Think You're Too Heavy to Exercise? - Part 2

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.

But, if the necessity of starting something you don’t really want to do is the bad news, there is a lot more good news here:
  • 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.
    By this time tomorrow, you can be one exercise session closer to these benefits. This is one of the times when the shoe company is right. JUST DO IT—you'll be glad you did.
  • 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.
Hopefully now you’re willing to give this a try and see what happens. Next we'll discuss the subsequent problem you’ll probably face after you get over the first hump of beating the inertia and the initial discomfort. You don’t want to let this one catch you unprepared.

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.

Keep a “Before-During-After” Exercise Journal

This is a very simple and basic journal, in which you keep track of three things for each of your exercise sessions:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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?
Once every week (or as often as you find helpful), spend some time looking over your recent journal entries. Check your physical progress, look for patterns in your physical, emotional, and psychological responses to the exercise, and try to draw some conclusions for yourself, based on your recorded experience.

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.
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Member Comments

thank you Report
I think the idea of keeping a fitness journal might be the best one I've heard in a LONG time. It is SO easy to forget that feeling of euphoria that comes right after finishing a workout you didn't think you could finish, and a reminder of that seems like it will help motivate me to keep moving forward! Thank you!!! I'm going to go look for a notebook now. Better yet, I might just start leaving little video notes to myself! Report
Good article. Report
Starting my journal right now! Report
I LOVE the idea of keeping the journal! thank you so much! I can see this coming in handy for yrs to come. I'm putting it on my shopping list! Report
Spark is a great place to keep notes to yourself or journal...I use the notes section in the nutrition tracker and can see past notes by date field. Love this feature.

Liked the psychological approach of these articles about exercise. Even though I have never been too heavy to exercise and actually like to exercise, I can totally relate to lack of motivation even so! I think happens to everyone at some point. One thing not mentioned is the importance of making it become a habit...just as something one must do like brushing teeth. It's just something you do some days...when you don't really"feel" like it.

Best wishes and keep pushing fellow Sparkers! Report
Hi, thanks for sharing this series. There are a lot of good tips and encouragements in it. But I'm wondering why the photo is of a lady, and not a man! That seems to happen a lot. The author is a man, why not a photo of a man? Men can also benefit from sparkpeople! Report
This is the first article I've ever read that addresses the mechanics of exercise motivation. This is such vital information, and helps us to stop blaming ourselves for not exercising. The journal is a very good idea, and I'm going to try it. I already have an exercise journal where I write down each type of cardio or strength training I do. Adding in how I feel before and after is something I didn't think of writing down. Instead of psychoanalyzing myself I'll just write down and look at the facts. Report
I'm like kelliibfit I will start exercising for a couple weeks then stop. ,not sure why . Just started back today. Report
Like all tracking, however difficult, it takes the emotions out of it and makes us objective viewers of ourselves. I have been on SP for two months and am learning how to look at food and exercise as things we need to do to live, but the way we do both as the keys to living well. The first article said the most inspirational thing to me that I have found to really be true these last two months: the work you put in and the results you will see in your life are the same skills you will need to overcome any challenge in your life, and applying them to this journey will make us feel powerful, capable, and wonderful about ourselves. Report
Like all tracking, however difficult, it takes the emotions out of it and makes us objective viewers of ourselves. I have been on SP for two months and am learning how to look at food and exercise as things we need to do to live, but the way we do both as the keys to living well. The first article said the most inspirational thing to me that I have found to really be true these last two months: the work you put in and the results you will see in your life are the same skills you will need to overcome any challenge in your life, and applying them to this journey will make us feel powerful, capable, and wonderful about ourselves. Report
Great article. Keep them coming. Report
exercised for the first time!...I think i can ...thanks Report
Dean, you really get it! Your article spoke to me...I was feeling anxious just reading it and felt like running into the kitchen to eat something! Instead your article fed a part of me I thought nobody else understood. I can do this, thank you! Report
Great column. It is easy to discount a little exercise as both hard and insignificant (because it doesn't bring double digit results immediately). But small doses bring strength and endurance built step by step over time.

You sure won't get more fit and trim by sitting on the couch. Report


About The Author

Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.