I got this e-mail today: “Dear Ragen, I hate exercise – like I seriously hate it. I know that research shows that there are a lot of benefits but the thought of spending hours in the gym just sounds miserable. Should I just suck it up? What if I hate exercise? Do you think I should do it anyway?”
This is a question I get a lot. First, there is a mistaken notion out there that because I talk about my life as a fathlete and I talk about what the research says about fitness, that I am “promoting” exercise or I think that people “should” exercise. Sometimes this happens because I haven’t written things as clearly as I should have, sometimes I think it’s because people have issues around exercise and just seeing discussion about it triggers them which is totally understandable given how much it gets shoved down our throats and the horrible experiences many of us have had (President’s Physical Fitness Test – I’m looking at you.) Let me take this opportunity to clarify – I do not care if anyone else exercises. I am fully aware that there are people who don’t enjoy exercise, my partner is one of them, and I have no judgment about it at all.
The short version of why I don’t care is that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not exercise dependent, and other people’s prioritization of their health and the path they choose to get there are none of my, or anyone else’s business. The long version can be found here.
So if you hate to exercise, that’s completely cool and understandable, lots of people do. Even if exercise has health benefits, that doesn’t mean that anyone is required to do it, or that exercising creates some sort of health guarantee wherein you are now immortal unless you get hit by a bus- that’s just not the case. Besides, there are lots of things that are shown to improve our odds for health and we aren’t all obligated to do any of them. When we insist that people “owe” society healthy habits it very quickly becomes a slippery slope. If we “owe” society exercise do we also owe it 8 hours of sleep a night? A vegan diet? A paleo diet? To quit drinking? To not go skiing or play soccer or anything else that could get us hurt? Who gets to make these mandates? I recommend that people not try to tell others how to live unless they are super excited about someone else telling them how to live.
The reason I talk about the research around fitness is that I believe we are constantly lied to and I think we have the right to review the research ourselves. We are told that exercise will lead to weight loss when the research suggests no such thing. Lied to that exercise won’t make us healthier unless it makes us thinner. Lied to that we have to do hours of specific things in order to get benefit from it. Those things aren’t true – the research shows that about 30 minutes of moderate activity about 5 days a week can have many health benefits for many people. While that’s true, it doesn’t mean that we owe anybody exercise, and, again, it doesn’t give any guarantees when it comes to health.
So back to the original question: If you hate exercise, you have lots of choices. One choice is just not to do it. Another option is that maybe you decide that you believe what the research says about the health benefits and you want those benefits so you find some forms of movement that you hate less than other forms of movement and do them. You may believe what the research says and choose not to exercise. You may decide that you think the research is crap.
Maybe you get a local pharmacy or clinic to take a baseline of your metabolic numbers, do the movement for a couple months and then see if there’s any change in how you feel or your numbers. Maybe you work toward a specific goal (picking up a grand kid, walking to the mailbox.) If you and exercise had a messy break-up, you can try to kiss and make-up. Or not. All the choices are yours and none of those choices are anyone else’s business.
I also wish people would stop encouraging us to set unrealistic goals. I think that way too many athletes think that everyone must feel like them – since they love to exercise everyone else can learn to love it too! I think that’s bullshit. I, for example, hate long distance running. I’ve heard people talk about getting a “runner’s high” but the only runner’s high I ever get is when I get to stop running.
The dancers in More Cabaret, of which I am the director, discussed doing a 5k as a team bonding exercise. I agreed to do it. My realistic goal is that I will have fun with my teammates, complete the 5k, and be awarded a t-shirt (which they will not have in my size, giving me the opportunity for activism). This is something that I can accomplish. I do not have a goal of learning to love running – I’ve done a lot of it and since I still hate it, I choose to face the fact that it’s probably not in the cards for me. The fact that some people love running does not indicate that I, or anyone else, must be able to love it.
If you hate exercise and you decide to do it anyway, you can try to make it suck less by picking activities you don’t hate (gardening? dancing in your living room? video game that incorporates movement? window shopping?), changing activities frequently, playing music, watching televison, reading a book, talking on the phone (when I do flexibility training I often do several of those things at the same time to try to stave off the boredom) but you may never learn to love exercise, and what you choose to do about that is your business and nobody else’s.
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