Think You're Too Heavy to Exercise? - Part 2How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough
-- By Dean Anderson, Fitness & Behavior Expert
Ever find yourself forced to politely listen to someone (like me) talk about how much they used to hate exercise, but now really love it? If you’re like I was a few years ago, you probably wished you knew what pills this clown was taking, so you could get your hands on some of them for yourself. Or maybe you just wanted to reach out and gently knock that obnoxious smile right off their face.
Either way, I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to buy the chemicals that make exercise feel good and rewarding—your body makes them all by itself. They’re called beta-endorphins. As you’ve probably already heard on the Message Boards and read in the Resource Center, it's true that if you can put in that first 10 minutes of exercise, the endorphins will kick in and make it much easier (maybe even fun) to keep going.
So, now you’re probably asking questions like…
"That’s nice, but what about those first 10 minutes?"
"What am I supposed to do if 10 minutes is all I can handle at once, on a good day?"
"What’s the point of putting myself through all this discomfort just to burn roughly enough calories to burn off one pound every other month or so?”
WELCOME! You have just arrived at article #2 in a three-part series, and we’ll focus here on building and maintaining both your motivation and your progress. (Part 1 got you started safely and effectively, and Part 3 will focus on some special goal-setting and problem-solving techniques that can help you get through the toughest days—and have a lot less of them.)
Please check to make sure your seat belt is securely fastened, all snacks are stowed away, and your Barcalounger is returned to full upright position, in preparation for departure.
Yes, it’s true that when you set your sights on your long-term goal of losing a lot of weight, all the little things you can do along the way seem pretty insignificant. If I had a dollar for every time I talked myself into staying on the couch, by thinking of the 100 calories I'd burn with a couple of trips around the block as trivial, I could afford to retire. And I’d need all that money, because I wouldn’t be able to get off the couch at all by now, much less work.
So, let’s get real here for a minute. The reality is that the only thing that will get you where you want to be is the same little thing you don’t want to do because it seems so insignificant. That’s life—we want drama and spectacle, we get 10 minutes on the treadmill. All you can ever do is what is right in front of you, right now, in this moment. Everything else is history or fantasy. If it’s meaning you want, try doing whatever is in front of you as well as you possibly can.
Believe me, I know this is much easier to say than to put into practice. I know it’s much easier to believe after the fact than before you’ve seen it work wonders in your own life. But there is no alternative way of thinking or acting that actually works (as far as I know), and I looked pretty hard.
Your body will start responding positively to exercise—very quickly. That two minutes you can do on the elliptical machine today will probably turn into 10 minutes in a couple weeks, and 20 minutes within a couple of months. The 100 calories you burned will become 300 just as quickly, with more to come.
You don’t have to work super hard to get the results you’re looking for. One of the primary ways your body adapts to exercise is by doing the same exercise, but using less effort and energy. This means that working at a desirable level of intensity will very quickly start feeling easier even though you are actually doing more work than when you first started. In technical terms, this is called “getting in shape,” which you've probably heard of and maybe even experienced once or twice yourself.
The first few times you elevate your heart rate where it needs to be, you may feel like this is more than you can or want to endure on a regular basis. But that doesn’t matter, simply because that’s not what you have to do.
As you read this, you’re only a few exercise sessions away from being able to work out comfortably at the moderate level of aerobic exercise required to:
- burn significant amounts of fat
- reduce many risk factors for cardiovascular disease
- produce positive brain-chemistry changes for your emotional and physical well-being.
- The heavier you are, the more calories you will burn. Now is the time to take advantage of one of the few perks that come with having some extra pounds to move around. You don’t really want to wait until you’re one of those poor skinny people who has to spend hours on the elliptical machine to burn a few calories, do you? Where’s the fun in that? Make that calorie counter hum.
This problem involves coming to terms with one of the true mysteries of human nature: forgetting important lessons we learn each day, forcing us to relearn them again—sometimes the hard way. You’d think that once you’ve figured out that exercise is important, that it does good things for you, and that it isn’t so bad once you get going, you’d have a pretty easy time getting yourself off the couch for the next exercise session, right?
It will get easier. And somewhere along the way it may even become second nature. But for a while, as far as your daily motivation is concerned, it may seem like you have to reinvent the wheel every day. I don’t know why this happens, but you would be wise to expect that you’ll routinely forget how good you feel after the exercise, and you’ll likely need some way to remind and persuade yourself to keep going. Here’s what I’d suggest; it worked for me.
This is a very simple and basic journal, in which you keep track of three things for each of your exercise sessions:
How you’re feeling and what you’re thinking as you are getting ready for your exercise session. Write down any thoughts you’re having about working out—especially negative ones. If you decide to skip exercise, make sure write that, along with the reason, and how you feel about your decision. This doesn’t need to be any more complicated than simply noting factual observations. DON”T try to psychoanalyze yourself or lecture yourself about what you did wrong, etc.
Describe exactly what you did during your workout: time spent, activity, distance/amount, heart rate, how you felt physically at the beginning, during, and after the session—again, just the simple facts.
- Note any changes or improvements from your last session. Did you walk further or longer? Did swimming feel easier or harder? Were you more or less tired, sore or strong? Did the session leave you feeling positive, invigorated, and glad you did it—or do you wish you had listened to that little voice telling you to stay on the couch?
This journal can do several very important things for you. It can help you make sure you’re exercising safely and at an effective level of intensity. If you’re always sore, rarely feel invigorated and refreshed; or if you aren’t improving regularly, or any experiencing any mental or emotional benefits, you’re probably either working too hard or not hard enough, and need to adjust things accordingly. You can use your journal to track and compare your adjustments to see what actually works for you.
And most importantly, you’re creating something you can turn to over and over again when you aren’t feeling motivated to exercise. All the expert advice and theory in the world can’t convince you of the benefits of exercising the way your own testimony can. So, next time you don’t feel like exercising, just pull out your journal and let yourself be persuaded by your favorite expert—yourself.