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Exercise for the Non-Exerciser

Nov 9, 2022 | Blog, Lifestyle

Theoretically, you know you SHOULD exercise. You know it’s supposed to be good for you on many different levels. But honestly, it just isn’t your thing. You wish you had the motivation and the desire to find a way to make it a part of your life, but every time you’ve tried, it just doesn’t work. If this is you, keep reading, my friend. I hear you and this blog is for you. First, I’ll break it down and get clear on what the actual benefits of exercise are. Then I’ll discuss the potential challenges. Next, I’ll define what the ultimate goal is and come up with baby goals that you can work on to help you get there. Lastly, I’ll give examples of how YOU, the non-exerciser, can get the activity level you need for the level of health you’re looking for. 


Exercise can be an important part of a weight loss journey. There are many more benefits, beyond just weight loss though. Exercise decreases the risk of many chronic diseases, such as stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, depression, anxiety, and many types of cancer.  Exercise also helps improve cognitive function and decreases the risk of death from all causes. Exercise improves mood and enhances energy. People who exercise sleep better and it can be fun and social. Additionally, exercise will cause you to sweat, and sweating itself has many benefits, including flushing out toxins, boosting heart health, improving your skin, and enhancing your immune system. So, yes, exercise is beneficial to your health. You get it, but despite that, you struggle to do it.  



The challenges I frequently see with my patients are:

  1. Not being sure where to start.
  2. Struggling to find the time to exercise.
  3. Struggling to find the energy to exercise. 
  4. Just plain hate it. 


If you are not sure where to start, first let’s look at the ultimate goal. Remember, the ultimate goal is not where we need to start, but can serve as a reference point as to where we are headed, ideally. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week.  In addition, it is recommended to add two strength training sessions per week. If it seems like a lot, instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do.  Could you commit to 5 minutes of exercise 3x per week?  Or 60 minutes per week, divided into 10-minute sessions? What about just 1 session per week?  


I think you should make your initial goal ridiculously easy.  A no-brainer. Then when you accomplish it, celebrate like you are a rock star!  Pat yourself on the back and then see if you can increase it ever so slightly for the following week. Here’s the thing. We think we’ll be more likely to get on track if we are hard on ourselves.I find the opposite to be true. If you treat yourself with love, understanding, and compassion FIRST, you are more likely to take care of yourself!  


If you struggle to find time, can you get up just a little earlier? I like to take care of myself first before I start my day and take care of everyone else. It’s kind of like saving for retirement. If I wait till the end of the month and save what’s left, often there won’t be anything. The same is true for me and exercise. If I wait until the end of the day after everything else is already done, often there isn’t any energy left. Therefore, I choose to take care of myself first! Another thought is to maximize your lunch hour. Even if you can only exercise for 15-20 minutes, take it! It counts and is worth it! If the morning and lunch don’t work, try the evening. If your kids are young, bring them along. Let go of the ideal scenario and figure out what can work instead. 


If you struggle to find the energy, recognize that exercise actually increases your energy by boosting endorphins, improving cardiovascular health and improving your sleep. The key is to start low and go slow. If you overdo it, this will discourage you from ever wanting to do it again because you’ll deplete your energy. Slow and steady wins the race!  If you just plain hate exercise, think about how you can make it fun. Grab a buddy. Make it something you enjoy. If you hate running, you never have to run! But what about biking, walking or swimming or hiking or aerobics, or dancing? Try something new. Exercise doesn’t have to be torture. It can be fun!  


Consider NEAT

Neat is non-exercise activity thermogenesis. It’s basically being active without formally exercising. Things like vacuuming, gardening, and household chores count! Here are some options for getting 150 minutes of exercise each week. Remember, you don’t have to start here. This is just the long-term goal we are shooting for. 


Option A:

  • Monday: 20-minute walk
  • Wednesday: 30 minutes of vacuuming
  • Friday: 50-minute spin class (this counts double since it’s high intensity)

Option B:

  • 30-minute walk 5x per week

Option C:

  • 30 minutes of lap swimming 3x per week
  • 60 minutes of gardening on the weekend.  


Don’t forget the strength training! Muscle and bone loss occur with aging. You can protect against this with strength training. This can be done at home with light dumbbells. I recommend trying to hit each major muscle group at least once a week. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do.  Start with 5 minutes of exercise once per week. Build from there. Pat yourself on the back. You are doing it! Remember all steps don’t have to be forward in regard to health. Just more steps forward than backward and you are headed in the right direction. Every single step forward counts. You’ve got this! 

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