourse in developed countries.
What this means:
- Bad news: until we learn to actively rewire the brain, this is unfixable.
- Good news: while unfixable, it is certainly circumventable.
The question is, naturally, what to do if you’re in the latter category? Do you have to be forever stuck between the rock of unpleasant exercise and the hard place of similarly unpleasant obesity and reduced life expectancy?
I feel ya, Homer.
I think there’s actually a chance. You can do the following:
- Write a blog post about it for others, in the vain hopes it will somehow help with your own predicament. Cough cough.
- Find alternate rewards to the dopamine/endorphin rushes (and orgasms). A few angles to this:
Rational awareness of the bigger picture and your excellent reasons for exercising. This can work, but I don’t think many people are that, well, disciplined. This is Jedi level self-possession. Plus, willpower is a limited resource, and willing yourself to exercise leaves less of it to deal with other stuff, like work and kicking bad habits and dealing with other human beings. So, clearly not the solution unless you’re a buddhist monk.
You can also make it a carrot on a stick situation, putting into perspective and subsuming present discomfort to anticipated future payoffs, “veggies before pudding” style. The obvious carrot to use is sex – “it hurts like hell now, but damn is it gonna be worth it when my booty becomes the envy of the town”. Alternative carrots include overcoming body image and self esteem issues, feeling better and being healthier overall (eventually) and such medium-to-long term stretch goals. However, these tend to be weaker than The Only Thing Humans Really Chase.
The problem with this strategy is that if you need self-manipulating tactics to get yourself to exercise, you’re most likely the kind of person who has issues with delaying gratification in the first place – like 7 billion other people on the planet. It might work for a while, but sustainable lifestyle changes need better mechanisms of action.
But my best answer is this:
Make exercise enjoyable through fun and friendship. Yes, this is hormonal too, but the mechanism that triggers it is not the exercise itself, which makes it work for more people than the lucky few endocrine lottery winners who get cocaine highs from running up mountains and cum when doing situps (the mechanism of action for coregasms is different, but for the sake of argument, we’ll treat it as another way of winning a physiological lottery).
Try a hundred different sports until you find something you enjoy for it’s own sake. The exercise becomes incidental to the activity, rather than being The Focus, as is the case when you join a gym or start running. Ideally, you’re having so much fun you forget you’re exercising. This is the equivalent of hiding medicine in dog treats.
This seems to work for essentially everybody, including the laziest bastard on the planet – myself. Of course, my data pool is not (yet) billions of people, so if you have thoughts, experience or a tip to help people, please share it.