Everyone says “I need to exercise more.” Including me. I always feel good after any amount of exercise, even if I don’t sweat. Sometimes I’m just moving my limbs enough to get blood flowing to body parts stiff from sitting for hours, or to oxygenate and refresh my foggy brain.
My home gym is a work in progress, started last year when fitness facilities closed from Covid-19. I don’t have tons of space, like most people, and am not yet willing to spend thousands on a Peloton or other high-end piece of equipment—I worry that these pricey contraptions will need special maintenance, or more likely that I’ll get bored of them. Instead, I’ve been relying on a bunch of YouTube workout videos, with basic exercise equipment like a good cushioned exercise mat, yoga mat, stability ball, dumbbells and resistance bands. I also have an inexpensive rowing machine that I’d recommended to a client, but which she didn’t like, so I felt guilty and bought it from her. Home exercise is gradually integrating into my everyday life, and in future posts I’ll be sharing some reviews of videos I’ve found very helpful.
I wanted to cite this insightful read about exercise motivation (or lack of) that came out last week “How to make exercise happen,” written by Daniel Lieberman. It sheds light on why so many of us struggle to exercise even though we know it’s good for us…
“We need to grapple with the problem that engaging in voluntary physical activity for the sake of health and fitness is a bizarre, modern, and optional behavior. Like it or not, little voices in our brains help us avoid physical activity when it is neither necessary nor fun.”
Even though exercise at first may not feel good or fun, Lieberman encourages that eventually we can rewire our brains so that it becomes satisfying. I wanted to tackle some common exercise excuses, and am well-aware that excuses are often code words for, “I just really don’t want to do this!” But I’m hoping the tips below might boost motivation a bit…and no judgements, as these statements have escaped from my mouth too!
- It doesn’t feel good. Exercise isn’t supposed to feel like a lovely stroll on the beach. The purpose of exercise is to challenge your muscles, including your heart which is a big muscle. For the most health benefits, you have to move your body at an intensity and duration that might not feel great. You should be huffing and puffing at times, maybe sweating, and your muscles might feel strained. It will feel a little uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it, it’s just a different type of enjoyment…maybe it’s exhilaration from realizing what your body can do, getting a rush of energy from great music if you’re doing a dance workout, or relishing in accomplishing a fitness goal you set. That said, if you’re feeling physical signs like lightheadedness or a really fast heart beat that doesn’t improve when you stop exercising, chest pains, or sudden sharp pains in any body part, then you should stop and talk with your doctor.
- It’s too hard. Exercise shouldn’t feel impossible: for example if you’re brand new to exercising, you might not want to choose a CrossFit or Tabata workout. But you also shouldn’t be able to breeze through the workout. Like the first excuse, exercise should be challenging, so yes it might feel hard at first. If you can stick with it, guaranteed you will get stronger and it won’t feel as hard anymore. At that point, you may even need to change the workout, because you always want to be challenging your muscles and body to new levels. In an upcoming post, I’ll address issues of not being able to keep up or perform certain movements during an exercise class or online workout.
- I don’t have time. You can make time for anything that is important enough. Nowadays, many YouTube exercise videos are only 20-30 minutes, and one of my YouTube playlists is 10-15 minute workouts. Even if you do 10 minutes of focused exercise a day, that is better than zero. One common thing I hear from patients is that they don’t perform any focused exercises but they do housework or walk around in their home. That’s great and is an important part of daily physical activity (because being sedentary is an independent health risk), but to see greater health benefits that change your metabolism and cardiovascular and mental health, you have to perform focused structured exercise…any activity that significantly raises your heart rate and keeps it there, even if you just start with 10 minutes a day.
- I have a bad knee. It’s important to protect injured body parts, as well as to perform an exercise regimen that is safe if you have medical conditions. But sometimes experiencing a little knee or back pain becomes an excuse to not move at all. Or I hear, “I’m waiting for the pool to reopen.” There is an exercise option for every medical condition, and talking with your doctor first is always smart. Chair exercises that are non-weight-bearing on the legs can be used with knee pain (there are many free online videos for this format). A physical therapist or exercise trainer can help you to create a safe workout with trickier conditions like back pain, fibromyalgia, or balance issues. If you have a weak body part, it’s important to strengthen the muscles and joints surrounding it. If not, those muscles will atrophy from disuse, increase strain when you try to move, and worsen your pain levels.
- I don’t have any equipment. You don’t need a treadmill or stationary bicycle to get an effective workout. And to be honest, if you did, you will likely get bored of it at some point. It’s best to have several exercise options. Below are some basic exercise items that can supplement an exercise routine. I especially love the mat, which is 1-inch thick providing a lot of cushioning, so I can hop or jump on it without needing to wear sneakers. I’ve included links where you can purchase the stability ball and mat. The dumbbells and resistance bands are available on Amazon or in any Target or Walmart.
I’ll follow-up soon with posts on reviews of free online workouts. Have you settled into an exercise routine that is enjoyable and satisfying?