Why Is It So Hard To Start Exercising And How Do I Make It Easy?

By Jeffrey Rothman
That first step off of the couch and into the gym can be seemingly impossible. Over and over again, you resolve to get up and work out. Then, over and over again you lose motivation, procrastinate and ultimately tell yourself that you have failed, broken your resolution, that you just are not good at exercising. Yet, somehow, you have friends, acquaintances and neighbors for whom exercise seems to be effortless, compelling, even necessary. Sometimes they can be inspirational, but more often than not, their seeming ease with the running, the spinning, the yoga, whatever, is intimidating. Okay, so no one has told you until now, so I'll let you in on the secret: The hard part is easy, it's the easy part that's hard! That first step is the hardest step, the first week is the hardest week, the first month is the hardest month. From there it becomes infinitely easier.

What I want you to get to is the easy part. But first, I would like you to reorient your beliefs about what is holding you back. You think that you are too busy, too tired, too lazy or just don't like to exercise that much. Well, you are flat wrong on all counts. Let's talk about the fundamentals of who we are innately and how we got there.  You, your anatomy, your personal chemistry and your psyche were designed to live in the wild, where all of the tasks that were required for living were exercise. You're hungry, you want to eat, then you had better hunt or forage. Now that's a workout. A bear or a tiger wants to eat you, now we are talking serious cardio. What you are calling laziness was designed in as a necessary impulse to save energy. As far as your body is concerned, the energy that you consumed in the form of food is a valuable resource, not to be squandered for recreation, only to be tapped for a vital actions.

Now look at our current lives. We can get food twenty four hours a day, bears and tigers don't tend to be much of a threat anymore. From a purely instinctual point of view, there is not much of a reason to expend energy. "I look fat in that dress," or "I don't want to die of a heart attack" are a little beyond the scope of our innate impulses. These are concepts that we intellectually understand, but don't feel. If you make a goal based around an intellectual concept, that you are not emotionally vested in, you are starting at a distinct disadvantage. Also working against you is the inertia of adapting your body's instincts to the environment that we live in. It just does not fit. For instance, you have a stressful day at work, your client, boss or colleague is aggressive to you and you are upset. What do you likely do? Go home, have a drink, eat something satiating. In the wild, you would physically fight your adversary or you would run. That is the programmed response. When you eat fatty or sugary food, or drink alcohol to relieve stress you are short circuiting the natural cycle of stress/relief and replacing it with stress/eat. No, I am not suggesting that you beat your boss or bolt your job, but the crucial part of that cycle can be found in exercise, with great physical and emotional reward.

Now let us get back to making starting easy. Make your initial goals limited, do small things, but be consistent. For instance, you could walk the first flight of stairs towards your office before getting on the elevator. The next week, it could be the first two flights. Maybe you can do a set of push-ups and sit ups when you get home before dinner, or 15 minutes of that yoga video that's on your shelf collecting dust. The trick is to do a little bit and be consistent. If you miss a day or two, then get back up and start from the beginning or wherever you can. I have three small children, and both my wife and I work.  I often jump rope before lunch at work, or in between tasks. Over time, your body will begin to expect this level of activity from you and from there you can progress, and each little step that you take in intensity will give you a symmetric reward in extra energy. The process is not instantaneous (you didn't gain the weight instantaneously either).
That friend of yours who runs marathons, she is not innately different than you are.  She has just conditioned her body over time to be able to attain that challenge and equally importantly, she has conditioned her body to believe that she must do it to survive and thrive. So, set your own small goals and ramp them up over time. You will be surprised and pleased where you end up.

In my next article, I'll give you some tangible ideas to help you to make a plan that will prepare you to get through the "easy" part and on to the gratifying part.  
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Jeffrey Rothman is an Occupational Therapist, practicing in West Palm Beach Florida. Jeffrey assists people to return to their productive lives after illnesses, injuries, and surgeries. He takes a particular interest in shoulder rehabilitation, pain management.  Please email Jeffrey;  he welcomes your comments and questions.