Heart Health

Just Say No to Exercise

December 27, 2011

Just Say No to Exercise

For the past couple of years I’ve written blog posts about the age-old New Year’s resolution game.  Two years ago it was how to set and reach reasonable (not overreaching) goals.  Last year I focused on how to help your loved ones get the health screening they need.  After spending countless hours refining my thesis, reworking my talking points, and tuning my arguments, I came to the realization that no one really paid attention to anything I wrote anyway.  My guess is that not a single person made a single change to a single resolution based on my expertly crafted recommendations.

My first instinct was to work feverishly to come up with new insight on this subject—delve into the latest research, interview successful and failed “resoluters,” and contemplate humanity’s ongoing quest for self-improvement.

Nah.  Too much work.  Instead, I’m adopting a whole different approach.  This year I’ve decided that if I can beat ‘em I’ll just have to join ‘em.  Exercise seems to be pretty high on everyone’s list of resolutions they fail to live up to.  Over my years as a cardiologist I’ve heard a million excuses from people trying to justify why they don’t engage in regular activity.  Today, in order to help you quickly put to rest any misguided temptation you may have to add exercise to your resolution list, I have compiled an inventory of the most commonly employed excuses I’ve heard.  Feel free to share them with your family, your doctor, or even your cocker spaniel who’s always yapping to be taken out for a walk:

Exercise is too boring.  This justification is brilliant because it provides a way to avoid a trip to the gym with the excuse that you are just too darn intelligent.  My brain is such a hotbed of intellectual activity that 45 minutes on a treadmill will do irreversible damage to my finely honed array of neuronal synapses.  Other exercisers, those with lower IQs and less cerebral pep, can combat the boredom of an hour on the elliptical with television screens and iPods, and those (like me) who prefer to run or bike outdoors seem to be content with soaking up the scenery and pondering the mysteries of the universe.  That’s fine for mere mortals, but don’t you dare risk your own gray matter on such mindless activity.

My joints are too bad.  Another gem of an excuse, this one can apply to virtually anyone over the age of 40.  Back pain is nearly universal in the overweight population (strap an extra 50 pounds to the front of your abdomen for a dozen or so years and a few slipped discs are inevitable) and degeneration of the knee joints is epidemic.  I tell ya, doc, if it weren’t for these knees I’d be out doing triathlons.  But, hey, it’s bone on bone, so I’ll just have to spend my afternoons on the couch.  Just don’t let your doctor send you for a second opinion on your debilitation.  I recently spoke with Dr. Wesley Smeal—a noted physiatrist and sports medicine specialist—and asked him what percentage of people who justify inactivity due to joint problems are truly incapable of exercise.  His response:

“None.  Zero.  If you can move then there are exercises we can find for you.  Even patients with spinal cord injuries can be taught or assisted in order to remain active.  We can find a wide range of exercises—such as water therapy or even exercises while lying down— for virtually anyone.”

Try to emphasize your limp anytime you meet with your exercise-happy doctor and try your hardest to avoid a skilled physical therapist.

It’s too cold outside.  This is the one I’m tempted to use all the time.  Omaha is cold with a capital C.  Most days between November and April are miserable to anyone foolish enough to try to bundle up and tempt the frostbite gods.  Between June and August you can invoke the heat as a prime reason to stay on the couch—don’t want to end up in the ER with heat exhaustion.  As you cite this justification, try to ignore the fact that there’s a gym on every corner in this town, several metro malls available for walking, and a thousand treadmills in a thousand basements collecting dust.

I’m too short of breath.  This is a great “vicious cycle” excuse.  If you don’t exercise and pack on the pounds for just a few short years you’ll reach the point that a simple walk up a flight of stairs feels like an ascent up Everest.  I’ve had many patients pull out this old standby when explaining why they spend their days in the Barcalounger.  One such subject lasted about a minute on our cardiac treadmill test and jumped off the moment he started breathing a little heavy.  “There,” he proclaimed, “That’s the shortness of breath I’m talking about!”  He had come to view any type of breathing beyond his baseline as pathologic.  Of course, regular exercise is precisely the best therapy for such breathing difficulty, but don’t let your doctor try to convince you of that.

I’m just too tired at the end of the day.  You wake up early for work, spend hours slaving away at the job site, come home to a messy house filled with screaming kids and a demanding spouse, and by the time you have even a moment to think about exercise you are ready to collapse into a heap on your bed.  You are constantly fatigued, and the concept of waking up early to attack the elliptical just makes you sleepier.  A word of caution: this excuse is relatively easy for your doctor to disprove with something they like to call “hard data.”  Study after study has shown that people who are chronically fatigue experience a considerable improvement in their level of energy once they get into a regular exercise program.  In one example, researchers took exhausted volunteers and tested the effect of only 20 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for six weeks.  The results showed a 65% improvement in energy level:

“Too often we believe that a quick workout will leave us worn out — especially when we are already feeling fatigued,” said researcher Tim Puetz, the lead author of the study, in a news release. “However, we have shown that regular exercise can actually go a long way in increasing feelings of energy — particularly in sedentary individuals.”

