What if exercise is not for me?

Do you feel a sense of dread whenever you hear the word “exercise”? If you do, don’t be too hard on yourself, you are not alone! Even though RESET advocates being physically active, we understand the barriers that exist to going on that first walk or stepping through the doors of a gym. 

Starting to exercise can be a daunting experience, and it can even result in unfamiliar physical changes such as a racing heartbeat or sweating. 

This article has not been written to convince you to exercise, it has been written to give you the knowledge you need to understand why exercise is so hard for you or how you may already be doing more than you think!

There are many reasons why you may feel that exercise is not for you. They can be physical limitations, lacking motivation, not enjoying whichever forms of exercise you have already tried or simply feeling worse after trying. What many people find frustrating is that they know the physical and mental health benefits of being physically active, but even then, cannot bring themselves to exercise.

Let’s look at six of the most common reasons people feel exercise is not for them.

1. Physical limitations

Physical limitations can be presented in many forms from the more outwardly obvious limitations like knee pain to the not-so-obvious limitations like heart disease and high blood pressure. The first thing to do if you are unsure if you should start exercising is to see a healthcare professional. They will be able to advise you if it is safe for you to engage in physical activity and at what level. Even with potentially serious complaints like heart disease and high blood pressure, it is likely you can find an activity that doesn’t scare you into a medical emergency. 

If your limitation is something less serious like niggling knee pain, you could always seek the advice of a personal trainer who will be able to show you suitable exercises. For example, in the case of knee pain, something low-impact like swimming or cycling would be perfect to improve your health without placing too much stress on the knee.

2. Lacking motivation 

Here at RESET, we are a big believer in a lack of motivation being tied to not working towards a goal that inspires us. So much so that we have already written a blog on how to get motivated to exercise here.

3. Tried and just don’t enjoy it!

You may have tried some forms of exercise and as much as you wanted to, you couldn’t make yourself enjoy it! The crucial thing here is to reflect on what type of exercise you tried and examine your reasons for doing so. 

For example, many people immediately think of tough workout classes when they think of getting fit and healthy. Images of 60-minute-long classes filled with red-faced people sweating and struggling to breathe are common. If you tried that type of class as your first experience of getting fit, we can certainly see why you wouldn’t want to go back! Ask yourself why were you in that class? Was it because everyone else was doing it and you thought it was the only way? What did you expect to achieve from attending that class and how did that link to your goal? If you are thinking “what goal?”, you may have just found the answer as to why you didn’t enjoy it! The key is to find a goal that inspires you. “I want to be able to play football with my son” usually inspires people more than “I want to look like an Instagram influencer”. Find what inspiration works for you, maybe it’s about spending time with your wife/husband, running whilst catching up with a friend or simply managing a long walk when you are a tourist on holiday abroad.

4. Tried and made me feel worse

In our experience, this usually comes down to 2 factors:

5. Doing too much, too soon

Does this scenario sound familiar…? It is the start of January and your New Year’s Resolution is to get fit and healthy. You have joined the gym, bought the new trainers and workout outfit that is going to make you look as good as possible whilst sweating and red-faced. You are in there Monday working as hard as you can for two hours, feeling great about yourself for having made the commitment to start and looking forward to where this new habit takes you. 

You do the same Tuesday. In fact, you do the same every day that week despite feeling a bit tired and very achy. You tell yourself “this is all part of the process”, “no pain, no gain” and however many more workout cliches there are! 

Saturday comes when you want to enjoy your weekend, but you are tired, moody, can’t walk down the stairs and don’t have the energy to spend time with your partner and kids. What has happened? The gym is supposed to make you feel good. What happened? 

Monday comes around again. You are still feeling a bit down and think you may have a cold on the way. You decide to skip the gym and beat yourself up all day about it telling yourself “I am destined to be fat and unhealthy”, “why is everyone else motivated and not me, I am worthless”, and on and on it goes until the gym becomes a distant memory and the flashy new trainers and gym gear don’t see the light of day. 

At least until next year when you think about trying the whole wretched process again. 

How might you have felt if you went on Monday for 30 minutes and then didn’t go again until you stopped aching altogether? Even if that meant you didn’t go for a whole week until the following Monday, that longer break might be all you need to stay motivated. 

If you start slowly, you might soon find that you can go on Monday and stop aching on Thursday. 

You then add Thursday as a second day. Then, you find out you can work out for much longer each session and still not ache. 

In a few weeks, the aches stop after 2 days, and you can workout Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for much longer each time. 

Now you are building sustainable habits that you can stick to long-term and you finally get the most out of that expensive gym gear you are still paying off on the credit card!

6. Not recovering

This can be linked to what we have covered above, but it is different. Sure, you can spend too much time exercising, and this can harm your physical and even mental health. But it is also possible that you feel worse after exercising simply because you are not giving your body what it needs to recover before going back… 

When we exercise, the body demands more high-quality food to repair muscle tissue that it is growing after a workout. 

The body also needs more food to convert to energy to replace what we have lost whilst exercising. 

We also need more water during and after our workouts to replace what we have lost through heat and sweat leaving the body and to maintain a state of homeostasis where the body is regulating our major functions like digestion. 

In other words, if you are fasting or dieting whilst trying to establish a workout routine, keep in mind that your body needs food and water to recover.

We also need adequate sleep to allow the body and mind to recover from the stress of exercising (yes, it is a stress on the body and mind, but a good one when done in the right way!). 

Reflect on times when you have tried exercise before and ask yourself if you helped your body and mind recover as well as you could have done.

Doing too much, too soon and not doing the right things to recover can result in many complaints including:

  • Muscles feeling sore and stiff
  • A general feeling of fatigue 
  • Increased frequency of infections and colds
  • Injuries
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns
  • Feeling irritable and on edge
  • Even some mental health conditions like depression

Some people may genuinely dislike exercise despite having tried everything they feel they can, but for many it is either they have tried and had a bad experience or haven’t yet tried the thing they enjoy doing.

What if I simply don’t enjoy exercise?

If you simply don’t enjoy exercise, it is important to remember that there are many ways to stay active and healthy which may not involve exercise as you see it. 

You can incorporate physical activity into your daily routine such as by taking walks, gardening, or dancing. Another way to frame it is to link a physical activity to something that you know you do enjoy.

As an example, you may love spending time with your child, niece, nephew, or even grandchild. Chances are that even if you don’t enjoy exercise, you would still like the benefits it will have on your life. So, can you take the children out for the day to a National Trust Park to walk around and see the wildlife and appreciate the environment? Can you take them to the local park to play cricket, football, or any number of other sports where you can both enjoy each other’s company whilst being outdoors and maybe even getting a rare dose of vitamin D from the UK sunshine? Try it. That’s still exercise.

It’s important to note that even if you don’t enjoy exercise, it’s still important to engage in physical activity for overall health and well-being. The key is to find something that you enjoy and that you can realistically incorporate into your lifestyle, whatever that looks like for you individually. 

Alex Broadbent is RESET’s co-founder and co-director, a semi-professional athlete and a Strength and Conditioning Coach with over 30 years of experience. 

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