Exercise Intensity and Enjoyment: A Trade-Off
By Chuck Corbin, Arizona State University
The dropout rate for adults who begin a new physical activity is known to be relatively high. As many as 50 percent drop out within the first six months. Research suggests that one possible reason is that many people don’t enjoy vigorous physical activity. In fact, various researchers have suggested that, for many people, an inverse relationship exists between physical activity enjoyment and the intensity of exercise. This relationship is illustrated in the accompanying figure.
As the intensity of physical activity increases, the enjoyment of the exercise (while performing it) decreases. For many people, moderate activity is more enjoyable than vigorous activity. But reaping health benefits from moderate exercise requires longer sessions, and lack of time is often cited as a reason for not being active. High-intensity exercise can be done in a short period of time, but it is not enjoyable for many people, which can lead to lack of adherence. This is known as the intensity–enjoyment trade-off.
At first glance, the trade-off may cause some people to be discouraged about becoming more active: “If I have little time to exercise, I can do short-duration intense exercise, which may be unenjoyable. On the other hand, if I do less-intense exercise that I may find more enjoyable, it will take longer than the time I can spare.” But recent research suggests that not all people find vigorous activity to be unenjoyable. The key seems to be self-selection: If you choose the vigorous activity that you perform, you are more likely to enjoy it.
This information has implications for physical education, especially since helping students to be active in and out of school is an important program goal. To help increase student engagement, consider the following options:
- Educate Students about the intensity-enjoyment trade-off.
- Survey students to determine activities that they enjoy.
- Offer opportunities to participate in moderate activities to enhance enjoyment.
- Help students see the benefits of vigorous activities such as saving time during busy days.
Chuck practices what he preaches. After 45 years of teaching, researching, writing, and promoting regular healthy lifestyles, he walks, plays golf, does his own yard work, and does regular core and muscle fitness exercises. He enjoys playing his guitar as well as traveling with his wife of 56 years and being with his four granddaughters. Learn more about the books written by Chuck, including Fitness for Life and Health for Life resources.
- Review of Promoting Elementary School Physical Activity
- Human Kinetics Acquires PE Central Online School
- School-Based Promotion of Children's Physical Activity
- Live Well: Middle School Health Correlations to National and State Standards
- Live Well: Reproductive and Sexual Health
- Teaching the Nuts and Bolts of PE