It’s common knowledge that exercise is good for us. It’s good for our bodies and it’s good for our minds so why do so many people not do it? This article may be a bit of tough love for those of you who are not already exercising or for anyone who has ever said “I hate working out”. My missions is convince you that you can enjoy exercise and that it's worth the effort.
I think it comes down to mindset really. People think that exercising is hard, and it is! But it’s worth it. It also doesn’t have to be hard. You don’t have to drag yourself to the gym and torture yourself doing a spin class (that sounds awful to me) or running 5 miles until you feel sick. There are a million ways to exercise and all it takes is finding one that suits you. Do you love The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones? If so, you never miss an episode. If you find an exercise you love, you’ll never miss a workout.
The problem people have with exercising, in my opinion, is that they think about it wrong. There are so many excuses people have come up with to not exercise and most of them are not based on fact. They are excuses, not reasons.
It’s Not About Losing Weight
Exercise is not just a mechanism to lose weight. There was an article I read, that I now can’t find, where an overweight mum decided to get in shape and started going to the gym. She wrote about the fact that when she got there, the gym was full of skinny people exercising. She couldn’t understand this. They were already skinny, why on earth would they be slogging away at the gym? And where were all the fat people? Apparently, this is not an uncommon query.
Hopefully by now, I’ve managed to get across all of the awesome benefits of exercising that are not linked to weight loss. Actually, 70%-80% of weight loss is your diet. Exercise is a great tool in losing weight, but it’s not the only way to do it. If you told me you wanted to lose weight and could only change one thing, I'd recommend changing your diet, not your exercise. You shouldn’t torture yourself with exercise just to be thinner. You should do it to be better, stronger, healthier.
Exercise Is Too Hard
It’s true that exercise is hard work. It causes stress to your body, it makes you huff and puff and sweat and it can hurt for days afterwards. That is, if you go hard core on it. It doesn’t always have to be that way. Exercise can be a walk in the park. Literally. You can go to the park and walk around it and it counts. Running around after your kids for the afternoon counts as exercise. Soft play is a great workout! How about a bike ride with the family to go have a picnic when the weather is nice? There are loads of simple ways you can add exercise into your life and see the benefits of it without hating every minute and without it being difficult.
You Don’t Have To Join A Gym
Personally, I love going to the gym. I’m in a place where there are no distractions and nothing else to do but to work out. I enjoy lifting weights and testing my stamina on the treadmill. I like it much better than running outside because I can gauge my progress. There’s no way for me to slow down a bit if I get tired. I can set goals based on time or distance that are easy to measure. But it’s not for everyone. Especially if you’re just starting to exercise, the gym can be an intimidating place to start and more so if you’re there on your own.
As a 5 foot, 52kg female, I understand how scary the free weights areas are. Asking that dude who is literally double my size and who just benched more than I weigh as a warm up if he’s done with the weights gets me some funny looks. Recently a guy left me the squat rack with 60kg still on it above my head. I had to get him to come back and take them down. I’ve just been going long enough and know enough gym rats that I’m confident those guys think like I do. They're impressed with anyone turning up and trying their best, they're not judging me.
However, as I said, you don’t have to join a gym. You can take up swimming or outdoor walking / running. Try cycling or horse riding or climbing. Find something that you look forward to doing in your free time and it’ll be so easy you won’t even realise you’re exercising.
How To Get Started
Now that we’ve established that exercise is not too hard, not just for overweight people and not a form of torture, it’s time to get started exercising. Even if you’re not entirely convinced, you’re still reading this. So you must at least understand that exercise is something that will improve your life.
Some Tough Love
Sometimes, we just have to do things that we don’t always like doing. For example, I eat vegetables because they’re good for me. I like raw carrots, sweet potatoes and pickled artichokes. That’s literally it. I hate many, many vegetables but there are some that I’ll tolerate and I eat them out of principle. Exercise can be like that to start off with. It’s good for you so just get your grown up pants on and go do it.
There comes a point in growing up that we just have to accept doing things we don’t like, such as going to work until you can come up with another way of making money, eating vegetables and working out. You don’t have to enjoy exercise from day one. Day one will suck. You just have to get through day 2 and day 10 and day 45 until you find the thing that you’ll look forward to doing. In the meantime, suck it up, stop complaining and get sweating.
Find Ways To Get Through It
Apparently, some people are genetically predisposed to disliking exercise. The pain tolerance of these people is lower than those who get euphoria from exercising. However, your genes only get away with 50% of the blame. You can rewire your brain to enjoy exercise by making it a non-optional habit. I think I might even be one of those people, I reach my ventilatory threshold quickly with cardio exercises like running and cooking tires me out. I go sit down afterwards. But I prioritise my workout and find a way to make it work for me.
If I go running, I take music or a podcast. I can’t do it without a distraction. I get bored and tired quickly, but I learned this and I make sure I have a distraction with me. Music is a great way to keep yourself motivated. Make a playlist of workout songs and pick something upbeat while you exercise. It really gets you through that tough spot at the end.
If you have a competitive nature, set yourself challenges. I always try and add 100 meters onto my run or do it in less time that the last attempt. For weights, I try and do more than before, either more reps or more weight. Try to beat yourself every week or if you have an equally competitive friend, find something to do together and challenge each other.
You can download a fitness app or get an activity tracker to record your progress. I love my Jawbone Up that tracks my steps and active minutes. I get a little obsessed with it actually, but it keeps me moving and trying to hit my step goals. When I had a FitBit, the group challenges were highly motivational in making sure I stayed active as well.
