Nine out of ten of my overweight patients rate pain, in some body part, as one of their top three excuses why they can't possibly exercise on a regular basis. In fact, for most patients that excuse is #2, right after the incredibly popular "I don't have time." Everyone has some kind of excuse for why they can't exercise, but yet complain about being out of shape, tired, and overweight!
- "I don't have time": I have a full-time medical practice, three children, and a thriving writing/speaking side venture; but I still find time to run at least 30 miles a week and go to the gym for a weight workout twice a week. If I can find the time, so can most people. It's a matter of priorities and wasted time.
- "I'm too tired to exercise": Don't even try this excuse on me. I pack more in a day than almost anyone else I know, but I don't know who won "American Idol" or who is on "The Apprentice." I use my time wisely and go to bed early without the time vampire of the television sucking the life out of me. The hardest part of any workout is the first 3 steps out of bed or out the door. You are tired because you don't exercise and you use useful energy on nonsense.
- "I can't find an exercise program I enjoy": Let's dispel this other very common excuse. So what! Believe me, there are many mornings I don't enjoy running at all. That's why the iPod was invented. Miraculously, you can convince your body you are reading a book, newspaper, or listening to the radio or your favorite music. On the days when the last thing you want to do is exercise, find a distraction. A great one is to go the gym and people watch. The diversity of people will crack you up! No one said exercise is supposed to be enjoyable, but after a few weeks of regular cardiovascular challenge, it does become more fun. Vary your programs, get a trainer, or try a group fitness class and be social. Do something...anything! Being out of shape, sweating your butt off, looking like you are about to croak any minute isn't fun for anyone; but that will only improve with consistency! Not excuses!
- "My arthritis/injury/something hurts when I exercise": If you are over the age of 35 and overweight, you have been putting abnormal stress on many body parts for a long time; pain is going to happen when you start an exercise program. There is a difference between good pain and bad pain. If you truly have arthritis, your only hope of continuing to move is to exercise. Joints that are damaged and are not regularly exercised will stiffen and eventually become virtually unusable. Work through your discomfort and the other side is much more enjoyable. Follow some simple tips to get through your pain and start on the road to cardiovascular fitness.
So how do I start an exercise program when I am lazy, tired, time-short and in pain? Good question. Here are a few tips to get you started and on the way to better health:
- Start slowly. The biggest mistake most people make is too much, too soon, and too fast. The next day you often can't move at all and it will be even harder to convince yourself to move at all.
- Do not bite off more than you can chew. Little bits count! Gradually increase your time and separate segments with recovery walking or stretching. Try 15 minutes total the first day, broken into 5 minute segments separated by a one minute rest. Add no more than one more segment each day. For runners, we use the golden rule of not adding more than 10% more mileage every week. Your goal should be 45 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least 5 days a week. Rome was not built in a day. Gradually work up to this goal.
- Go at your own speed. Just because your friend can run an 8 minute mile doesn't mean that is realistic for you. I try to preach perceived exertion. That means getting your heart rate up to where you break a sweat, but still can carry on a conversation. This litmus test will not allow you to over do it when your competitive drive kicks in.
- Warm up! Take a few minutes to warm up prior to exercising and warm down afterwards. Warm muscles don't hurt as much as cold ones and are less likely to get injured. Wear extra clothing to keep your muscles warm if the environment is too cool. I tell all my runners to walk for at least 5 minutes, then stretch, then start running.
- Vary your program. We all get bored and your muscles and joints will thank you for varying your routine. The older I get, the more I have to work on core strengthening and resistance training to keep my body in shape. Running alone just doesn't do it. Once a week, try something you never have done before. Take a group fitness class, do yoga, try a spin class, try a new route for your walk. Variety really is the spice of life!
- Listen to your body. There will be days that your body says "easy does it." Listen to it. A great way to keep in tune is to wear a heart rate monitor. These help you stay in your zones and not over do it. You will be amazed how some days you can go forever and some days you have 15 good minutes and then you are done. It is more important to walk around the block every day than to try to climb Mount Everest all in one day!
- Get rid of your negative self-talk. We are our own worst enemies. I have been 18 miles into a marathon and that little voice in my head is saying "why are we doing this? What made you think you could run 26.2 miles at this pace at your age?" Block it out. Have a mantra like "I have put lots mileage in the bank and I'm just withdrawing it today" or "I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me" or one of my favorites "I can puke when I'm done." Sing a song, talk to a friend, or just keep telling yourself positive thoughts. The negative ones will only hold you back and make you miserable.
- Use your imagination. Picture your ideal self, at your ideal weight, in that dress that has not fit in years. Then picture how you are going to get there!
- Set yourself up for success! What do I mean by this? Go buy the proper equipment, get new shoes, a snazzy new work out outfit and make a plan. Hire a trainer if you don't have any idea what you are doing. The money is well spent if you have a good trainer to point you in the right direction. Make a schedule and force yourself to stick to it. Exercise is not some thing you just get around to. My program is scheduled and can't be missed unless the excuse is good enough to miss an important meeting or a dentist appointment (building is on fire, child throwing up, car accident, etc.). Consistency is the key. Make it a habit, especially on the days you don't feel like it!
- Talk to your doctor. Get a physical and talk to your doctor about what restrictions they feel should be put on your program. Ask for their help. Most doctors are thrilled that their patients are attempting to exercise and are very willing to help! I make sure my patients are in the right shoes, have realistic plans, and don't need some biomechanical help or physical therapy to help them get started.
Just do it! It may sound like a commercial, but it is good advice. Today should be the last day you try to use lame excuses to continue being overweight, tired, and a cardiac risk! Write down your excuses. When you look at them on paper, you realize most are ridiculous and can be overcome. Starting an exercise program can be a monumental challenge, but we are all up to it! I guarantee you will thank me in a few months when you are closer to your ideal self than you thought possible!