Time to stop making excuses and embrace the power of exercise

Finding the time to fit in fitness or eat healthily can be tough and we’re all prone to finding excuses to avoid taking care of ourselves.
Avoiding exercise means putting ourselves at risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression, among others. Pawan Singh / The National
Avoiding exercise means putting ourselves at risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression, among others. Pawan Singh / The National

‘I got stuck at work.”

“I just got my hair done and I don’t want to mess it up.”

“No babysitter.”

“Joining a gym is too expensive.”

“I don’t have time.”

These are some of the standard excuses for not making it to the gym that can be heard around the office or school car park every day. Those who lead fitness classes or are personal trainers know the excuses can be much more creative. Here is one I will never forget, from a woman who didn’t make it to a yoga class: “The reason I couldn’t come is that I fell in love with my children all over again.”

Read more: 5 ways to work your excuses in reverse

Not all excuses are created equal. Sometimes our children get sick, or highways turn into rivers after forceful downpours. At one end of the spectrum are genuine reasons why we couldn’t make it to a workout session on a particular day; on the other is the idea that exerting ourselves will mess up our hair, make-up or nails. In the middle are time and money – valid reasons, but they shouldn’t keep us from our workout. Thrown casually between friends, like a self-handicapping baseball, these excuses are usually caught with a nod of empathy or one-upped by another excuse. But if you turn the excuse upside down and shake it, you will find it full of holes.

We can duck out of meditation or eating broccoli, but avoiding exercise means putting ourselves at risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and depression, among others. Not to mention slowing down our metabolism, which makes maintaining a healthy weight difficult. Doctors worldwide generally recommend that adults between the ages of 19 and 64 do 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as walking or cycling, or 15 minutes of vigorous activity, such as running or tennis, five days a week, plus two or more days of strength exercises for all major muscle groups.

Exercise benefits your mind as much as your body, particularly memory and concentration, according to a 2014 article by Harvard Health Publications, for Harvard Medical School. The article says: “Parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.”

There is something for everyone. If you don’t like dragging tyres down the road with a rope, doing burpees by the dozen, or squats until your muscles quiver, you’re not alone. Finding something that you enjoy is half the battle: capoeira, kayaking, tai chi, volleyball and squash. There are clubs and meetup groups around the UAE for badminton, table tennis and even dragon-boat rowing. We don’t make excuses to avoid things we enjoy.

Next time you find yourself wiggling out of an exercise commitment, stop and reflect on why. Psychologists characterise excuses as self-handicapping behaviour. In an effort to protect our self-esteem and avoid failure, and save ourselves against anxiety or shame, we fall into patterns that don’t serve us well in the long run, according to PsyBlog, founded by psychologist Dr Jeremy Dean in which he blogs about published research studies.

For example, sometimes we are reluctant to try a new fitness class because we convince ourselves, ahead of time, that we will be terrible at it. We are so sure this is what will happen that if we do make it to the class, we don’t look around to see that there are many other beginners just like us. But many of us never even get though the door. Just showing up, especially to something new, requires that we take a leap of faith and check our egos at the door. No one is perfect. It’s OK to be mediocre at a new skill. We might be the slowest rider on our first day of spin class, but that means we can only improve.

When it comes to exercise, the inverse of our excuses often yields unexpected returns.

Worried about messing up your hair? Go to yoga with still-damp hair loosely tied back from your face and walk out of class with loose, beachy waves that no salon can match.

No babysitter? Take your kids for a bike ride. Kids who exercise with their parents learn good habits that last a lifetime.

No time? Shut down Facebook for a week and discover hours of time to kill.

There are people who flip their excuses the other way, towards exercise. They stop working overtime and cancel salon appointments and show up, because exercise shifts their moods, clears their minds and makes them feel good from the inside out. Many of these people are working parents with kids in nappies who turn up to work out as if their life depended on it. Which, of course, it does.

Published: April 17, 2016 04:00 AM

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