Not Exercising? Lower the Bar

By Michelle May, M.D.

Shaking, vomiting, muscle pain, collapsing… No, I’m not talking about the flu season, I’m talking about the season opener of The Biggest Loser.

As a person who has grown to love hiking and yoga for all of the positive benefits they provide, it’s difficult to watch these aggressive regimens push contestants to — and often over — their edge. But mostly I worry about the effect it has on viewers who have been trying to talk themselves into starting an exercise program.

I guess the advice that’s usually given to beginning exercisers to “start slow and gradually work your way up” wouldn’t make for very interesting TV. Still, it’s difficult for me to imagine how these punishing two-hour first-time workouts would inspire you to start exercising — especially without someone to shame and scream at you on national television.

Besides, you’re not in this for $250,000; you’re in this for life.

Current physical activity guidelines for Americans recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (e.g., brisk walking) every week. While this goal is comparatively modest, even that may be discouraging if you aren’t physically active at all.

My advice if you’re having difficulty exercising? Lower the bar.

Watch this one minute video: 

Overcoming Exercise Resistance

If you want to start an exercise program but feel discouraged, ask yourself:

“What is the least amount of exercise I can do… most days of the week, joyfully and consistently?”

Do the least amount of exercise??

Yes. Joyfully and consistently. Start where you are because when the discomfort and difficulty of making a change is too great, you won’t. Instead of focusing on the gap between where you are and where you “should” be, lower the bar so low that the temptation to step right over it is irresistible!

What might that lower bar like for you?

  • Walking for five minutes a day?
  • Dancing to one song each evening in your living room?
  • Taking one flight of stairs at work (then taking the elevator up the other three floors)?
  • Doing floor exercises (or standing up) during the commercials of one 30 minute television show?
  • Walking one lap around the soccer field during your child’s practice?
  • Something else?

Your negative self-talk might say, “That’s not enough! It won’t make any difference.” But if it helps you take that first step toward a more active lifestyle, you will be well on your way!

 

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