I’m too busy.  This one works as well as the “fatigue” excuse.  How dare anyone question the obvious fact that your life is too harried for exercise!  There are only 24 hours in a day, after all, and every single one is already spoken for.  Just don’t throw this excuse around other equally busy people who manage to squeeze in regular exercise.  One such individual is a man I met a few years ago, a corporate big shot at a local Fortune 500 company and spends his days in high-level meetings and on airliners jetting around the world.  I had him do a treadmill test that he passed with high marks and surprisingly youthful vigor.  When asked about his exercise habits, he told me that he wears a pedometer and makes sure he gets ten thousand steps a day regardless of his schedule.  On more than one occasion, when arriving late at night at a hotel halfway around the world, he spent the remaining minutes of the day on a treadmill in order to keep to his regimen.  “I haven’t missed a day in years,” he told me.  Guys like that are spoilers for this otherwise useful excuse.

Here’s my advice: print up this blog post and keep it handy.  The next time someone—especially a doctor—tries to convince you of the need for exercise, or if you’re remotely tempted to add this to your resolution list, just pull out this list and employ any one of these sure-fire excuses.

As for me, I’m feeling pretty good about turning to the dark side.  Perhaps my New Year’s resolution will be to write more about the merits of life as a couch potato.  Next month: scientific justification that meatlovers pizza hits all the requirements of the new food pyramid and how to convince your spouse that channel surfing is a legitimate mode of exercise.

  1. gary kujat

    There are those who use resistance training and those who resist to training. Exercising since December 28 1994 I find that many people let their "feelings and emotions" get in their way. Set those aside and use Logic and reasoning. It works for me.

  2. Carolyn Thomas

    As a distance runner for 19 years, my running group perfected the fine art of making up excuses not to run today. It's too cold. It's too hot. I'm too hungry. I'm too full. It's too early. It's too late. We ALWAYS tried to get away with SOMETHING! I now prefer to heed the wise counsel of one of my favourite electrophysiologists, Dr. John Mandrola, who likes to say: "You only have to exercise on the days you plan to eat!"

  3. Cynthia

    Thanks for the great read. I have had a hard time for years bringing that old word exercise and better diet together. It's either one or the other or none. I have decided to help myslef and my family, especially my husband who has Type 2. This year my motto is " Lead by example", and it is working. I text him when I have my thirty done on the treadmil (watching healthy cooking channels) and low and behold he comes home after 10 hour work day and hops on the bike. One day at a time and no excuses! Also I hear a voice in my head.... when I want to snack.... don't and you will be rewarded. Wish us luck! Thanks for the information.

  4. Sue

    I knew I shouldn't have clicked on your article while I was on break eating my vanilla wafer cookies...for some reason they didn't taste as good! (I just ate them faster)....but I was interested in what you had to say and enjoyed the colorful commentary. Stepping in the right direction, Weight Watchers starts next week. (that's why I ate the cookies today!)

  5. Liz

    Too funny!! I just realized I started reading this to avoid running on the treadmill. Thanks for the insight and motivation Doc.

  6. Bridget

    Dr. Van De Graaff, you crack me up !!! These excuses are sooo true to many of us. Keep on with the reverse psych, I'm feeling very motivated. I always have to remember that even a tiny bit of perspiration gives me so much more energy to go on with the rest of my day. It's so hard to justify that time to yourself with busy jobs and families, but I really believe exercise cures many ills. Thanks for your insight.

  7. Jen

    I really enjoyed reading this blog and everyone's comments. I have lost over 100 lbs and it hasn't been easy. I have had to change many things. I am also shocked by Kurt's comments. I am a nurse in the ER and we should NOT judge people. I don't live their life, and you don't either. I have taken care of countless "thin" people and athletes who have hurt themselves and none of it has to do with obesity. I have taken care of several healthcare workers, Dr's, athletes who smoke, I do not judge them either! I have also taken care of several people who became obese due to an injury and a loss of caring as much about life, etc. I hope you reconsider your job profession if this is the way you think! I hope my family is never under your care! I would never treat or think of one of my patient's this way! Hope everyone reaches their goals this year!

