I think when some people read that word they have the same feelings I get when I see on my to do list “clean house” or even worse “organize paperwork”.  I just DO NOT want to do it.  I know I should.  I know that  I will be happy with the end result, but I resist it like crazy.

I took me a long time to understand that people feel differently about exercise than I do, and I still struggle with it sometimes.  I think some of it may be in the choice of words.  I love to exercise, but when I think about it, that’s not how I describe it.  For me it’s training.  It’s training to be faster for next race season, to be faster than I was last time I raced, to push myself harder and to get a better result.  To find ways to get the most out of myself, when it would be so easy to just coast a little.   That motivates me every day.

There are many pieces to the puzzle that will make me faster.  The mental and physical challenges that I face while trying to get the best out of myself get me excited, and give a purpose to my “exercise”.   But, take those goals away, and I can be relatively lazy.  That’s what finally helped me to understand why exercising just to exercise doesn’t motivate people.  

Common wisdom says “well, just make it a habit, like brushing your teeth”.  I think that works for some disciplined people, and there are a lot of books and websites (very well done for the most part) on forming habits and having willpower, but in the end if the reason for doing it isn’t strong enough, or the enjoyment isn’t there, it becomes one other thing that “I have to do”.  When “exercise” joins a long list of other tasks, things that put food on the table or take care of family, it’s easy to let it slide if the desire isn’t there.

The problem is though, that the less we do, usually becomes the less we can do.  I have so many patients who come to see me and often don’t realize how limited they have become until we find it during their assessment, or something changes.  I recently treated a woman in her late 70’s to help restore the mobility and function of her right shoulder following surgery.  The treatment of course included exercise, but it wasn’t a hard or long routine and it focused primarily on her right shoulder.  She told me toward the end of her treatment with me, that for the first time in many years she could actually go to the mall and shop with her daughter.  This was one of her favorite things to do, and something that she hadn’t been able to do without stopping frequently to rest, needing to use a wheel chair because she became so tired, or going home after only an hour or so.  She actually walked around the whole mall and enjoyed herself, all because she did some exercise for her right shoulder.

I think one of the big problems with exercise is that we make it a big hairy monster task that is this “thing we have to do”.  We think, “well I have to drive to the gym, or I have to do this tape, or this workout routine, and I need to dress, and shower and change and do all of this stuff to exercise.” So it becomes too much to do, takes too much time, or too much energy, and it gets skipped.

When I was first a PT I was guilty of giving my patients these long, detailed home exercise programs.  I had all of these wonderful exercises and always felt that more was better.  I felt that I was shortchanging the person if they didn’t take home at least three pages.  When they came back for their next visit, sometimes they would have done them all, sometimes a few, and then there were those who didn’t do any…but always happily told me “at least I was honest”.  (topic for another day, but I always think..why is that a good thing?)

Some of the time this was because I didn’t do a great job of selling the importance of exercising.  I think more often than not, however, I just overwhelmed them with another task on the to do list.  When they were already hurting, or limited in their time and energy, this was really too much.   I have since learned that in most cases, less is better.

Unless they ask for more, I will usually only give out at most 4 exercises.   On occasion though I have negotiated it down to one.   I would rather have someone do one thing, do it well and do it often than do nothing.   I’m a firm believer in people taking responsibility for their own health (also a topic for another day), but I realize the need to meet people where they are now.

I also call it something else. It’s not an exercise, it’s an activity that you do every day; whenever you talk on the phone, stand on one foot for as long as you can; whenever you get out of a chair, do it without using your hands and stand up and sit down 5x (or 3x or 2x) before walking away; set up your elastic bands in your kitchen doorway, every time you walk by you have to do 10 pull backs.

Whatever.  The point is to make it part of the daily routine, not a big “thing” that has to get done.  In the end you’ve gone a long way toward keeping yourself moving and benefiting your health, without the mental burden of another thing to do.

But, if you decide you do want to take on a crazy goal like a marathon or a triathlon, I’m still know how to coach “more” too!


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