Why You Don't Exercise

Maybe You're Not Just Lazy

Man sleeping on weight bench
Getty Images/Holloway

Are you overweight? Guilty of starting and quitting more diet plans and exercise programs than you want to remember? If so, you may be wondering what's wrong with you...are you lazy? There are plenty of lazy people in this world, but most of us don't fall into that category. Here's why you don't exercise.

There's a Little Devil In Your Head!

I'm not clinically insane (hopefully) but I do have voices in my head.

These voices belong to everyone from my parents to that guy on TV who's always telling me that I can lose weight in just minutes a day. My most prominent voice is The Little Devil. If you've ever had an argument with yourself like this, you may have a Little Devil too:

You: Time to workout!
Little Devil: Uh, I don't really feel like it. I'm tired.
You: Come on...we already missed our workout yesterday.
LD: Two days? Big deal!
You: But every time we skip a workout, it gets easier not to exercise.
LD: I'm tired. The last thing I want to do is some boring, sweaty workout.
You: Tired from what? Sitting in front of a computer all day?
LD: Hey, our favorite show is on...don't you want to watch it?
You: Well...I guess we COULD watch TV and then workout...
LD: That's what I'm talking about!

Next thing you know, you're propped on the couch with a cramp in your hand from channel surfing. How did that happen?

Getting Rid of the Little Devil

  • Stop the argument. For every excuse the little devil devises, reply, "I'm working out anyway." Better yet, just say, "I'm not listening! La la la la!"
  • Remind yourself of the facts. You're not physically tired (unless you have a physical job), you're mentally tired. The best cure for that is physical activity and, once you get started, you'll feel better...really!
  • Be prepared. Having your workout gear handy and your exercise time scheduled can be a big help in dealing with The Little Devil.
  • Never sit down. If you workout after work, don't even let yourself sit down and watch TV or talk yourself into going home first instead of the gym.  If you need a transition, try something gentle, but active - stretching or doing a light, satisfying chore.  If you workout in the morning, put on your workout clothes right away so you don't have an excuse to skip your workout.

Now, you've dealt with the voices in your head. Time to figure out how to be enthusiastic about exercise (really, it's possible).

The Exercise Blah's

The Blah's happen to all of us. You excitedly plan a week's worth of exercise routines on Sunday but, Monday comes and suddenly your early morning workout sounds about as much fun as cleaning the toilet. What happened to that enthusiasm? Are you lazy?

Not necessarily.

If you were really lazy you probably wouldn't care whether you walked during lunch or ate a Big Mac. No, what you are is probably intimidated, maybe even afraid.

Afraid that:

  • You won't be able to go very far. What if you can only make it for 5 minutes? Lame!
  • It will be hard. You'll have to change clothes, then you'll have to sweat (ugh). Your lungs will burn, your legs will hurt...no thanks!
  • You won't reach the guidelines set out by the ACSM: up to 60 minutes of exercise 5 days a week. If you can't do that, why bother?
  • You won't be perfect. What if you pass other 'real' exercisers while you huff and puff for barely a mile? What will they think?

The need to do it right...to do it perfectly...to work as hard as you can is what makes it hard to do in the first place. But, you have to start with baby steps.

Recapture that enthusiasm

  • Redefine your idea of exercise. Does workout=work? It doesn't have to. You already work all day...why would you want one more miserable task to do? Think about it like this: I've been sitting in this stuffy office all day listening to my boss whine, now I have 30 whole minutes to get out of here for a while. That's not exercise--that's sanity!
  • Ask for help. Is there someone at work or a friend you trust? Tell them you're having trouble sticking with exercise and ask them to workout with you.
  • Remind yourself. Write yourself notes and put them on your computer, your car, your shoes...everywhere. Remind yourself of your plan ("I will exercise for 30 minutes today") and why you're doing it ("I'd love to wear a sleeveless shirt this summer").
  • Do what you can. If you can't workout for 30 minutes yet, so what? Go for as long as you can and do more tomorrow. It's that simple and it all counts.

Now, you've gotten your head on straight, why not play a few mind games with yourself? Using your imagination can add a little motivation to your workouts on those days when it's hard to get your butt moving.

Mind Games

Luke Skywalker used the force...why can't you? The imagination is a powerful tool and one you can use for your exercise routines.

If you've ever drifted off in the middle of a boring meeting (dreaming of a leisurely day at the beach), you already know how to do it. Your body LIKES activity (really!). It's your mind that's the problem, so you have to convince it that there really is a good reason to exercise.

Here's how to use your mind over matter capabilities:

  • Make a deal with yourself. You'll exercise for 15 minutes and if you still REALLY don't want to continue, then you can stop. 9 times out of 10 you'll keep going.
  • Give yourself a reward. If you finish your workout, give yourself something nice. A new pair of shoes, an hour reading your favorite book, a massage, etc.
  • Visualize. Athletes often visualize themselves winning a race to get themselves pumped up. You can do the same thing by picturing yourself going through your workout from beginning to end. How do you feel when you're finished? How many miles did you walk or run? Visualize your success and make it happen.
  • Pretend. Sometimes I pretend that I'm in a race and, if I win, I get a million dollars. True, it's weird, but it keeps me going when I get tired. Pretend that you're racing to catch a bus, or that if you make it home in a certain amount of time, Nike will be there to put you in one of their 'Just Do It' commercials. You'll be rich and famous!
  • Working things out. My favorite thing about running is that it gives me quiet time to think about any problems I'm facing. Use your workout time to work through problems. You'll be amazed at the results!

Changing your lifestyle to include exercise is no easy task and the most important thing you'll do is adjust your attitude.

Thinking about exercise as an obligation will never motivate you to do it. Instead, treat exercise like a break from a stressful day, a reward for a body that has worked so hard for you all day long and as something that deserves a reward at the end.