Mind Over Matter: Psychology & Exercise

Jul 27, 2011

Written By: Jessica Curfman, NC Personal Trainer @ O2 Fitness Falconbridge

Psychology is defined as the study of the mind and behavior and exercise is defined as any bodily activity that enhances or maintains physical fitness and overall health and wellness.  So how in the world do these two terms relate?  One can tie the two together by viewing exercise as a certain behavior many of us add to our everyday routine that needs extra attention and modification.

In Psychology, psychological theories are viewed as the foundation for behavioral change. One of the most important theories that can be used to encourage exercise adoption, maintenance, and improvement in exercise adherence is the learning theory.  Learning theories propose overall complex behavior arises from many small, simple behaviors. These theories propose that it is possible to shape a desired behavior by reinforcing “partial behaviors” and modifying cues in the environment.

Techniques from learning theories such as shaping, reinforcement and antecedent control can be used to increase adoption and maintenance of exercising.

3 Techniques from Learning Theories:

  • Shaping: involves setting a series of intermediate goals that lead to a long term goal.  This can be especially appropriate when initiating an exercise program
  • Reinforcement: is the positive or negative consequence for performing or not performing a behavior.  Positive consequences motivate behavior! These consequences can be viewed as rewards that can help motivate us. Rewarding ourselves when goals are accomplished is important. But be careful not to use food as a reward, in this instance we can be creating another bad habit and in the long run “punishing” ourselves!
  • Antecedent control: uses techniques that prompt the initiation of behavior Such prompts may include: Telephone reminders, packing a gym bag for the next day before going to bed, taking your gym clothes to work with you, scheduling time for exercise in one’s daily schedule and scheduling pop up reminders on the computer.

Now that we know exercise can be viewed as a behavior we should pay more attention to it and take the initiative to modify it when needed so we can adopt and maintain a life-long behavior!

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