By Maria-Christina Kosteli
- Do you have a yearly gym subscription but have only managed to get to the gym once or twice this year?
- Do you keep promising yourself that you will exercise more but never seem to get around to it?
Well, you are not alone. In fact, the older you get the less active you become and this is a phenomenon that has been reported worldwide.Embed from Getty Images
So why do we not exercise?
A renowned psychologist, Professor Albert Bandura, explained why we tend to avoid exercise as we age with his Social-Cognitive theory. This theory suggests that the way we think (our cognitions) along with other societal factors influence our ability to be physically active.
For example, we might be lacking self-confidence in our ability to exercise or perceive many barriers that stop us from exercising. It could also be a combination of both of these reasons.
A common barrier is bad weather. For many, the weather may stop us from going to the park to walk but it could also come from a belief that we are not able to successfully exercise in the rain. After all who likes the weather in the UK?
Another barrier comes when we do not expect that exercise is going to make a significant and positive difference to our lives. You might have thought: “What’s the point to exercise? It does not work for me”.
Well, these negative beliefs are enough to reduce your effort and discourage you from setting exercise goals and plans. As a result it is very unlikely you are going to enjoy exercise once you get to it.
How can we find motivation to exercise?
Well, one way of becoming more physically active is to convince your brain you are exercising without actually doing it. How is this possible? By using imagery, also known as visualisation.
Imagery is a popular mental technique used by many exercisers to motivate themselves to get out of the house and start working out. By imagining yourself performing the exercises in an aerobics class and experiencing positive psychological outcomes can make you more confident in your ability to compete the workout.
What should we image?
Our recent research (Kosteli, Cumming, &Williams, 2017) showed that self-regulatory imagery can have a positive impact on physical activity engagement. This type of imagery includes imaging your plans and goals.
- Keeping to a schedule
- The planning, engagement, and achievement of exercise plans and goals
- The plans and goals themselves and the feeling of motivation as a result of them
In our study, middle-aged and older adults who used images of plans and goals (i.e., self-regulatory imagery) were found to be more confident in their ability to engage in physical activity and were also more likely to perceive more positive outcome expectations (e.g., better health) and less barriers (e.g., bad weather), as well as they enjoyed physical activity more.
How does self-regulatory imagery work?
By imaging your exercise goals, such as getting fitter, can act as a reminder of how satisfying it is to set and achieve this goal, and can motivate you to put more effort to exercise. Self-regulatory imagery not only helps you to set more plans and goals but also to enjoy exercise more. Overall, self-regulatory imagery can influence how we think and feel about physical activity, which makes it a powerful tool that can be used by any of us at any point in time. If you are still unsure if you can achieve your exercise goals you only have to imagine you are successfully achieving these goals and this is going to persuade your brain you are able to do it.