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Change Your Mind about Exercise

By Michelle May, M.D.

man and woman on bikes

Although exercise is one of the most powerful tools available for improving your health and boosting your metabolism, for many people the word exercise conjures up negative thoughts and feelings. Thinking ineffective thoughts is a habit, and a habit can be broken with awareness and practice. For example, if you believe that fitness is important but you’re not very active or exercising regularly, it’s likely you have some negative and limiting thoughts that keep you from doing it. With practice, you can change your thoughts about physical activity, eating-and just about everything else-to thoughts that help you reach your goals.

Are Your Thoughts on Your Side?

Let’s challenge the following ineffective thoughts that might be keeping you from exercising:

I know I should exercise but I hate it so I just can’t seem to make myself do it.

Many people have negative feelings about exercise, as can be heard by the use of words like should, hate and make myself. These thoughts and feelings come from negative past experiences like being chosen last for teams, boring exercise routines, and discomfort or pain from doing too much too fast. Some people only exercise when they are trying to lose weight, so they’ve come to think of exercise as a punishment for their overeating. However, this time you can find fun physical activities that suit your personality and lifestyle. You can start slowly and allow your body to adjust gradually so it is not uncomfortable. You can choose to focus on all the great things it does for you and how wonderful you feel instead of how many calories you “should” burn.

I don’t have time.

It will take 1/48th of your whole day to exercise for 30 minutes yet most people waste a lot more time than that on unproductive activities like watching TV! Being physically active is more important for your health and well-being than most of the other things you think must get done each day. The key is giving it the priority that it deserves.

I don’t have the energy.

No matter how you feel initially, you’re likely to feel better within just a few minutes of starting to exercise. Physical activity raises your endorphins (feel good chemicals) and serotonin levels (calm chemicals). These good feelings usually last long after the exercise is finished too. Exercise increases your strength and stamina, and helps you sleep better so you will become more productive and feel great. So even when you feel tired, experiment with exercising for ten minutes. Promise yourself that you can stop and try again another day if you still aren’t feeling any better. Most of the time you will feel so good that you will want to continue.

I’m embarrassed to be seen exercising.

Ironically most other people are so focused on themselves, they aren’t going to notice you anyway! And if they do judge you, it says a lot more about them than you! Eventually you’ll probably feel less self-conscious so in the meantime, find activities and places that make you feel comfortable so you can focus on all of the wonderful benefits. Remember, you’re doing this for yourself – to feel better and become healthier.

Exercise is really hard for me.

Physical activity doesn’t have to be hard or hurt to be beneficial. In fact, it is more important to find activities that are convenient, comfortable, and enjoyable so you’ll stick with it. Finding a partner, trying new activities and new routes, rewarding yourself with a hot bath or massage, and setting small, achievable goals are great ways to make exercise more fun. Even if you have physical limitations it’s always possible to find some way to increase your activity level. If you’ve been very inactive, start by increasing your lifestyle activity and increase gradually. You’ll be amazed at how much your body can adapt to whatever challenges you give it!

I’m so out of shape I don’t even know where to begin!

Of course it’s important to check with your doctor before you begin any new exercise program. Once you have been medically cleared, you have to start somewhere, so start where you are! There’s no such thing as instant fitness. If you start this week by increasing your activity level, little by little, three months from now you’ll be stronger, more energetic, and healthier.

I was doing pretty well until I got sick (or busy or company came or I went on vacation).

Quitting your exercise program because you missed a day, a week, or even longer makes as much sense as eating the whole bag of cookies because you ate three! No person and no schedule are ever perfect. If this is going to become part of your life, you need to be as consistent but as flexible as possible. Many people have found that writing their exercise schedule on their calendar helps. If they miss a session, they simply reschedule it, the way they would any other important appointment!

What are your other negative thoughts and attitudes about exercise?

Can you counter them in a positive way? Develop positive statements about activity and repeat them often to yourself. For instance, instead of saying, Exercise is boring, say, Being active gives me the opportunity to relieve stress and feel better. Repeat affirmations like I can feel myself becoming healthier and more energetic, It feels so good to move my muscles! and I can do it!

Start thinking of your self as an active, fit person and you will become one!

This excerpt is based on Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle by Michelle May, M.D. Dr. May is a recovered yoyo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating Programs and Training.

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About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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