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When I meet people for the first time and answer the “what do you do?” question with “I am a health and fitness coach,” people often get a panicked look in their eye. Then they blurt out something like, “I would love to run a marathon, but I have bad knees,” or, “I used to belong to a gym, but it got too expensive.” It’s as if they think I am silently judging them or I’m about to launch into a sales pitch and they need to stop me before I pull out my business cards. Whatever their motivation, they all seem to have an excuse—some of them more than one!
So, as a way of putting all my rebuttals in one location for posterity (and future reference), here is a list of my favorite excuses not to exercise and my response to each. Perhaps you can use these on your less than active friends or perhaps even (gasp) on yourself.
11 Common Exercise Excuses
- I’m Too Busy
- It’s Too Expensive
- I’m Too Tired
- I’m In Pain
- I Move Enough Already
- I Already Did My 10,000 Steps
- I Don’t Enjoy Exercising
- I’m Too Old
- I Have a Bad Back (or bad knees)
- I Am Too Fat
- I’m Already Skinny
Let’s look at each excuse a little closer.
1. I’m Too Busy
Yes, I get that you are busy. We all have too much on our plate. It’s even a badge of honor in many circles to be too busy to sleep. Heck, I don’t pretend to be the busiest person in the world, and I’ve even used this excuse. But I bet if you were to track how you use every minute of your day, you could find a spare 20 minutes. Probably more.
If we have time to check our phones every 6 minutes, surely we can get up and break a sweat occasionally.
There are some studies out there that show we check our smartphones 105 times per day. (Apple recently confirmed that its users alone unlock their phones an average of 80 times per day.) If we have time to check our phones every six minutes, surely we can get up and break a sweat occasionally too, right? It simply means we have to prioritize exercise. When you say you are too busy to exercise, you are really saying, “I don’t put a priority on my health.”
2. It’s Too Expensive
If you are someone who still thinks that the only way to get fit is to join an expensive gym, buy a bunch of fancy equipment, or hire a personal trainer, then you haven’t been paying attention. There are heaps of articles in the Get-Fit Guy catalog explaining that all you truly need is your body and some inspiration. And perhaps an old pair of shorts.
When I was a poor student, I used to go for a run in some old Chuck Taylors I picked up at a garage sale, a pair of bermuda shorts that my mom bought me, and any ratty T-shirt that I found in my laundry pile. It wasn’t pretty but I got the job done—for close to free!
3. I’m Too Tired
It’s like the old saying, “You have to spend money to make money.” Having energy to work out can be viewed the same way: you have to use energy to make energy. There are two benefits that exercise can bestow on your energy level. Exercise boosts your body’s fitness level and it also boosts your mood, both of which contribute to an overall boost in energy levels.
Both of the exercise groups had a 65 percent increase in overall energy levels compared to the control group.
In a study at the University of Georgia, researchers looked at whether exercise can be used to treat fatigue. They had 36 volunteers, all of whom were not regular exercisers and complained of persistent fatigue, perform either 20 minutes of moderate-intensity or low-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for six weeks. There was also a third control group that did not exercise. In the end, both of the exercise groups had a 65 percent increase in energy levels compared to the control group. Did you notice that there wasn’t even a high-intensity group? Once again, going for a brisk walk is all it takes.
4. I’m In Pain
Ok, this excuse does have some merit if you are injured or dealing with some chronic pain. There are some pains that you do not want to “push through.” This coach does not believe in “no pain, no gain” but most injuries can be managed appropriately with some workout modification, specific movement adaptations, or by simply choosing a different mode of exercise.
If you are dealing with chronic pain you may also want to consider the possibility that your current inactive lifestyle is the main thing that is actually contributing to, or perhaps even causing, the chronic pain. A 2008 study showed that in individuals who exercised more than three times per week, chronic musculoskeletal pain was 28% less common compared to inactive individuals.
5. I Move Enough Already
This was my excuse for a while too. I worked in an old building with many floors, very few washrooms, and only one extremely slow elevator. I like to keep myself well hydrated so you can see where I am going with this.
I hear this excuse from new parents and people who work in the service industry. Don’t get me wrong, if you have an active job or lifestyle that keeps you on your feet then you are doing better than a lot of people out there. But there is still something mentally and emotionally rewarding about focusing on your body through your own dedicated workout, and not simply getting some movement as a byproduct of having hyper kids, a slavedriver boss, or having to take four flights of stairs every time you have to pee.
6. I Already Did My 10,000 Steps
Let me say it right now: I am not a fan of the 10,000 steps craze. First, there’s nothing magic about the number 10,000, except that it very roughly approximates 150 minutes of physical activity per week that your doctor hounds you about. Second, having that finite 10k goal gives us a reason to check “exercise” off our to-do list and hit the couch, even if we still have a spring in our step and a smile on our face.
If a step counter helps you stay motivated or leads you to be more consistent with your movement practice, that’s great. But don’t let it limit you! If 10,000 steps has been your daily average for a while now, it is at least time to increase your step target (increasing by 10% each week is a good goal) or better yet, look for other ways to be a mobile citizen.
7. I Don’t Enjoy Exercising
I tried a large variety of activities and different sports before I found something that really “fit” for me too.
At the heart of so many of these excuses is the opinion: Exercise isn’t fun. It’s boring. It’s uncomfortable. It feels like a punishment. You know what I say to that? Are you sure you have tried it all?
Believe me, I tried a variety of activities and sports before I found something that really “fit” for me too. It took me a while to figure it out and, like an ever-moving target, it keeps changing. For a while I loved running, then I rediscovered playing hockey, then I did nothing but triathlon, then you couldn’t keep me out of the pool, then I tried some obstacle courses, and now I am addicted to lifting heavy stuff. All the while I stood at my desk, walked or rode my bike to work, and carried my groceries in a backpack.
