Why We Give Up On Exercise

Theodor couldn’t stop hearing the sound. It was like when a song gets stuck in your head. The harder you try to stop hearing it, the more you hear it. Except for Theodor it wasn’t a melody bouncing inside his brain…it was a rhythm.

Theodor was on a ship crossing the Atlantic. For eight days he listened to the engines of that ship. That was the sound that got stuck in his head. Theodor started to write words to match the ship’s engines. He didn’t stop until he had finished a short story for kids.

Theodor thought it was pretty good so he sent it to a publisher. They said no. He tried a different publisher. They said no too. Theodor sent it out a third time. Same answer. He sent it to three  more publishers and got three more rejections.

Expectations can often determine whether something succeeds or fails. If Theodor had expected his book would never be published that first rejection would have confirmed his belief and he wouldn’t have tried again.

But, Theodor didn’t believe that. Honestly, I don’t know what Theodor expected, but it clearly wasn’t failure because after those first six rejections he tried six more publishers. And, guess what? They all said the same thing.

NO.

At this point, most of us have long since given up. Especially if what we’re trying is fitness. Freeletics, a fitness and lifestyle coaching app, recently did a survey asking people about their attitudes towards exercise. Most simply don’t. Exercise that is. The survey drilled down on that and asked about the reasons why people don’t pursue fitness. The second most popular answer was:

I don’t get results.

This was the only excuse in the top five that implied that at least there was an attempt. You can’t say you don’t get results if you’ve never even tried. But, 28 percent told Freeletics this was one of the reasons they didn’t exercise.

The only result Theodor was interested in was getting his book published. Twelve attempts with twelve different publishers gained him twelve rejections. Still, Theodor didn’t give up. He tried twelve more publishers. They all said the same thing.

No.

Theodor was investing a lot of time and clearly not getting the results he expected. Just like the 28 percent who no longer pursue fitness. No results is now their excuse to not try again.

What kind of results are we expecting from exercise? Obviously, it’s going to be different for each of us, but it’s typically some combination of these three:

LOOK BETTER

This was one of the reasons I started to exercise. I was gaining weight and I didn’t like where it was all landing. I knew that if I didn’t pursuing fitness I was not going to be happy with what I saw in the mirror in just a few years.

The media loves dramatic fitness transformations stories. So does social media. Rarely do we think the “before” picture looks better than the “after” picture. For some, these stories of transformation inspire hope. If we’re not satisfied with our appearance, we can simply exercise our way to something better. It certainly was a motivator for me.

FEEL BETTER

This was also a motivating factor for me. There’s a history of diabetes in my family and I was starting to experience some of the symptoms. I didn’t like how it felt. I also didn’t like how getting older was starting to make me feel. I exercised because I wanted to feel better.

Being out of shape can make life harder. Or at least, it feels harder. Climbing stairs and simple physical tasks like cleaning or mowing the lawn take more effort. And that often leads to trying to do even less. Instead of pushing the mower we climb aboard and ride it. We pay somebody else to clean. Not that either of these choices is bad, but the point is when physical activity starts to feel harder the inclination is to do even less.

But, not everybody wants to raise the white flag and stop moving. Exercise really can help us to feel better and expand our capacity to do stuff. This is one of the results people want when they start to pursue fitness. It certainly was for me.

BETTER CURRENT AND FUTURE HEALTH 

Before I turned 52 I only had three physicals as an adult. Two were for life insurance and the last was because, well, I heard that getting an annual physical was a good idea and it had been awhile. These three exams happened over the course of 20 years. All three triggered a warning for cholesterol. The third even came with a prescription.

I went five years before I got another physical. Now I go every year, and I even had an “extra” exam for another life insurance policy. Between the first group of check-ups and this current group was a significant ramp up in exercise. The impact is significant, including lower cholesterol numbers. I never did take the medicine. (Please talk to your doctor before making any decisions about medication)

The real impact of those numbers is what I hope is a better quality of life as I get older. I’m grateful I’ve enjoyed life, so far, without a significant health problem. I’d like to keep that going as long as possible.

Some people, though, are currently in a significant health crisis and have been told by their doctor they need more exercise or their health will get worse. For them, better health is not an abstract future concept. It’s a result they need right now!

WHAT RESULT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?

