What's Your Exercise Excuse?

Last Editorial Review: 4/15/2005

Forget excuses! Start a list of reasons why you want to exercise

By Jean Lawrence
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

When you see the phrase "excuses not to exercise," does a half-dozen of them jump into your head?

For some people, running away from the idea, leaping to conclusions about exercise, and diving into a chocolate sundae are the most activity they get in a day.

"Tsk, tsk," say doctors, editorial writers, and national nannies. They claim that being fat kills 822 Americans a day. That could equal the entire population of a small town in the Midwest. And obesity (everyone's favorite word) is just behind smoking as a cause of death.

Exercise also prevents or lowers the severity of diabetes and other serious ailments. Surprisingly, though, Jay Kimiecik, PhD, associate professor of exercise science at Miami University in Miami, Ohio, says trying to lose weight or prevent diseases should not be the reason you exercise.

You should exercise because it feels good!

"People don't exercise," Kimiecik maintains, "not because of the reasons they give, but because they haven't found a way to enjoy exercising. Most people have not taken the time to find out what makes them feel good. You like something if you become successful at it on your own terms."

Instead, what do we say to ourselves and others?

'I Don't Have Time'

According to Joan Price, MA, a fitness motivator, public speaker, and author of The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book, the most common excuse not to exercise is, "I don't have time."

Well, she asks, do you have time to be sick or disabled? Probably not. "Exercise gives you energy. It doesn't take it away. You gain time -- you can do everything else you need to do more quickly and with a clearer head."

Price points out that you don't need a big expedition to the gym or an all-day bike ride. "You can accumulate exercise minutes," she says, "not do it in one big chunk."

For example, if you are waiting at the copy machine, on hold, or at the car wash, you can do calf raises, desk pushups, or thigh presses. If you don't have to sit in your job, stand. If you don't have to stand still, pace back and forth.

"You can do squats anywhere," she says. "Other people don't have time, either, and won't take time to stare at you." Be sure not to throw stress onto the knees with these, she adds. Don't let your knees go forward and keep your weight on your heels.

Price also recommends parking your car near your last errand. Walk in between and when you are loaded with packages -- there's your car!

Of course, take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk up moving escalators, and in the store, take two hand-baskets instead of a cart.

'I Hate Exercise'

"You just hate what you think exercise has to be," Price says. "It doesn't have to be gyms, cardio machines, and that stuff." Think of exercise as activity. "Think back to what you loved doing as a child," she says. "Children never think of activity as exercise." How about skating, cycling, dancing? "Do it for fun!" she says. "Who has ever said, 'I hate walking on the beach'?"

"You don't have to wear Lycra and sweat," she promises.

"If you don't exercise now," Kimiecik agrees, "you need a physical and mental transformation to start." Instead of hating exercise or the idea of it, spend time thinking about what you want your body to do for you.

Ask yourself these three questions:

  • Do I want this body to carry me into old age, move around, travel, and not fall or become ill?
  • Do I want to feel on top of things mentally?
  • Can I become a success on my own terms and not compare myself to others?

"This is simple, but not easy," Kimiecik says. "You have to take time to think about it and feel it, rather than just saying, 'I hate exercise.'"

'I Am Too Tired'

"There is some research that shows that aerobic exercise melts away tiredness quickly and strength training (weights) gives you a more energetic feeling later," Price says. "I think anything that increases your circulation makes you feel more energetic."

The key is not to overdo. "Start small," Price says. Write down your goals and break them into steps and then break down one step into a manageable first step. Say your goal is to do aerobics four times a week. If you run out and do that, you may be too tired to keep it up. Instead -- first step -- decide whether you want to go on a treadmill, walk the dog three miles, or workout at home with a video. Or maybe you want to take tap dancing.

"If you don't use your muscles, you will lose them. And as you get older, you will lose them at a faster pace."

The first step, which won't leave you breathing hard, is to find a nearby studio. Next step, drop in, see what the classes are like. No great effort, no financial outlay. (If you are scoping out a gym, Price recommends going at the same time you would normally go. What's the crowd like, are overweight people welcome there? A gym should be, above all, convenient. Get the shortest contract you can, after checking it out on a day pass.) When you do decide on a studio or gym, Price says, tell yourself you will go so often they won't make a cent on you!

'I Have a Bad Back'

Some people do have physical limitations. Price recommends concentrating on the parts of you that do work. She had two terrible auto accidents, both of which damaged the same leg. She went to the gym and did everything she could do with one leg and two arms.

"By working out, I felt like less of a victim," Price says.

If you do have chronic knee, back, or shoulder problems, though, she recommends asking a trained physical therapist for appropriate ways to work out. In fact, WebMD, like all responsible authorities, recommends consulting a physician about your exercise program once you have sent the excuses packing.

'I Am Too Old'

Use it or lose it! "If you don't use your muscles, you will lose them -- and as you get older, you will lose them at a faster pace," Price says. "If you want to stay independent, you need to exercise."

Still, many people, especially women, she says, think that once you get past age 50, it's too late to make a difference in your health by exercising. An article in the May 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association, however, suggested that starting to exercise or pumping up a program at mid-life lengthens life spans of older women.

Almost 10,000 women were studied over 10 years. Compared with sedentary women, those who increased their physical activity had a 48% reduced risk of dying. What were the newly active women doing? Nothing so hard: They were walking. For the newly active women, 8.2 miles a week brought a positive change. For those stepping up their routines, the average was 9.3 miles a week. So it's truly never too late to become active.

'I Won't Look That Different'

"You can't really spot-reduce," Price says, "but you can tone, refine, and shape." Of course, aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart rate up, also burns fat and increases strength. You also burn fat at a more rapid pace afterward, even while sleeping or talking on the phone.

A recent study at Duke University Medical Center also showed that exercise can reduce harmful cholesterol in the blood weeks after you stop exercising, indicating that your body adapts to exercise and becomes more efficient and healthier. The more intense the exercise, the more lasting the results.

So, while you may not look 100% different, Price says, you will be different. And because of the effort, you may have a more positive feeling toward yourself when you catch a glimpse in the mirror.

'Exercise Will Interfere With Cocktail Hour'

Surely you don't need an expert to take that excuse apart. If you need unwinding time with friends, start making friends at the gym, spot each other on the machines, or walk with a buddy.

"Do something -- anything -- that gets you off your rocker!" exclaims Price. Off our rocker? What did she mean by that?

Kimiecik puts it more simply. The "shoulds" (to lose weight, prevent disease, live longer, feel better) are never as powerful as the excuses not to exercise and don't work for most people. You need to spend time thinking about why you personally want to exercise more. Make your own list of reasons to do it, rather than not to do it."

Originally published June 24, 2003
Medically updated July 13, 2004.

SOURCES: Jay Kimiecik, PhD., associate professor of exercise science, Miami University, Miami, Ohio. Joan Price, MA, fitness motivator, author, The Anytime, Anywhere Exercise Book. Price's website, www.joanprice.com. "Siccing Sam on Fat Foods," by Peter Aleshire, Arizona Republic, May 25, 2003.

©1996-2005 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors