Your Opportunity to Move: The Chance of a Lifetime of Pleasure

   “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…in the most delightful way.” 

                                                                                  Mary Poppins

I recently initiated quick email correspondence with Michelle Segar, Ph.D., shortly after researching her recent work on the way to help all of us love exercise.   She responded, encouraging me to read her book and then let her know what I thought of it. The book  is thorough, solidly conceptualized, and clearly stated.  There are easy figures to illustrate her major concepts.

But, because the book is so well done, many of our clients will not get through it.  They, like I, can be lazy readers, and are more likely to skim the pages until something interesting jumps out.  So that is what I did: I started my exploration of the book by skimming  the pages for treasures, and soon came on three letters, O, T, and M.  Put them together into OTM and you have the brilliantly simple concept of  your Opportunity to Move. .  Dr. Segar, who directs the Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Centerat the University of Michigan, extols the virtues of our innate opportunity to move through space or water at our own will and in our own way.  Taking this concept to its logical completion we begin to understand the vast importance of her thinking.   She suggests viewing physical activity as a power source for everything else you want to accomplish. “What sustains us, we sustain,” she wrote.

Some of us,  like my granddaughters, love to move through space by doing cartwheels.  The joy of turning themselves upside down on sand, grass, or carpet  is equaled only by the pure joy of crashing against the waves during our many ocean swims each summer. If both are denied them, they will settle for biking, running full tilt, or dancing without music. Recently I took them to a water park, where they were victorious over huge latex blow up obstacles placed on the bay in back of my office. Enticingly slippery, one after another preadolescent slipped off the obstacle course into the bay, laughing and hopping back up to fail the course again and again with pure delight. Some were successful, but the fun was in the moving, not the completion of the course.  Ava, 9, and Sara, 5, were among the youngest to conquer the challenge. They beamed with joy.

Given my own love of moving through space, this summer I set two goals for having fun at our summer beach cottage.  To make each workable, the activity had to be convenient and create pure joy inside me. On arising, I bicycle 10 miles each day, preferably around sunrise,  whenever time allows.   Later in the day, I try to jump into the bay in back of our cottage and swim for 30 minutes.   This combo achieves my goals of  having fun, feeling energized, sleeping  like a rock, and burning calories.  An hour on a bike often gives rise to a fresh column or book chapter, born of the rhythm of my movement to classical music from my cellphone app.  

It took little convincing to remind me that I exercise because I love to move, but I found that concentrating on the fun of it was a great reminder and actually enhanced the pleasure.   And in the process, I noted that I burned hundreds of calories.  But what I noticed more was that it was often the highlight of my day.   Arising at 5:30, I drink my mug of tea till the sun gets up, put earbuds into my ear, snap my bicycle helmet, climb on my treasured 1982 Peugeot women’s racer, and take off along the road to Stone Harbor.  My companions are herons and egrets,  black crows and seagulls hunting for breakfast.  I return invigorated and filled with new ideas. What could be better? 

“No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness,” has created quite a stir. A New York Times blog interview(Well, August 27, 2012 ) quotes  Dr Segar: “Health is not an optimal way to make physical activity relevant and compelling enough for most people to prioritize in their hectic lives,”  The more people try to motivate themselves to exercise because it is good for them, the less successful they are likely to be. The neuropsychology of the explanation is simple: We humans do what we love more readily than what we think is smart.  Or, as the preeminent psychologist Mary Poppins, told us many decades ago, “Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, in the most delightful way.” In fact, those of us who try to take our medicine called exercise, tend to fail miserably.  Segar’s research review reminds us that the more we force our self to exercise for our health, the less time we actually spend exercising. My hunch is that many of our older clients who struggle to exercise feel so guilty they go to the fridge to plump up  their sorrows with sugar, rather than getting on the treadmill they purchased for the TV room. 

Segar continues:  “I like to think of physical activity as a way to revitalize and renew ourselves, as fuel to better enjoy and succeed at what matters most.  She encourages us that everything counts” and that we are wise to enjoy exercise “snacks,” short periods of movement.  In her book she states, “We should count any and every opportunity to move that exists in the space of our lives as valid movement worth doing,”   

Dr. Segar suggests fitting the physical activity to our moods and time available What I choose on a given day is influenced by what is available, easy ,and seems like fun. On a rainy day, I gravitate towards  taking a ride on my treasured Pilates reformer.  And if I do what I love, my nervous systems tellsme to do it again soon. I have created a positive reward chain, plain and simple. Neuropsychology informs us that we repeat what we love to do. 

As research has stated, many of our clients have trouble giving themselves permission to take the time to exercise so they must learn to give themselves permission to make self-care through physical activity a priority. Instead, they serve others in their family lives or their careers or both. What helps them is the acceptance of the truth of the “paradox of self-care,” Dr. Segar states, “The more energy you give to caring for yourself, the more energy you have for everything else.” 

At times, to help clients learn, I become their coach and cheerleader.  I become the Mary Poppins of the Neuropsychology team, I am delighted to be able to send clients to the simply stated, complex ideas in the thinking of Dr. Michelle Segar.  And since a spoonful of sugar really does help the medicine go down, they usually find wisdom  and fun in taking every advantage of their opportunity to move. Might you?

To Consider: How can your entire life be buoyed by inserting the movement you love to do into your days?  Why not try it?  You may just be absolutely delighted that you did.

To Read: “No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. Michelle  Segar, PhD, A.T.M


Norris Clark