Most of us are expecting some combination of these three results from our exercise. Is that true for you? I want these results. In fact, I expect them.

Theodor did not get the result he wanted after submitting his book to 24 publishers. After 24 rejections he found another publisher who also said no. But, Theodor still didn’t give up. He sent it to three more publishers. Guess what? Yep, still not the result he wanted.

Theodor’s expected result was clear. He wanted a publisher to say yes. That meant his book would be printed and sold to the public.

I wonder if when we say we aren’t getting results from exercise that maybe what we’re expecting isn’t clear or even possible.

LOOK BETTER

It doesn’t matter how much I exercise, I’m not going to look like a 30 year old. My muscles aren’t going to look like my son’s. My hair is not going to get thicker. I know this. I really do, but I still feel disappointment sometimes when I look in the mirror. I’m doing all this work and THIS is the result??!!

Of course, for a lot of us losing weight is why we exercise. Whether it’s a few pounds or a lot of weight, this is the real reason we pursue fitness. While exercise does burn calories it’s hard to lose weight with exercise alone. If you’re serious about dropping pounds the best plan combines exercise and changing what you eat.

Put another way, if you’re trying to only exercise off the weight you may very well not be getting any results. And, if you are it likely feels very slow.

FEEL BETTER

The human body is complex. There is no simple, guaranteed formula to feel better. I wish it were as simple as:

30 MINUTES OF EXERCISE = FEEL BETTER

Sadly, our bodies don’t work that way. There are so many other variables. How are you sleeping? What are you eating? Are you stressed? Are you fighting a cold or dealing with allergies? And, there are some days where you just don’t feel great and there’s no obvious explanation.

And, no matter how much physical activity I put in my schedule, I can’t out-exercise aging. You can’t either. Even though I feel like my fitness level is pretty high I still feel the creep of age. I might be able to slow that down with fitness, but I can’t stop it.

BETTER HEALTH

Exercise is not a forever shield against sickness and disease. We all know people who were disciplined with exercise, but still got sick and died. Research clearly tells us that physical activity can improve our health, but no one has ever been able to out-exercise death.

It’s important to understand there are limits to the health benefits of fitness. Even if I do all the right things and keep my fitness momentum going right up until the end I will not be the first person to out-exercise death. And, neither will you.

I DON’T GET RESULTS

The reality is that fitness results take time. Intuitively, though, we know that, but we still want it now. And, when those results don’t happen fast enough we give up and now we have an excuse to not try again.

Imagine if Theodor gave up after that first publisher said no…or even the tenth. Thankfully, Theodor didn’t. The 28th publisher said yes. A few months later Theodor’s book, “And, To Think I Saw it On Mulberry Street,” was finally printed and offered to the public.

Exercise isn’t the only thing in life that takes time to get the results we want. That’s kinda the way it is for most things. If you’ve struggled with fitness or maybe you even have a fitness habit now, but the results aren’t happening fast enough just remember this the next time you see a book written by Theodor.

He ending up writing 60 more books that sold over 200-million copies. He put his middle name on his books with a fun little twist. Theodor Seuss Geisel.

Dr. Seuss.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY

Fitness is not easy. The hardest part is the beginning when the results are almost impossible to see or feel. But, the beginning is also the most important part. The key is building a habit that becomes momentum and eventually leads to transformation.

If you have struggled with establishing a habit of exercise, walking is a great opportunity to change that. Casual walking is good for you, but has limited exercise value. For walking to reach the level of exercise you need to increase the intensity and your heart rate and do it consistently.

If your walking is typically a casual stroll when the weather is nice and it’s convenient, that’s a great start to establishing the habit of exercise. Instead of trying to convince yourself several times a week to get to the gym, why not turn what you are already doing and enjoying into something a little bit more.

I recommend starting with this free guide to The 30 Day Fitness Challenge.

Unless you are one of the few who can establish habits quickly, you might consider doing the Challenge two or three times until it becomes a habit for you.

If you don’t have a Fitbit I recommend the Fitbit Inspire HR. While it’s not cheap, it’s less than a few months at the gym. The Inspire HR also tracks your heart rate and sleep so you get an even wider picture of your fitness progress.

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Lastly, this blog is designed to help you embrace walking for exercise. As a fitness activity, walking is sustainable, flexible, effective, and fun. Every week I post new articles with stories and helpful suggestions.

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