How to make your workout as fun as a video game, according to behavioral scientists - NPR, September
Elizabeth Lyons of the University of Texas Medical Branch says some people love video games because there's a lot of unpredictability and surprise.
Lyons tries to mimic these characteristics in her own fitness game designs. As part of her research, she created a Facebook page to help motivate older women in Galveston, Texas, to go for daily walks. To keep the participants on their toes, she posts fun challenges on the page. For example, she asks the women to take a photo of something on their walk that looks like a book cover — or mark off as many different kinds of trees as possible from a checklist she shares in advance. In response, the participants share photos and comments to the Facebook post with updates of what they've discovered along their walks.
"A lot of the things we've been trying to do with [the] challenges is to bring back a sense of childlike wonder," she says – kind of like what you get when you're exploring a video game world for the first time.
You can recreate this sense of whimsy in your own exercises, says Lyons. Take photos of at least 5 different flowers on your neighborhood walk. Ride your bike from one friend's house to another. Beat your personal record to the peak of a trail run.
And remember, says Lyons — every moment of playful engagement — active or not — is a victory. If exercise, even for a few minutes, makes you feel "slightly happy or fulfilled or adds some kind of meaning to your life, that's great."