  8. cheryl

    Last year I started running to train for the Lincoln half marathon. I did it to keep up with my siblings who had made up their minds they were going to do it. I never realized what a powerful motivation it would be to sign up for something like that. I never kept up a regular exercise program longer than a few months before (for many of the "reasons" above), I just couldn't "stick with it". Signing up for a race, especially a long one, whether you plan to walk or run or both, it keeps you more motivated and gives you a goal to shoot for. As soon as I finish a race I look for the next one so that I have something every few months to aim for. There are usually spectators at races and it helps to know there will be people watching AND people older than me that will be passing me and that keeps me training to try to get faster!!! It's been a year now and I am still running and staying with it, some weeks I get to run more than others but I've kept going!!

  9. Colleen Leise

    Like your "altered" approach to get people thinking about our excuses to better cardiac health., Thank you for being querky! It helps me pay attention to what I really should be doing!

  10. Jody

    Thanks for the laughs and the ammunition!

  11. Lynsey

    As a personal trainer in the wellness center, we've heard them all, every excuse in the book! Loved the article and may try combating those excuses with some humor myself! Thanks! Even trainers need a little push to get into the gym every once in awhile! :)

  12. Jeanne McGrain

    I recognized each and every one of the excuses (I used to call them "reasons") you listed as ones I have used and I had even more, each more ridiculous and exotic than the next! At 365 pounds, some were even true! Now, at 175 pounds with a new lease on life, I have been able to embrace exercise in a way I never imagined I would. I am by no means obssessed with it, but I will confess I feel mentally much better, as well as physically, now that I am exercising regularly. It is never too late, and you are never too far gone to at least START! It gets easier, and, OMG, you just might enjoy it!

  13. Joyce

    This was a riot and the perfect way to get me off my butt. However, I already rise at 5:00 a.m. just to get ready for work. I guess I'll have to try to increase my evening activity. Hope it keeps me from collapsing on the couch!

  14. Jamie

    I just want to state that a few months ago this incredible woman Amber Miller felt contractions just minutes after crossing the finish line at the Chicago Marathon. A few hours later, the 27-year-old --who slogged her way through 26.2 miles while nearly 39 weeks pregnant -- delivered a healthy baby girl. If this young lady can exercise there should be no excuse for any of us. It should not matter how old or what situation we are in, there is some sort of exercise that works for us.

  15. Jerry Ham

    Recently retired, I'm about to take a 2-3 month road trip. There won't be many places where I will will be able to spend quality power-walking time, my favorite exercise. Although I plan to finish the rainy season with a gym membership back home, just the thought of all that mini motor-home sitting puts fat on. I will be on the look-out for a good jump-rope and secluded places to do other exercises. I have been inspired by your blog to creatively find ways to be active. Thanks

  16. Jamie

    Wow, Kurt. It's great to know that such an understanding, compassionate guy has chosen to work in the health care field. I'm not saying it's always the case, but I gained 30 lbs AFTER developing a mass in my spinal column. I couldn't walk, sit, or sleep comfortably, let alone keep up with a workout plan. It took 3 different MRIs, over two years, to find the 5 cm mass due to "operator error" . The mass was removed 4 years ago and I'm fine. I just hope that your attitude towards the patients entrusted to your care isn't clouding your judgement or impacting the quality of care the patients receive. While I'm sure a sedentary lifestyle isn't helping these people, you don't know for sure if the pain came first or if it is a symptom of obesity. While I'm not a grammar or punctuation freak, I would like to recommend "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation" as your post was a bit difficult to read. Happy New Year!

  17. paula

    i agree with most of what was said but lets not judge other people when we don't know them or their situations.

  18. Dr. Matthew D. Skaff

    What gets many people out of this catch 22 is making better nutritional choices. I have coached many patients, beginning with myself, on better nutrition, and cleansing toxins from their body, and the increased energy level and better sleep does help eliminate 1,2,3 &5. Like putting higher octane gas in your car, good nutrition is just better fuel for your body. Most people lose 10-15 pounds in their first 2 weeks on our program. That's a nice jump-start! drskaff@cox.net

  19. Kurt

    I totally agree with the good Doctor, I myself am I Rad Tech and everyday I have to take pictures of men and woman, some young and some old all complaining of the same thing. My back hurts, my knees hurt, my feet hurt. I would say more than half of those people got the pain they are suffering from because of being over weight, they would rather have a joint replaced that we get to pay for then walk a mile or two a day. I don't know the exact statistics but I'm willing to bet that there are more joints replaced due to over weight lethargic lifestyles than from fractures and trauma... and no fat is not a trauma. The sad thing is that this attitude is rolling over on to younger kids, I'm amazed at how many kids are over weight these days..... guess were they get the problem... mommy and daddy. Sure its easier to sue a fast food chain for you becoming an over weight than stepping up and stating the facts. Your lazy. People make me sick on a daily bases.

