We've heard 'em all. We've used 'em all. The many, many excuses about why we can't and don't exercise: I don't have time. I don't have the money. I can't do it. I don't feel like it. I don't know how to do it. It hurts. The cat ate my gymsuit. The dog ate my running shoes. I'm too tired. I haven't sweat since 1978. And the grand-daddy of them all: I just really, really hate exercise.
"Usually the number-one reason people don't want to exercise is time," confirms Jennifer Huberty, Ph.D., an associate professor at Arizona State University and the founder of FitMinded, a unique program that uses a book club format to encourage physical activity in women. "The second reason is motivation and the third reason is guilt." That one was new to us, so we asked Dr. Huberty to explain: Women in particular have trouble prioritizing themselves and feel guilty taking time for themselves to work out, she says.
Excuses can be powerful. Most of us have used the same ones all our lives, after all. They're familiar, comfortable, much like that butt-shaped dent in the sofa. Probably nobody challenges you when you use your favorite reason-why-I-can't. After all, this is a tired joke we've all heard a million times: It's accepted, even funny, to hate exercise. We revile fitness nuts (even while we admire athletes). We joke about how much workouts hurt (and they do) and how boring they are (and they can be) and we resent that it takes time away from TV, food, sleep, drinking—basically everything worth living for.
But we have to ask: How is the excuse factory working out for you?
Maybe, just maybe, it's time to consider another way of thinking. Hold the phone. You don't have to do anything, yet. To start, just consider what you might do if you were, say, to consider trying to exercise and trying to hate it less.
While you ponder that, here's some help from Dr. Huberty. We asked her this: Is there anything that we know—from, you know, science—that makes it more likely someone will be able to stick to regular exercise? Anything that might make it easier to do over time (it's always going to suck at the beginning, when you're first getting back into shape) and a tiny bit less boring? Anything that might make us succeed at it?
Yep, she said, definitely. "There are a few things: One is monitoring yourself. If you're monitoring your behavior it can give you an idea of how little you're doing," she explains. So before you even take on, say, a 15-minute walk around your neighborhood after dinner, just put on a low-tech gadget to see where you're at to start. "Wear something like a pedometer or a Fitbit for a week," says Dr. Huberty. "It puts it all into perspective." You've probably heard of the goal of walking 10,000 steps a day—a combination of all your walking throughout a given day, which may or may not include a "workout."
Dr. Huberty stresses that we should all make a note about what we did soon after finishing. "You have to remember that there are limitations to recall—to what you think you did," she stresses. "It's the same concept with nutrition. If we don't do it in the moment, we forget; we forget about the Hershey's kiss we ate when we walked by someone's desk; it's the same thing with physical activity." She adds that you should definitely also write down things that may not even feel like physical activity, like gardening or going for a walk with friends: It all counts. (And believe it or not, you don't need to hate something for it to be exercise.)
If you find that after a week of wearing a pedometer you're averaging 1,000 steps a day, that's a wake-up call. If you don't want to use a gadget or app, you can simply write down in a notebook or note on your phone what you did each day—minutes you walked, sets or reps you did, what type of activity you did, etc.
Also key, says Dr. Huberty, who is an advisor to ih8exercise.com, is learning to set goals correctly. "That sets you up for success and is another way to maintain exercise," she says. After all, it's a lot easier to keep going if you can see that you're already achieving something.
Too often, people who haven't exercised in a very long time—maybe since they were kids or teenagers—start with a goal that is too big (like running a marathon) or too big AND too vague (like losing 20 pounds). It's better to start with something manageable and specific. "A good example is, 'I'm going to exercise three days a week,'" says Dr. Huberty. "If after a week you've done it, you feel confident. You can do it again and again." From there, you can build up to add other goals. (If you're looking for a goal to set, choose one of the four ih8exercise.com goals, which range from starting a walking program to completing a sprint triathlon.)
One point that Dr. Huberty likes to hammer home is that to be successful with regular physical activity everyone needs some form of support. "You have to ask for what you need" from the people around you, she says. That's not so easy for everyone to do, and you may not even be sure what to ask for. Maybe your favorite yoga class is at 4 P.M., so if you go that means dinner won't be ready until 6 P.M., though your family is used to eating at 5. So you may need to tell them that a few nights a week dinner will be an hour later, or they're on their own to eat. Or it may be that you and your partner need to talk over allotting $70 a month to a gym membership, or to four-times-a-week boot camp sessions. If you're cleaning up your diet as you start to exercise more, you may need support keeping processed foods out of the house, or at least out of sight.
Ultimately, though, you'll have to figure out what your real barriers are. The ones above are common to a lot of us, but you'll also have obstacles that make it harder for you to simply make regular physical activity a realistic part of your life. "One of the major things we do with the women we work with in FitMinded is get them to be specific about the barriers they have," says Dr. Huberty. "Every woman is different. Then we teach them strategies to handle that. It's very individualistic in that sense; your view is probably different from mine."
Dr. Huberty says it's also key to figure out and stress the benefits of being active and come back to those again and again. "When you really look at the benefits [of exercise for you], when you hit a barrier you remember what it feels like to have that benefit. And it feels really good."
Here, again, are the five habits:
1. Monitor yourself. Keep a close eye on what you're doing or not doing. Adjust accordingly.
2. Set specific, achievable goals. Then set new ones as you achieve your old ones.
3. Find support. Life ruins plans all the time, so you'll need people and things that will make regular exercise a little easier to manage.
4. Be honest about what your real barriers are to exercising regularly. They're very individual.
5. Figure out what the benefits of exercise are for you. Remember them, so when the going gets tough, you can come back to why you're going to all this trouble in the first place.
What's your favorite exercise excuse? Did you overcome it? If so, how did you do it?
Photo by Martin Wessely