“I hate exercise.“ This was the first thing a 78 year old woman said to me at our initial appointment when I was reviewing the reasons her cardiologist referred her to me. The doctor wanted her to increase her activity level and lose weight. The woman had some, but not much, interest in losing weight and improving her endurance because she was often short of breath.

She’s not the first person to tell me “I hate exercise.” I have heard that from many people of all ages, many of whom would benefit greatly from exercise to improve both physical and emotional health. So why do so many people hate exercise? I have a theory.

When is it that people typically engage in exercise? In my experience, it’s usually when they go on a diet. Exercise is mainly viewed as a weight loss activity. It is generally not viewed as an activity that is enjoyable, enhances self-esteem, manages stress or improves health even though it does all those things and more. I think our weight and diet obsessed culture has taught many to hate, avoid or at least dread, exercise.

Most people have been on a diet (or two, or twenty!) so can relate to what it’s like. It’s not fun. Meals are skimpy and being hungry is inevitable. It doesn’t take long before fatigue and irritability set in. Okay, now it’s time to exercise!! The thought of getting on a treadmill or a bike at that point is not enjoyable or esteem enhancing. Exercise under these conditions is forced, causes stress and is plain old unpleasant.

So, if the only time exercise occurs is during a diet, what is the likely opinion about exercise going to be? “I hate exercise.” Plus, when we have Health and Human Services Secretary and former Wisconsin governor, Tommy Thompson recommending that everyone exercise 60 – 90 minutes, seven days a week to lose weight, what is the likely opinion about exercise going to be? “I hate exercise.” How often are people who have learned to hate exercise going to do it with recommendations like that? Never, comes to mind.

Thinking About Exercise in a New Way

While exercise can help with weight loss, to be a consistent exerciser, it’s important to disconnect exercise from weight loss.

Research clearly shows that exercise is beneficial in lowering:

LDL cholesterol,
Blood pressure,
Blood sugar and

while increasing:
HDL cholesterol,
Muscle mass,
Bone strength,
Aerobic capacity and
Overall mood

regardless of whether any weight loss occurs. In other words, exercise improves overall health even when weight stays the same.

Use these guidelines to revamp your feelings about exercise:

*Identify all of the current “rules” you have about exercise that prevent you from doing it. Now, erase all of those rules! Disconnect exercise and weight and start with a clean slate!

*Think about the physical and emotional benefits you want from exercise that have nothing to do with weight. Write them down and use them as reasons to be consistent with exercise;

*Upon starting exercise, don’t change your eating. Oftentimes food choices will naturally change after exercise becomes part of your normal routine;

*Pick an exercise you will enjoy. Don’t worry about what kind of exercise it is or if you’re doing it long enough, hard enough or often enough. Doing some kind of physical activity will always be better than doing nothing;

*Stay away from exercise you don’t like. If you have a treadmill, but hate the treadmill, find something else. The goal is consistent exercise over the course of time, not exercising for a week, then quitting; and

*Ignore all of the exercise recommendations you hear and read in the media. Do what works for you based on your schedule, lifestyle, interests and preferences.

Exercise is important for many reasons and is health-promoting in and of itself. If you are one of those who dreads exercise, you are not alone. Identify new reasons to start exercising, throw out weight loss as a goal, decide how often you want to do it and do only as much as you can without overexerting. Remember, any exercise per week will always be better than no exercise. It’s best to start slow, find enjoyment and feel good about exercise so it becomes a regular part of the way you live.