I got this e-mail today: “I’m thinking about my New Year’s resolutions and I want to make exercise one of them (not for weight loss, I know that doesn’t work) but because I understand that it’s good for my body. The problem is, I absolutely hate it so I don’t know if doing it fits in with my idea of Health at Every Size. I hear people talk about “joyful moving” but there’s nothing joyful about it for me!”
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, in fact 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 choices around exercise, including whether or not it fits into their personal prioritization of their health and the path they choose to get there, are none of my, or anyone else’s damn 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, and we couldn’t possibly do all 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, and that even 20 minutes a week can benefits. That still 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 about how we’ll feel about exercise. 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. People might learn to love exercise, or they might not. I, for example, hate long distance running. I always have. 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.
That said, I want to complete an IRONMAN traithlon so I do a lot of running. It’s not joyful movement for me but just because Health at Every Size encourages joyful movement does not mean that we can’t participate in movement for other reasons. Still, even though many people learn to love running through this journey, I don’t think that’s a realistic goal for me. My goal is to cross the finish line and get the medal and if I have to run to do it then that’s how it goes. My body, my goals, my relationship with movement, my choice.
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 or hate less (gardening? dancing in your living room? weight lifing? video game that incorporates movement? window shopping?), changing activities frequently, playing music, watching television, 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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