Change Your Mindset
How you think about things influences how you feel and react to things. Our thoughts and internal dialogue play a huge role in our lives, it’s just not talked about much. When you think “I hate exercise”, stop and be more specific. What is it that you hate about exercise? Do you hate getting sweaty and out of breath? In that case, find an exercise that won’t do this to you. Take up weightlifting where you get take breaks between your sets and don’t strain your cardiovascular system so much. Or try swimming or yoga that work your whole body without torturing you like running does. There are a millions forms of exercise, so don’t do something you hate. Enjoy exercise by finding one that feels good for you.
It’s Not About Weight Loss
I recently had a conversation with someone who said that a friend of theirs at work could have an awesome body if she just worked out a bit. Firstly, I scolded him for commenting on a woman’s body like that, but then we got into discussing why she didn’t exercise. Girls learn young that being sporty is for boys. Boys are encouraged to run and play and climb trees, while girls are more protected from these things.
I see examples of it in families all around me, even in the case of twins with modern, forward thinking parents. It’s so inherent in us that we don’t even notice it. Women are later taught that exercising is to be thin. When we go to the gym 5 days in a week and run and sweat and suffer and lose ONE POUND! it’s just not worth it. Then comes the plateau, where your body has adapted to the calorie deficit it’s now in and starts using less calories overall to maintain itself (clever, eh?). The torture just isn’t worth the (lack of) reward.
Even as a person who spent more than a decade doing sports, it never occurred to me to use the gym to shape my body. I went to keep my weight down, to keep my stamina up and to maintain my flexibility. I always thought that the shape you had was the shape you’d have. The only changes were that it got rounder or slimmer. Only in the last few years of lifting weights have I discovered that I can shape certain parts of my body with the exercises that I do. That’s been a fun experiment!
It Just Makes You Better
More than body image, exercise is an overall improvement on life. By exercising, I can lift and carry things at work that other people think are too heavy. I walk an hour home every day and barely notice the effort. I feel strong and confident in my body, knowing that it can do the things I need it to. My heart is healthy; my resting heart rate is low and my cardio recovery is fast, I sleep well and I feel good. These are all things that are worth putting a little effort into.
Exercise is also a keystone habit. A keystone habit has a ripple effect on your other behaviours. When you exercise, you tend to drink more water during it. After a while, you start eating differently. You discover ways to eat that augment your workouts and you realise that you don't even want junk food because it'll undo the effort that you put in exercising. You start taking better care of yourself overall.
I've seen this recently with my mum, who has fought with her weight all of my life and well before that. She joined slimming world and seems to have found a sustainable way to lose some weight, eat better and be healthier. From here, she started to dress better. She pays a bit more attention to her outfit and appearance instead of trying to hide in oversized, dark clothes. She now wears cerise leggings! And the last time I went home, I noticed a big difference in the house. It was tidier than usual and she'd bought a few new things to decorate with. The kitchen had new flooring and the bathroom had been painted. Now that she feels better about her weight, she started taking better care of herself in other aspects of life as a chain reaction. This is the difference exercise makes to your life.
Exercise Is Not A Punishment
Exercise has so many health benefits, from improving our heart to reducing inflammation to protecting our memories. We shouldn’t use it as a punishment for eating the amazing Bailey’s Haggendazs ice cream. We should think of exercise as a positive part of our day. It’s a chance to unwind after work or set up your day and make sure you’re productive. And if life gets in the way and we miss a workout, then ok. Just go tomorrow and get back to the routine. Don’t feel guilty that you didn’t make it. Take the day off if you need it. Once exercise is a positive part of your routine, you’ll get back to it naturally. A few days or even a few weeks off won’t make a long term difference.
Set Goals And Give Rewards
Do not set weight related goals! In case you’ve missed the underlying message in this post, exercising is not about losing weight. Set goals that show your progress and track them. Seeing progress is going to be the biggest motivator of all. Challenge yourself to go further or faster or heavier than you did before. Set a target and work towards it. You could even sign up for an event, like a marathon or Tough Mudder or national competition to keep you focused. Having short term goals will keep us pushing. Not having a heart attack in 40 years is just a bit too abstract for me to really work as motivation with it’s 6:00am, still dark and pouring with rain outside.
When you hit these goals, give yourself a well deserved reward. I love buying new gym clothes for each accomplishment. Something that I have learned just recently is not to use food as a reward. I would often decide after a long day or week that pizza would be awesome tonight. Or after a great workout, I had earned ice cream that day. I think everyone does this to some extent and this is a topic for a later post after some more research, but food is fuel. It’s not good or bad. There should be no emotional reaction to it. Just like exercise is not a punishment, food it not a reward. Find something different, but make sure you celebrate your accomplishments.
Finding your ideal workout may take some time. You may need to try several different things before you discover that one thing you enjoy. I hated physical education at school and would avoid it as often as possible, but I fell in love with karate and it all stemmed from there. Just keep looking and you'll find it. You may also need to shift how you think about exercise and this can take some work. I promise though, that it’s worth it. I couldn’t live without exercise in my life now, I’d go insane! You just have to learn to enjoy exercise and it’ll change everything.
If, after reading this, you're still struggling to think of ANYTHING to do that you won't hate, get in touch with me and we can work through it together. I guarantee we'll find something to make you happier and healthier.