  20. Bubba

    Doc you are a hoot! This is just like talking to you! I jog anywhere from 1.5 to 8.5 miles a day 6 to 7 times a week, sometimes 2-3 miles before work each day. My joints are bad am over weight. But I exercise every day weither I want to or not as heart disease runs on both sides of my family. As for a News Years resolution. I have never made one as I am always trying to "fix" issues I identify throuh out the year. That is not to say I fix them, but it is an ongoing chore for me! I am basically lazy, but seem to always push my self to jog...people are always looking for the easy way lose weight...there isn't an "EASY" way! It takes a lot of hard work, exercise, and determination to get down and maintain a comfortable weight! People either have the drive it takes or they don't, better yet it may not be that important to them, untill they get into trouble, then they go running to their cardiologist to "fix" them! I have resolved myself to always be a little over weight, at certain times of the year, but will also always be jogging untill you tell me I can not! I might also add it does my heart good to see you eat a slice pf pizza now and again!

  21. Sarah

    Great post! I hate winter, but I hate running on a treadmil more. With a few layers, gloves, hat and warm socks, almost any day is beautiful once you get going out on the open road. Also, I recommend getting a dog that needs exercise every day. You can't think twice about ditching something cute to be lazy.

  22. Jen

    Great post! It's hard to believe now, but I actually used to be somewhat of a runner. I medaled in a handful of cross country races in high school -- and even kind of enjoyed running for sport. Since stopping, however, I've found a way to use all of the excuses you've listed above ((and more!)) to keep myself from heading back out again. Now, as I shared with you the other day, my sister and I -- who are both pregnant -- have decided to run the Lincoln half marathon together in 2013. It's not going to be easy -- especially not training while still adjusting to having a kid! But we've set the goal and fully plan to achieve it. The best part: I've already bookmarked this post so that I can use it when I start to make those excuses again! So thanks in advance for the inspiration. I'm sure I'll be needing it!

  23. Gwen

    Your blogs are awesome! As a personal trainer and group exercise instructor I love the surge of people we see in the Wellness Center, for anywhere from 7-21 days and then we don't see them again until next January! Ah your humor is so refreshing, and those are some of my favorite excuses right after, "I just don't want to." :) Thank you!

  24. Larry

    I participated in a full Ironman this year but that is hardly the story. I met an 84 year old man (36 years my elder) that finished before the midnight cutoff. 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run. He is my inspiration and the reason I get up every day and exercise! Want more motivation go to youtube (outside of work hours of course) and search Rick Hoyt, exercise for yourself and exercise for your loved ones!

  25. Mary McManus

    Thank you - I have used all those excuses all my life and now see how foolish I have sounded. I am determined to start exercising and gain more energy starting today!

  26. Mary

    I have used all the great excuses and now feel like a fool. I am starting to exercise tomorrow- no more foolish excuses - I want more energy!

  27. Ann

    I am a 57 year old who's had "bad knees" since I was in the 8th Grade. I just completed my first full marathon in the blazing time of 7:59:51. In San Francisco. I have done 6 half marathons since the age of 53. I plan to do a triathalon and a century bike ride before I turn 60. I started with rollerblading at age 48, then walking when the right equipment came along. Now I walk/run, and soon will be biking and swimming, hopefully. I once quoted to my husband that you gain an hour of life for every hour of exercise, and his response was "But you've already wasted it exercising." Alas, he died at age 51 of complications of being overweight and sedentary. Love your blogs. Keep it up. P.S., I'm one of those "dreaded" skilled physical therapists.

  28. Hannah Wyble

    I love your blogs- keep writing! You bring a smile to my face when I read what you have to say. : )

  29. John

    Channel Surfing is a legitimate form of exercise, the problem is that the remote is on the other side of the room, and I don't have enough energy to go get it...

  30. Jena

    I was just having this conversation with my 5:30 a.m. workout friends. We were talking specifically about the people who claim there is no time during the day to exercise. We all know that if you wake up at 5:30 a.m., there is always time to exercise.

  31. Loan Eby

    Sister Madonna Buder (aka The Iron Nun), from Spokane, Washington began training for triathlon at age 48. At the 2005 Hawaii Ironman, at age 75, The Iron Nun became the oldest woman ever to complete the race, finishing 1 hour before the 17-hour midnight cut-off time. At the 2006 Hawaii Ironman, at age 76, she again became the oldest woman ever to complete the race, finishing with a time of 16:59:03. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_Buder) I'm not convinced that you can use any of the excuses with the Iron Nun, either. I love the sarcasm :0)

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