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I’m Too Out of Shape to Exercise

I’m too out of shape to exercise!”

We humans are experts at finding “rational” excuses. Even if they aren’t always that rational.

Similar arguments are common in other areas too.Our relationship is too bad to socialize” or “I have too little time right now to manage to plan my time.” Consciously or unconsciously we confuse the reasons with the consequences. We put the cart in front of the horse.

Obstacles to Exercising

A study recently investigated what persons with type 2 diabetes reported as obstacles to exercising.1

The argument above, feeling too out of shape to exercise, was one of the most common. Lack of time, bad weather and swollen feet were also given as typical obstacles. Or that exercise was simply experienced as boring.

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Environmental factors played a major role. Individuals who lived close to nature or good walking paths exercised more. It was also found that lack of access to workout spaces was a common reason not to exercise. Many people thought that gyms should be better adapted to adults and the elderly in the choice of music, style and equipment.

Having exercise equipment at home, for example an exercise bike or weights, was connected to more exercise. Social support from family and friends was another important factor for a high level of exercise.

An interesting finding was that knowledge about diabetes and the health effects of exercise had no effect whatsoever on exercise level. This confirms what other studies have shown, namely that information and motivation are two completely different things.

These kinds of studies have many weaknesses, and it is difficult to fully correct for underlying social factors. But it can still be valuable to know what other patients experience as common obstacles, realize that you’re not alone, and think about how the obstacles can be influenced.

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Many Obstacles Are Possible to Influence

Through planning, for example, most people can free up time for exercise. There is almost always some TV program, some phone call, some activity that can give way to take care of health.

Pain is a major problem for many and it can truly be a tangible obstacle to exercise. In many cases it is possible, however, to find activities that are relatively gentle on the body, such as pool workouts or bicycling.

It may also be good to know that in many cases pain can be reduced in the long term by exercise, because supporting musculature is built up and exercise releases pain-relieving endorphins (Note that certain forms of exercise may worsen injuries and pain, so consult with a physiotherapist or doctor if in doubt.)

Some obstacles are truly hard to influence. But in many cases we put up unnecessary obstacles ourselves, or enlarge those that exist. You will no doubt find your own way to get around obstacles if you become aware of them and are truly motivated to exercise. Because after all, motivation is the key.

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Focus More on the Experience of Exercise

Exercise is often seen as a means to achieve something else, e.g. lower weight or blood sugar. This is called external motivation. When exercise is driven by external motivation, we readily focus on obstacles, and it’s easy to give up.2

But we can also be driven by inner motivation. With this kind of motivation the very experience of exercise is a goal in itself. The feeling of being out in nature or the city. A sense of community. The experience of moving, letting go of everyday problems, and finding peace in your soul.

Of course exercise doesn’t have to be about sweating at the gym. It can just as well be a quick walk along the shore, bicycling or ball sports. Asking what form of exercise could give you a meaningful experience is the best start. Then it will be easier to see the value of exercise instead of the obstacles. Regardless of how out of shape you are!

How can exercise be a meaningful experience for you?

References

1. Heiss V et al. American Journal of Health Education, 45, 278–287, 2014

2. Teixeira et al. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2012, 9:78

More to come

We are about to launch the full English version of the Swedish medical university initiative, PriusHealth, providing daily thought-provoking questions to unlock how you relate to yourself, to others, the larger us, as the way to improve your health.

Available both as an open website and a full guided program, it will be launched summer 2017. If you would like us to keep you informed of its launch and thereby get free access to more content, then click here.

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