A Bridge Over Uncomfortable Waters

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Written by Alexandra Black MPH, RD, LDN, Health Promotion Manager, IHRSA
Today, as I was perusing Twitter to find inspiration for this week’s blog post, I came across an article in Psychology Today by Dr. Sherry Pagoto on the real reason we don’t exercise. According to Pagoto, the reason is that we avoid being uncomfortable in an increasingly comfortable world (at least in the US). I read through all the comforts of modern life, and all the discomforts we hate (being cold – guilty, getting out of bed in the wintertime – guilty), and found myself nodding in agreement with Dr. Pagoto’s solution of challenging ourselves to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Then the light bulb went off. THIS is why we started #WhyGetActive. Because most types of physical exertion of benefit are challenging and uncomfortable. And as humans, despite our deepest desires to be healthy and fit, we’re wired to ignore long term-outcomes for short-term rewards. That short-term discomfort is the uncomfortable water – the 30 minute run during which you loathe every minute you are freezing your way through dark streets. The late night spinning class you drag yourself through after a long day of work. We’re wired, as humans, to avoid that to our best ability, and it appears we’ve gotten quite good at it.

So how do you create a bridge over those waters? How do you go from hating that run to loving it? Dreading that spin class to anticipating it? I think the answer is: you remember why you’re there. I remember in college, during terrible power circuits and hill sprints, I used to remind myself over and over again why I was doing this: to be stronger, to jump thirteen feet, etc.

This works even on Capitol Hill. In June, we asked Members of Congress and their staff, at a Health Policy Fair hosted by the Congressional Fitness Caucus, “why do you get active?” And we realized that no one said “to treat my diabetes,” or “to lower by blood pressure”. The reasons weren’t clinical they were personal: “to relax and de-stress,” “to get conditioned for playing ice hockey” or as Congressman Ron Kind wrote “so I can practice football with my boys.“

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Of course, we realize that if goals were enough to get people through the discomfort, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It’s not about having the goals, it’s about remembering why you have them. And then saying it out loud, sharing it with the world as a reminder to yourself and inspiration to others. Let’s start talking about all the best reasons to pursue an active life, and maybe we’ll create that bridge over uncomfortable waters.

To share your reasons for pursuing an active life, tweet your reason using #WhyGetActive.

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