Iowa State researcher investigates need for intrinsic rewards in exercise

Intrinsic rewards are essential for people to form workout habits.
Intrinsic rewards are essential for people to form workout habits. | File photo
Iowa State University assistant professor of psychology Alison Phillips recently published research on the need for intrinsic rewards in developing an exercising habit, as opposed to cues or external rewards.
“If someone doesn’t like to exercise it’s always going to take convincing,” Phillips said. “People are more likely to stick with exercise if they don’t have to deliberate about whether or not to do it.”
While external rewards, such as weight loss, are excellent motivation for a person to being a workout regimen, they are typically not enough to develop a a long-term habit. Instead, Phillips found that intrinsic rewards, such as physiological benefits from endorphins or simply enjoying time spent with a friend, are necessary for people to form habits such that they do not debate whether or not they should exercise when given a cue.
“What we’re aiming for is lifestyle change and interventions to date have not achieved these long-term lifestyle changes,” Phillips said. “There are fairly simple strategies that have not yet been tried to help people develop exercise habits for life. Although the strategies may be easy, implementing and sticking to them may prove quite difficult. It may be a classic high-risk, high-reward endeavor.”

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