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How to motivate ourselves to adhere our exercise regime during the pandemic?

In the fourth wave of the pandemic, many people may need to resume stricter social distancing measures, such as working from home or studying from home. In the face of all the uncertainties and stressors in the pandemic, we all agree that regular physical exercise is beneficial for our physical and mental health. In fact, research showed that people with regular exercising regime are less likely to experience negative affect associated with stress reactivity. These individuals have less neuroendocrine and autonomic responses to stressors compared to those who do not exercise.

If it is a common sense that physical exercise is beneficial, why many people cannot stick to their exercise regime? As in the concept of reinforcement, people are more likely to repeat ones’ activity if the completion of such activity induce positive affect. The likelihood of a person experiencing positive affect after exercise depends on one’s fitness level and the intensity of the activity. One of the indicators of one’s fitness level is ventilatory threshold. This is a point at which the breathing rate is disproportionately faster than the increase intake of oxygen being consumed. Another indicator is the lactate threshold. This is the point at which lactic acid begins to accumulate in the blood and the body is forced to a switch to anaerobic respiration. These two thresholds are related to the individuals’ physical fitness. Research showed that the physical exercise is experienced as pleasurable when one is exercising below these two thresholds. When a person is exercising above these two thresholds, one experiences a shift from positive affect to negative affect.

Furthermore, those who tend to be seeking high arousal state or reward are more likely to experience higher level of positive affect during physical exercise than those who tend to seek low arousal state or avoiding pain. If an individual obtains a higher level of mastery and autonomy in physical activity, one is more likely to experience positive affect during the exercise.

Positive affect during and after physical exercise is related to the adherence to one’s exercise program. In fact, research showed that positive affective response to moderate intensity exercise predicted adherence to an exercise regime up to one year. In view of this, if we want to start a new exercise regime during work from home or study from home in the fourth wave of the pandemic, we need to start with doing exercises that induce positive affect instead of targeting on our maximum heart rate target zones. If the exercising program is too vigorous and surpassing our ventilatory and lactate thresholds, one will experience negative affect and this may lead to a dropout from the regime.

Basing on the concept of positive reinforcement, we may design our exercise regime according to our fitness level so that the activity is pleasurable. In the face of the fourth wave of the pandemic, let us be creative in planning our physical exercise regime to obtain both physical health benefit and long lasting enjoyment.

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