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8 Cold, Hard Truths about Exercise

It's Time for an Exercise in Tough Love

-- By Nicole Nichols, Certified Personal Trainer and Health Educator
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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
Nicole was named "America's Top Personal Trainer to Watch" in 2011. A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, she loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Her DVDs "Total Body Sculpting" and "28 Day Boot Camp" (a best seller) are available online and in stores nationwide. Read Nicole's full bio and blog posts.

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Member Comments

  • Dear Lynna. The advice here is not really inconsistent. If you did 10 minutes of exercise everyday would you be healthier over the long run than if you did nothing? Yes. Would you ever reach your fittest? No. If you worked up to 30 minutes/day would you be even fitter? Yes. The first truth is an important truth, as we become fitter, we need to "up" our routineto challenge our bodies. The 10 minutes is our spark, but it is not yet our flame. If I'm in a blue mood and only do 10 minutes of pushups, abs, squats and stretches in the AM, will not that effort pay off? Yes. Will it make me into the fit person I want to be. No, but that 10 minutes makes me worlds better than nothing. - 4/16/2014 9:40:21 AM
  • I do agree not everything counts as exercise, however, I am confused it states that 10, 30 or even 60 minutes of exercise a day may not be enough. On spark they encourage at least 10 minutes everyday. Some parts of this article disagrees with what the site promotes. - 1/22/2014 10:55:13 AM
  • People need to chill here. If you're this resentful for hearing the truth about attaining and maintaining your health, you're deluding yourselves. It's unpleasant, and she did call the article "cold, hard truths," but that's the situation. Accept it. There is no magic bullet. If your quality of life matters, you'll listen. - 1/18/2014 12:28:44 PM
    Well, I'm 62 and unable to do much exercise other than physical therapy. Nonetheless, my internist is very happy with my weight and BMI of 19.5, plus normal-range blood tests. So I wonder if our individual circumstances don't often override more general, broad-based exercise recommendations. - 12/9/2013 8:14:13 PM
  • ....So...does exercise really help us live longer, or does it just *seem* longer?

    This article certainly makes it seem like the latter will be the truth. For those of us without HRMs, without hours a day to devote to nothing but fitness, who may be bound to our chairs by our careers, this sounds like a whole lot of "why bother?" If I can't exercise at top form for a long period, it's no use. If my exercise is routine, it's no use. If I'm not sweating bullets and running miles, it's no use. All those years of taking the stairs and parking far away were of no use. Sounds like we're back to "The only way to lose weight is to beat yourself to a pulp and live on plain lettuce."

    I exercise -and I lift - because I like how it makes me feel, but I guess my belief that this effort was aiding my weight loss is just not right. Thanks for setting me straight on that, Nichole. - 11/16/2013 10:31:05 AM
  • This article is realistic. Thanks, Coach Nicole! - 11/14/2013 6:09:22 PM
    This article is downright discouraging. - 11/10/2013 9:56:52 AM
  • I believe that all forms of movement helps. - 11/10/2013 6:53:44 AM
  • Someone who commented which is in her 60's was concerned about vigorous exercise. I recently read that vigorous exercise for post menopausal women is not recommended because it raises cortisol levels (stress hormone) which can increase diseases of many sorts (esp. heart) because we no longer have estrogen produced in our bodies to help keep that cortisol level in check. What IS recommended is leisurely walking for an hour or more each day and yoga for its calming effects. I do both and have been able to maintain my 95 lb weight loss. - 11/9/2013 7:46:06 AM
  • After reading some of the comments, I had to read the article again since I didn't think the author was being negative at all.
    She says that all movement is worthwhile, but she is putting some cold hard facts in front of us.
    I thought she was encouraging us to strive to improve and I appreciate that. - 11/6/2013 8:41:54 PM
  • Great article. Thank you. That's why I try to do different exercise. - 11/6/2013 6:22:08 PM
  • Well, thanks for crapping all over my day. Coach Nicole, your tone makes me feel utterly hopeless. Sometimes "telling it like it is" can sound superior instead of helpful, and regardless of how true what you have written may be, the tone made this article just plain mean. I wish I had not read it. I already know what you have said. Every obese person probably knows it. But all of us need a bit more encouragement than the patronizing way you have expressed these truths.
    - 11/6/2013 6:13:06 PM
  • I like to reward myself for exercising with some other activity I enjoy. So, time in the spa, steam room or sauna after a workout is a great reward for me. - 11/4/2013 4:33:48 PM
  • While in theory, I agree that not all activities should be considered exercise, however, just because some activity doesn't burn a lot of calories doesn't mean it's not exercise or that you're not engaging in a workout.

    For example, I engage in some core exercises and whe they don't burn a lot of calories or losing lbs, I am definitely building strength and muscles. Furthermore, I believe that a big part of how I've maintained my 62lb weight loss is that for several months I have been gaining muscle weight.

    While I haven't lost any weight in months even though I'm still doing everything I did before, I am still losing inches/sizes. As far as I am concerned, that's more important to me than losing lbs because even though I weigh the same I an definitely leaner. JMHO - 11/4/2013 4:32:27 PM
  • Thanks, that was a real eye opener. I enjoyed the truth in that article, exercise is forever, get used to it, mix it up, find somthing you like doing etc. etc. It reminds me it isn't a short term thing until you reach a certain weight goal. Thanks for the reality check. - 11/4/2013 3:59:30 PM
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