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Secrets of Adding Exercise to Your Life

Most of us are plenty tired of having experts tell us we should do more exercise. Our chiropractors tell us. Our family doctors tell us. Friends who just started taking their first yoga class and aren't really experts tell us. Celebrities tell us. Kid stars on Disney Channel tell us. Now even local television news anchors are telling us.

Intentionally or not, the result of all this "encouragement" is just more and more guilt. We already know we should be exercising. Hearing about it all day long really doesn't help. We're working hard at our jobs, keeping it together, taking care of the family, but as long as we're not also doing our daily exercise we're just not doing enough. We're not being healthy and the experts are only too glad to recite all of the long-term consequences of our slothful behavior.1,2,3

So what's a person to do? On one hand, we can dig in our heels, deny reality, and desperately resist all those do-gooders. Some will bet their future on ancient family legends - "My grand-dad smoked two packs of cigarettes for 50 years, never exercised a day in his life, and died in his sleep when he was 92." Others will simply leave things up to fate, taking their chances as well as the path of least resistance, doing the same old same old, and hoping everything will be OK.

There is another way. First, it's very important to distinguish what I choose to do from what I should do. No one wants to do what they should do. Should means having to, should means having no choice in the matter. Should means someone else is telling me what to do, and no one really wants to do that. We want to do what we want to do. So telling a person they should do more exercise merely engenders resistance. People will only take the time and make the effort to exercise regularly if they want to do it, if they themselves choose to. Not because someone told them they needed to.

The secret of adding exercise to your life is discovering why you would want to do it. Discovering the payoff. Sure, the payoff includes being healthier, lowering your blood pressure, improving your metabolism, and lowering your serum glucose. But these are not really motivating factors for most people. If they were, everyone would be exercising. The real payoff, what gets people into the gym and out on the road walking, bicycling, and running, is that exercise is fun. You feel great afterward, often for the whole day. And pretty quickly, the more you exercise the more your body wants to do it. Your body takes over and your mind goes, "yeah, I'm going to the gym".

So the secret is to make a choice, pull yourself together, grit your teeth, and go exercising a few times. Almost always you'll discover that you actually do like it, that there's a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and fun. And all of a sudden, to your surprise and astonishment, you've become a person who exercises.

1Jordao MT, et al: Exercise Training Restores Hypertension-Induced Changes in the Elastic Tissue of the Thoracic Aorta. J Vasc Res 48(6):513-524, 2011
2Walsh NP, et al: Position statement. Part one: Immune function and exercise. Exerc Immunol Rev 17:6-63, 2011
3Lin GM, et al: Effects of aerobic and resistance training on hemoglobin A1c levels in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 304(20):2253-2262, 2010