YOU ARE YOUR OWN FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: Movement, Motivation and Mindset for Active Seniors

Energy Bite 188 – Homeostasis and the Psychology of Exercise

Have you ever wondered why some highly motivated people will stop an exercise program just as the benefits start occurring? Mostly it is because they have reached a plateau and they stop seeing an increase in those benefits. But there’s another reason why some people quit. It’s because of the phenomenon of Homeostasis.

Homeostasis is the tendency of the body to find equilibrium. When you think of Homeostasis, you normally think of things like body temperature, water balance and the other things that keep the human body functioning normally. The body regulates itself in much the same way as a thermostat regulates the temperature in a room. When the temperature starts to rise or fall, the thermostat activates to bring the room temperature to a predetermined norm.

But here’s another way of looking at it which may help explain why people stop exercising at the very time their bodies are beginning to adapt to the many benefits of a regular exercise routine or “practice”.

Homeostasis doesn’t like change. When change occurs, the body tries to revert back to where it was before the change, much like the thermostat I mentioned above. The body resists change. It doesn’t recognize whether the change is for the better or for worse. It just recognizes the change itself.

When you start an exercise program and your body starts to realize the positive changes being made, homeostasis causes it to resist those changes and sends up a series of alarm bells. You start to feel uncomfortable in ways that may discourage you, even though you know you are getting the benefits of those changes. In their book, The LIfe We are Given, the authors say, “After years without exercise, your body regards a sedentary style of life as ‘normal’, while the beginning of a change for the better is interpreted as a threat.” Resistance to the beneficial changes often results in a reluctance to continue, so you stop just as the benefits are kicking in. They add that “if you persist, you will soon find that it is easier to actually do the exercise program, than not to do it.

Interesting. I had never thought of it that way, even though I had read those passages several times before and had even underlined them and commented in the margin. It just hadn’t sunk in until I started thinking more about the psychology of intrinsic motivation just recently.

So, to summarize, just as the body has a built in regulator to keep body functions at a specific level (such as body temperature), when your body begins to improve with exercise, it physically tries to revert to it’s previous level of fitness and doesn’t like change. It sends out signals that something “isn’t right” and sometimes the signals are unpleasant, causing you to rethink the beneficial changes that are happening to your body. You simply stop the new program and revert back to what seems “normal”. Keep that in mind if you are new to exercise. Understand it, and keep on moving your body.

Thank you for reading.

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