Did You Quit Exercising?
Why We Give Up & How to Regroup (Part 1 of 2)
Were you exercising like a champ pre-pandemic but stopped amidst the sludgy angst of the past year? Were you exercising last week but haven’t logged one session this week? What’s going on? Well, like most people, you’ve hit a bout of backing out—or might be on the brink of one. It happens. For many reasons, we slip out of the exercise groove at times. If you have, and you’re reading this, you probably want to slide back in.
Here are the most common reasons we quit exercise and some suggestions for reframing your mindset to get going again.
We’re too stressed out to keep exercise on the to-do list.
You've probably heard this is one of the top reasons people quit exercise, and it is. (In a related but not exactly identical way, most people avoid starting an exercise program because they believe they don’t have the time.) When schedules change or new work and family demands pop up, we’re at risk of ditching workouts. Ironically, exercise relieves stress, so we’re actually setting ourselves up for a double whammy of the stuff. The best thing you can do is schedule workouts like they’re essential, I’m-gonna-get-fired-if-I-don’t-show-up appointments. And, by the way, who has the best chance of persevering during stressful times? Those who work out first thing in the morning. They do it BEFORE life gets in the way.
We don’t see fitness gains.
Many people spend a lot of time working out inefficiently and/or sporadically. Our bodies respond to a certain amount of demand. Standing around talking at the gym doesn’t build muscle (though it is really helpful to socialize with like-minded fitness folks). But if you stick to some basic tenets, you will gradually experience improvements in endurance, strength, and flexibility, plus other factors such as agility, balance & coordination, depending on your focus. Do some type of aerobic exercise at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes a day. Strength train major muscles twice a week (using a resistance that challenges but doesn’t injure you). And stretch after every workout. Then simply BE CONSISTENT. It doesn’t have to be much more complicated than that.
We approach exercise solely as a weight loss tactic.
While regular exercise can help to control weight, we cannot lean on it as the single avenue to weight LOSS. Popular belief and commercial exercise programs drive us to believe we can, though, and then when pounds don’t melt off, frustration prevails and we stop. Weight loss is a more involved process than we often realize. It can be hampered by diet & lack of exercise, of course, but also by stress, poor sleeping habits, age, genetics, medications, and other factors. So, absolutely persevere, but readjust expectations toward other huge benefits (like those listed later) with exercise supporting weight maintenance, a valuable goal in and of itself.
We’re sore ALL the time.
No one wants to feel lousy, achy, and sore, but exercise devotees often do experience this. There’s a common & persistent misperception that a GOOD workout leaves you sore the next day. (To this day, the erroneous mantra, “no pain, no gain,” still harangues exercisers.) While it WILL happen sometimes, the goal of physical activity should not revolve around routinely breaking down tissue and requiring great deals of recovery. Inevitably, diehards skip the latter and risk overtraining, injury, and quitting. We need to push ourselves without losing the great quality of life that regular exercise fosters. It’s a fine balance that we discover individually.
We feel awkward & self conscious.
When we first start or even try a new mode of exercise, EVERYONE goes through the squirmy stage, whether we’re making a first gym appearance or jogging the neighborhood. We’re inherently social creatures and often fret about how we look in public, who’s thinking what about us, & whether or not we seem to know what we’re doing! Paired with this are stereotypes regarding what “healthy exercisers” look like—In real life, this does not mean like fitness models. Most of the time, I truly believe others are inwardly cheering us on when they see us exercising and maybe even feeling inspired. But if you’ve tried to cement a routine and your discomfort level is still so high you may quit, consider finding a workout buddy, introducing yourself to exercise class instructors (good ones will make you feel right at home), or exercising in private (though you could miss out on some awesome social bonding).
We’ve never stuck with it before, so why now?
Believing we CAN do something plays an enormous role in whether or not we WILL. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, but it does increase the chances of actually reaching a goal. Pay attention to what you’re telling yourself about your ability to persist. In fact, making an honest assessment of your state of mind during a pre-workout warmup and adjusting thoughts to a more positive outlook is just as valuable as prepping the body for exercise. For example, you may be sluggish and discouraged, but you might acknowledge this and move forward by saying something like, “I don’t feel great today, but I know I can do at least 45 minutes and will probably feel really good once I do.”
Next time, we'll look at even more obstacles that undermine a regular workout habit. Stay tuned. And if at all possible, stay active.