Fitness Articles

8 Cold, Hard Truths about Exercise

It's Time for an Exercise in Tough Love

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Many of you have been trying to make exercise a habit. Some of you may have already succeeded in that goal. Either way, I'm proud of you for making fitness a part of your life—even if you're not always perfect at it. A consistent exercise routine offers so many benefits to your mind and your body, many of which you are probably already beginning to experience.

Now it's time for some tough love.

We all have our own ideas about exercise: what "counts" as a workout, how much we need to do, and how it benefits us. But some of those ideas are flat our wrong (or simply misguided). If you're exercising and not seeing the results you had hoped for, it could be that you're missing out on these eight truths about exercise. Now they may be hard to hear, but trust that I'm sharing them with you for good reasons. Understanding these realities will only make the habit of exercise easier for you—and help you get even better results from your efforts.

8 Cold, Hard Truths about Exercise

Working out will always feel hard.
Exercise is work. It elevates your heart rate, makes you somewhat breathless, and causes your muscles to burn. It's tiring—sometimes exhausting. Yes, exercise does get easier with time, but it will never be "easy." If it were easy, it wouldn’t be exercise. You see, beyond just getting your body moving (which is great but will only get you so far), exercise has to challenge you. You have to work past your comfort zone in order to train your heart, lungs, and muscles to get stronger and fitter. Over time, yes it will become easier to walk at the 3 mph pace you started, but once that becomes easy, it's time to walk faster, which brings me to another cold, hard truth: You have to work harder as you get fitter. Think of it exercise as a challenge to continuously improve on what you just accomplished.

Not every movement or activity counts as exercise.
Let me preface this one by saying that any body movement is good for you. Whether you're fidgeting at your desk, walking across the office to talk to a co-worker, taking a single flight of stairs instead of the elevator, or playing Wii tennis—all movement is good, especially when you're just starting out. But here's the real truth: Not all movement is "exercise." The two are very, very different. For any activity to count as true exercise, it has to meet certain parameters, like lasting at least 10 continuous minutes (so those stairs you took or that walk from your car to the store doesn't count as a workout), it has to elevate your heart rate to an aerobic level (that "hard" feeling I mentioned above), and more. If you count all of these "activities" or body movements you do each day as workouts, then you are only shortchanging yourself—and you could be hurting your weight loss efforts.
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About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