There are so many options to choose from. Don’t let your preconceived notions of how boring it is to pump iron or how strange you feel taking a yoga class stop you from digging into an evening frisbee game, a lunch hour Zumba class, an evening LARP (Live Action Role Playing) game. Or try some parkour, aerial yoga, gardening, booty ballet, volunteer to babysit your friend’s 9-year-old, learn to juggle, try urban hiking, speed errands, or good old Dance Dance Revolution! The list is literally endless.
8. I’m Too Old
As I examined in an article on the benefits to lifting heavy things, no one is too old to exercise. Depending on your age, mobility, and health, you may have to consult an expert first, but as we just covered, there are so many forms of exercise to choose from, ranging from low impact, to high intensity, to purely mobility, to balance, all the way to strength training. There are even classes specifically designed for kids or seniors that you can enroll in to get some expert help and guidance. A great place to start looking for classes that fit your age and ability is your local YMCA or city-run fitness centres.
9. I Have a Bad Back (or Bad Knees)
Bed rest for more than a day or two can actually undermine healing.
This is a tricky one. But unless your doctor actually tells you to just lay in bed (which I haven’t heard since the 1990s), then engaging in activity is very often the best way to keep your back (or knees) limber, strong, and pain-free. Dr. Ullrich, an orthopedic spine surgeon and medical director of Spine-health, says, “Bed rest for more than a day or two can actually undermine healing.” And that’s in reference to some pretty extreme cases.
When done correctly, exercises for relieving back or knee pain can:
- Strengthen the muscles that support the painful area;
- Alleviate stiffness and improve mobility;
- Improve circulation to the area;
- Release endorphins which naturally relieve pain;
- Minimize the frequency of painful episodes.
10. I Am Too Fat
A study in 2000 sought to pinpoint perceptions of being ‘too fat’ as a barrier to physical activity. It categorized the results by gender and body mass index. 2,298 average Australians were surveyed and researchers found 4.4% of respondents reported that being too fat was a barrier to physical activity. This was more common among women (6.2%), and among the obese (22.6%). I bring this study up to reassure you that you are not alone. But I am here to tell you that no matter what number you see on a scale, you can do something today to begin the process of improving your health.
Please don’t fall into the trap of believing that exercise may be dangerous for you because you think it has to hurt or make you sweaty and out of breath to be effective. Beginning an exercise program is often a matter of simply moving more. It doesn’t need to be a difficult class in the gym or excessive time spent lifting weights. Start small and work your way up to more intensity and volume in activity only when you’re ready to do so. Mentally and physcially.
11. I’m Already Skinny
Ok folks. As a general rule, we really have to stop confusing and melding exercise into one lump with weight loss. They are not intrinsically linked. There are so many health and wellness benefits we get from exercise (that I will list in a minute) and weight loss is only one—and honestly, it is the smallest one as well.
Most weight loss experts will tell you that results are 80% from diet and only 20% from exercise. Yes, lean mass is usually associated with better health, but it is not an indicator of your organ health, lipids levels, or insulin sensitivity. Exercising is not just a means to keep your weight down, so let’s draw a clear distinction between weight loss and fitness. Weight loss is often just a number; fitness is a process that benefits our entire body and mind.
No More Excuses
The body is a complex thing and a lot (and I do mean a lot) happens inside your body when you exercise.
The body is a complex thing and a lot (and I do mean a lot) happens inside your body when you exercise.
Let’s start with the changes in your muscles. Your muscles use glucose and a thing called ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) to contract and move. To create more ATP, your body needs to grab more oxygen, so your breathing increases and your heart starts pumping more blood to your muscles. Then, as you workout, tiny tears in your muscles occur and make them grow bigger and stronger as those tiny tears heal between exercise sessions.
There are also changes in your lungs as your muscles call for all that extra oxygen (15 times more oxygen) and your breathing rate increases. Once the muscles surrounding your lungs can’t move any faster, you’ve reached what’s called your VO2 max—your maximum capacity for oxygen use. And, in a nutshell, the higher your VO2 max, the more badass you are. A high V02 max is one of the things Lance Armstrong (no relation) was known for before he got known for that other thing…
There are also changes in your heart. Your heart rate naturally increases with increased physical effort so it can supply more oxygenated blood to your muscles. The fitter you are, the more efficiently your heart can pump (volume and frequency), which allows you to go harder and longer. A little side benefit, your blood pressure will decrease as a result of this efficiency and some new blood vessels forming.
Then there is some fun stuff that happens in your brain as well which I outlined in an article on how exercise affects your brain where we learned that being sedentary all day everyday is as dangerous to your waistline as it is for your mind.
A number of very cool neurotransmitters are also triggered: endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA. You may recognize these names because some of these are well-known for their role in mood control and they explain why exercise can be one of the most effective preventions and treatments for sleep disorders, anxiety, and depression.
There are also changes that happen in your joints and bones, since exercise can place as much as six times your body weight on them. In a vast oversimplification, when you are young, your bones are dense but actually somewhat porous and soft, and as you age your bones can easily become less dense and more brittle—especially if you remain or become inactive.
One of the key health benefits of exercise for many people is how it helps normalize your glucose, insulin, and leptin levels by optimizing insulin/leptin receptor sensitivity. This is perhaps the most important factor for optimizing your overall health and preventing a plethora of chronic diseases.
While we all know that staying physically active is essential to a long, healthy, productive life, we don’t often make time for it or we actively find excuses to avoid it, and I think that’s because we don’t understand exactly what’s happening behind the scenes.
Hopefully this list of excuses and my rebuttals gives you a better understanding of the whys, the hows, and even the whens of exercise that will serve as motivation when you find yourself about to say, “I would go for a swim but I don’t like the marks my goggles leave on my face.”