Why people fear exercise

Is this the only route to fit?

Is this the only route to fit?

When I was a trainer, the most common belief amongst my clients was that I jumped out of bed every morning with a smile on my face yelling from the rooftops, “I LOVE EXERCISE!” Truth be told, I don’t. Unfortunately, today exercise stirs up a much more negative connotation versus 50 years ago. In other words, many people don’t even get started because they fear that exercise has to be all or nothing.

When my Grandmother was growing up she was very active. She lived on a farm and got regular exercise. When I was little I always played outside, there was no such thing as video games so I was outside being active and getting regular exercise. No advertisements, no push to exercise,  being active was simply part of life back then.

Thanks to advances in technology there are more things today to keep us sedentary versus active. Therefore, we’ve had to connect with exercise in an unnatural way, in that  we have to make time for it versus simply being active in our day to day lives which used to be enough. Not to mention that the food consumption was significantly different 50 years ago.

Today exercise is a challenge of the strongest, fastest, fittest people. To just walk is perceived as a less than cool activity which makes Crossfit the antithesis of walking. With each new report that the obesity battle continues, there arises new, more intense fitness programs. Each of these programs brag about their ability to leave participants weeping like a baby on the floor or if they’re lucky, puking their brains out because they gave it their all. That’s where my love or even like of exercise stops.

The idea of exercise which consists of tears, pain and the highly coveted throw-up session is not a draw for me. Now there will be those that say it’s not true, high intensity exercise does not encourage any of those t hings. Well, I will agree that responsible exercise does not encourage nor tout crying for your mama, writhing in pain or hunting down the nearest toilet to let go of your last meal. However, I see hundreds of ads, articles and websites that encourage blood, sweat and tears as a badge of courage.

I cannot in any way take away from those that truly love that sort of challenge. But the promotion and encouragement of that type of activity intimidates many folks that may want to start an exercise regime.  I know on the days where I just go for a walk, I feel a bit wimpy. And I’m in the 35% of those that exercise on a regular basis!  How must those folks feel that don’t exercise?

The bottom line is this. Exercise has morphed in to this world of fast and furious for it to matter, but that’s not so. Sure, if I do 100 squats and 100 pushups and carry a tire over my shoulder for 50 feet, not only am I a stud, I’m probably in pretty good shape. But the truth is I don’t want to do that, but that shouldn’t make me feel like anything less is pointless.walking(2)

I want to be proud of anything that I do to contribute to my health and if that means a walk on a regular basis, so be it. If I want to do a yoga class a few times a week and I don’t leave crying because I pushed myself beyond what is normal doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter, it does. Any amount of activity that you can do counts.

I hate the idea of exercising so intensely that I can’t walk for 3 days following. I hate the idea of being so sore that every time I go to sit down my eyes water. I hate the idea of thinking that if I don’t exercise for at least an hour, it’s pointless.

But here’s what I love:

I love when I get some activity in my day-to-day life be it a walk, bike ride or swim. I love when I feel invigorated and proud when I’m done exercising, not exhausted but invigorated.
I love when I finish exercising and look forward to the next opportunity I have to be active, on my terms. I feel incredibly proud when I finish a run especially when my motivation to do it was weak at best.

For the record, I’m not judging someone who enjoys exercising till they drop, God bless them. What I’m trying to get across is for the 68% of people that don’t exercise on a regular basis, if they think they have to kill themselves to be fit, they’ll never do it. Exercise should not be a scary proposition, nor should it hurt. For beginners will it be hard? Likely yes, but that’s like anything new. New things are always a challenge. But the idea of exercise should inspire possibilities for good health, not conjure up thoughts of fear and pain.

A solid walk counts, a great yoga class that respects your limitations counts, heck any class you take that respects your limitations counts. Exercise is about doing what your body was designed to do, move. There is no reason to beat yourself up during an exercise session in order for it to count.  Find what works for you, what you like or maybe even love. Only then will you be able to embrace activity and realize that whatever you do to be more fit and healthy is a great thing! You don’t have to kill yourself for it to count!

Here’s to never wishing for more time, rather making the most of it!!



10 Responses

  1. Debra says:

    Thanks for honoring fitness and the fitness industry with this, Nicki! So well said and shared and non-judgmental. I agree the continuum is growing wider every day…and yet, we’re not going any deeper into that 68%…Like we slowly are changing the message about low fat/no fat not being the answer (and contributing to the problem) won’t we understand soon that pushing harder isn’t the way to motivate the largest percent of the population?

    If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard…”I was in the best shape of my life until I got hurt doing _______________” (there are several answers here….all stacking up to pushing harder every day all the time rather than slow progression with good planning for rest, recovery and training with a purpose)

    • Nicki says:

      Thank you Debra. After 25 plus years, it seems more and more of the new trends were about killing yourself. That’s not going to help the obesity epidemic, in fact it might even make it worse! I’m with you, pushing over the top programs can only hurt those that are trying, not help them.

  2. Kudos. Well said. I agree with you 100%. Movement is exercise, not suffering.

    • Nicki says:

      Thanks. I used to tell clients that exercise shouldn’t be viewed as punishment for an imperfect body, rather a reward for the ability to move!

  3. Nicki,
    So well said. This, the topic of marginalizing non-exercisers, and the dichotomy between non-exercisers and the “fit” is what pains me each day as a fitness professional. Thanks for spreading the hope and the sentiment.

  4. Mish says:


    I cannot agree with you more… as a PT I try to live actively and encourage activity in my clients, in whatever that means for them… it would seem that can be a pretty lonely message amongst the “get a 6 pack in 90 days” (etc) – that you see everywhere.
    Thank you speaking out!

    • Nicki says:

      Thank you so much Mish for doing your part to engage with those that need it, vs. disengage which many “professionals” do.

  5. Saralyn Ward says:

    Hi Nicki,
    I shared your article on our facebook page for MyGroupFit – and it’s gone viral. I wanted to let you know, and to thank you for getting our community talking!
    Saralyn Ward Ciolek
    Project and Planning Manager, MyGroupFit

    • Nicki says:

      Saralyn, thank you SO much for sharing this post. I just feel that if we’re still not reaching 68% of folks we are doing something terribly wrong. I’ve always believed that the fitness industry tends to turn away the exact people they need to attract! Thank you again for sharing!!

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