Member Comments

  • This article has been up several times, and every time I read it, all it does is discourages me. And I bet I'm not the only one. What if someone can't do 60 min. of exercise? What if someone is on a Beta Blocker (depresses the heart rate) and can't get their heart rate up because of the medication? What if someone has physical limitations? This article tells us to get over ourselves, suck it up, and move it. And since we can't, I guess we're just out of luck. - 4/12/2016 10:29:53 AM
  • I am not sure I am on board with most of these especially as I had a paternal grandfather who was an ex lumberjack and farmer and was NEVER overweight and did NOT worry about what he ate (mind you he rarely ate junk food or fast food). Also I am not sure the whole story is being told when we now seem to eat more over processed and food that is of dubious nutritional benefit. - 1/10/2016 8:30:56 PM
  • AWESOME article, really, really good. For some reason, reading that exercise will get easier but it will never be easy was just what I needed to hear today. It really built my self-esteem to realize that yes, darnit, I AM doing something hard. Every single point you made was golden. Thank you! - 1/6/2016 9:08:26 PM
  • Learning to love the truth, even when it is hard. Some of these were hard facts to face, but I'm grateful to have this knowledge so I can attack the urge to skip a workout (like I almost talked myself into tonight). I appreciated your question about how do I reward myself. I'm slowly learning that to truly reward myself means to stay away from those "treats" I'd allow myself for having a great week. They've repeatedly left me feeling guilty and frustrated on a Monday morning. - 1/6/2016 6:38:06 PM
  • SAMUELS15
    It is hard sometimes to think I will always have to work harder but that is also part of the fun. I have found now if I don't exercise for a few days due to vacation or visiting that my body craves it. I really do enjoy it -- to a point :)
    - 1/6/2016 12:54:25 PM
  • One of the things I don't like about SP is the exercise snobbery. It isn't exercise if it is not in a gym. If I go to the barn and shovel manure for 4 hours that is not exercise according to SP, but a leasurely walk down the street is exercise. And which one do you think is expending more effort an using more muscles? I count much of my farm work as exercise and it has not hurt my weigh loss at all, if I didn't I would be starving all the time. - 1/6/2016 9:53:01 AM
  • Cold, hard truth. Thanks, Coach Nicole! - 1/6/2016 9:20:32 AM
  • one of the better articles I have read here. Thanks for the reminders. Most of it I knew/had heard before, but it's always good to have a refresher :) - 1/6/2016 6:04:46 AM
  • HOPESHADOWS84
    My body is very ironic. For about 5-6 weeks I thought I had hit a plateau. 1200 calories a day 3-5 on the elliptical 3-4 xs a week. Didn't lose any inches or pounds. Mind you I'm 5-3, 145 pounds, so you can imagine the frustration. Then, all of a sudden something sparked in me. Well maybe I'm not eating enough calories. Tested an increase of 100 calories daily until I saw a spike on the scale to my shock 1700 calories is just enough for me to shed half a pound a week plus I have one or two cheat days in a week.(Yes, pleasure meals). It seems counter intuitive, I do believe some people need exercise and a little bit more calories to lose. You don't want to shock your body. Your body will hold onto everything. I learned the hard way. I also have hashimotos. So without exercise I wont lose inches. It is a tuff battle. But I could have swore 1200 calories would be enough even on my sloth days. Turns out 1200 calories is for someone in a hospital bed. I can fare around 1300 calories on a lazy day. - 9/16/2015 8:20:45 AM
  • DANDYLINES
    Thank you for this intelligent article. I recently attended a YMCA program on fitness and they now use the physical activity. They are emphasizing just moving and getting up and doing something. I suppose that is for beginners, but this is a more reliable article and information. - 7/8/2015 6:06:21 PM
  • I think the article made a great point about one workout per day does not makeup for living a sedentary life. It's too easy to say "Well I workout for ____ minutes today so I can lay around and watch TV the rest of the day (and night). An active lifestyle means getting up and moving every hour of the day. - 7/8/2015 1:07:04 PM
  • I really appreciate this site with all these articles! I love being active but exercise is hard for me to not fall into a routine. I dance 1-2 times a week for about 3 hours each session but at the gym it is so easy to do the same thing over and over again! Some gyms I guess have more things, mine just has those cardio machines. So in this, I have to set my goals with dancing in order to push myself. - 7/8/2015 11:17:26 AM
  • EWAGNEV493
    I found this article to be very helpful & actually wrote down the 8 truths! Now going on a 2 hr outdoor bike ride as it is a beyond beautiful day here in Omaha, NE (sunny, no wind, no humidity & 72 degrees for day's high)! - 7/8/2015 10:55:50 AM
  • Thanks for this article - I agree. I'm reading a book called Being Mortal by Atul Gawanda at the moment - and the facts about the decline of physical fitness and strength as we get older (even from 40 onwards) is very startling. I am someone who 'exercises' regularly but avoids the 'hard' - and consequently I don't see much change, but I am maintaining my stamina, strength and suppleness by doing something every day. - 7/8/2015 5:13:37 AM
  • MAMAKITTEH1
    Thanks so much for posting this helpful info. It is important to stay active on a daily basis and how and what exercise you need obviously depends on the individual but itís actually surprising how little you really need to stay fit....you DON'T need to work yourself to exhaustion. I used to work out for HOURS but cut my routine by over half a few years ago. I now do app. 3-4 30 minute strength training workouts a week and moderate intensity walks whenever I can (which is pretty often because I walk everywhere!). Iíve been able to maintain my weight and fitness level and actually have more energy, no more leg and lower back pain from running like a maniac and I've noticed I don't binge and overeat like I did when I worked out so hard. If youíre interested in finding more information about what really works for both men and women, check out this revealing program called Stop Working Out! If youíre burnt out and exhausted from unnecessary exercise fatigue, you wonít be disappointed. You can find the page here:

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    - 7/3/2015 9:22:54 AM

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