We know that exercise is good for us, so why is it so hard to do it sometimes? I’ve had numerous people tell me that they just don’t like to exercise and it isn’t fun for them. First, let me dispel the myth that you’re alone if you feel this way. You’re not! For many of us exercise can have negative connotations. We don’t love getting hot and sweaty, we get sore, or we’re doing it because we feel like we have to. With reasons like that, it makes sense that some of us just don’t enjoy it, and when we don’t like something it gets difficult to convince ourselves to actually do it. However, we know exercise is something that contributes to good overall health, so do we just suffer through it? I don’t think we have to.
Here are a few questions you can work through to help you figure out why you may not like to exercise and how to move towards something that doesn’t feel like such a chore.
Why do you exercise? Are you exercising to lose weight, to burn calories from your weekend, or because your doctor told you that you should? While all of those can seem like good reasons to exercise, research shows that they aren’t very motivating because they focus on long-term future benefits that may or may not happen. One study that compared women who were exercising for weight loss to those who were exercising for stress relief or to feel better found the women in the second group actually exercised more. I often find that when we come from a place of negativity, such as disliking our bodies, it is easy to say “Things are never going to change, so why bother trying?”. Instead, try reframing exercise as something positive. For example, it may help your stress levels, give you more energy, or help you sleep better.
How does exercise fit into your goals and values? When you can tie exercise into your larger value system, you may find yourself more motivated because you’re associating it with something that is meaningful. For example, if being able to spend time with your family is important to you, exercise can play a part in that by keeping you healthy, strong, and active. This also ties back into finding positive meaning in exercise rather than trying to motivate yourself with something negative. Think about your purpose in life and what gets you excited to get up in the morning. How could exercise support that?
When was the last time you enjoyed exercise or thought of movement as play? Try thinking back to the last time you really enjoyed being active. What were you doing? Were you with friends, swimming, on a bike, rollerblading, playing kickball with your family? Once you have an idea of different types of activity that you actually like, try incorporating those! Don’t get too hung up on doing the types of exercise you feel like you should do. Instead, try to include more things that you enjoy.
What do you think “counts”? I once worked with a group where we asked them the difference between exercise and physical activity. One person raised their hand and said that exercise is something that is hard and not fun, while physical activity can be things that are more enjoyable, like walking, gardening, or playing with their grandkids. I think we sometimes get hung up on the definitions of exercise and physical activity and what “counts” that we forget the goal is actually to move more. Some clients I work with have actually chosen to stop using the word “exercise” so that they avoid the negative connotations or strict definitions and instead opt for words like “movement”.
Now that you’ve worked through these questions, what are some things you can try to make exercise a little more enjoyable, or at least something that you don’t dread?