Hate To Exercise ? Join the Club!

(This article appeared in the Needham Times, November 9, 2006)

Face it: most of us don’t get enough exercise. We’ve got too much on our plates already, and many of us find the living room couch a lot more appealing. Maybe exercise seems too time-consuming, inconvenient, or boring. How many reasons can you think of not to exercise—three? Five? Ten?

How does your list stack up against the list of reasons in favor of exercising? You may be surprised to learn that there are well over fifty ways exercise can help you. Key benefits include reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, stroke, obesity, chronic pain, osteoporosis, anxiety, and depression. After becoming more active, you’re likely to sleep better, have more energy, feel more confident, get sick less often, and be mentally sharper. If there were a pill that could do all this, we’d all be lining up at the pharmacy with cash in hand.

 Let’s take a closer look at some of the more common objections to exercising:

“There’s not enough time.” Did you know that for every hour you spend exercising, you add two hours to your life? Exercise actually creates more time! Also, by preventing chronic health conditions, you will spend less time going to specialists, buying medication, and undergoing surgery.

“It’s too expensive.” While gym memberships and exercise equipment aren’t always cheap, the price is still relatively low compared to the cost of the extra healthcare you’ll require if you don’t stay fit. Also, there are plenty of forms of exercise that don’t cost a dime, such as walking.

“It’s too cold (or hot) outside.” Too cold in the winter? Walk in a shopping mall—many of them open early just for walkers. Or consider taking up a winter sport such as snowshoeing. Keep moving and you’ll warm up quickly. Too hot in the summer? Go swimming in the community pool—it’s a bargain, and a great way to cool off.

“It’s no fun.” Make it fun! Listen to your favorite music (or comedy routines, podcasts, or books on tape) while exercising. Do it with a friend you’ve been wanting to see more often—or go to an exercise class (or join a sports league) and make new friends. Most importantly, choose something you enjoy doing, whether soccer, karate, or dancing.

“I’m in too much pain.” If you suffer from back pain or other types of chronic pain, take heart—exercise has been shown conclusively to decrease pain. You may find that low-impact activities such as swimming or bicycling are easier on your body. Of course, any exercise program should be designed in collaboration with your healthcare practitioners.

Finally, remember that exercise doesn’t always have to be something you add to your schedule—you can probably fit it into what you’re already doing. For example:

  • Do you drive your children to school? Try walking instead. It helps them learn good health habits as well, and reduces pollution and traffic congestion.
  • Ride an exercise bike while you watch TV. If you tape your favorite shows and save them for your workouts, you’ll look forward to getting on the bike.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Bicycle to work.
  • Walk at a gentle pace on a treadmill while working at your computer. This will require some modifications to your workstation, but the long-term weight-loss benefits are impressive.