Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Stop The Shame Game!

I was reading an article called "The Biggest Excuses Not to Exercise Debunked" and I found myself thinking, "These are not excuses.  These are reasons."    The problem with many articles such as this one is that the very title is shaming so the reader is immediately put on the defensive.  And when the "excuses" are actually valid reasons why exercising is easier said than done, the end result is that the reader is not likely going to take away anything useful.  So I found myself reading this article and becoming frustrated for the readers out there who are bound to either stop reading or finish reading this article because they feel disempowered rather than encouraged.  Shaming doesn't work.  Solutions do.  Hopefully I can offer some solutions for how to exercise even when your life gives you reasons not to do so.

I don’t have enough time to exercise.

That’s right.  Unfortunately, most of us have very little free time.  Technology has not made things easier because, the fact is, now that we can do more in less time we are all expected to do more with the time we have.  Remember when people worked 9-5 and received a paid hour off for lunch?  Nowadays, people work 8-5, don’t get paid for their lunch, are often expected to work through their lunch, and rarely work a mere 40 hours a week. This doesn't leave a lot of time for relaxing let alone exercising and when you've been pushing yourself to be productive all day long, the very idea of getting sweaty is not going to hold much appeal.

You don’t have enough time.   You never will.  However, we all make time for things that matter to us.  You can make small changes to your routine that can and will add up to actual exercise.  Rather than going out for weekly coffee with a friend, suggest going for a weekly walk.  If you simply must read that report before the meeting tomorrow, find a recumbent bike at the gym and get pedaling while you read.  You can still burn a large number of calories if you push yourself.  What if every time you went to the bathroom you did ten squats before or after sitting down?  And how many push outs can you do from a bathroom sink after you've washed your hands?  You'd be amazed how much you can do even in small increments of time.  

If you truly don’t believe you have the time to do any exercise, ask someone you know who loves to exercise to help you make room in your busy schedule to exercise.  Sometimes it takes an outside observer to see potential for activity.

I can’t afford a gym membership.

A lot of people can’t.  It’s difficult trying to make ends meet without adding a gym membership to your budget.  Of course, there are low rate options—YMCAs, community centers, etc.  But sometimes even reduced cost is too much.  Not to mention the cost of getting there—public transportation or gas for the car, etc.  And we all hear stories of people who sign up for a gym membership and stop going after a few days or weeks.  Really, what’s the point?  And if you don't have enough hours in your day to exercise, the commute to and from the gym is not going to help.  

You can create a simple home gym even on a very limited budget.  A set of resistance bands/cords is a lot cheaper than a set of free weights.  Throughout this post you will find images of things I’ve found and used that are useful and not too expensive.  Once you have a few items on hand, you can easily find videos and articles online for free that will show you how to use these wonderful tools.  The key is to mix things up.  Take walks and take the stairs.  If you can, bump up a walk into a light jog.  Be sure to include strength training exercises.  And never forget that the public library has a wealth of fitness resources—from books to dvds—you can borrow for free.  Also, ask your friends and family.  They may have things they are not using they would be willing to give or at least lend you. 

Also, free weights are all well and good but don't waste your money buying a lot of different weights.  A couple of cans of beans can be used as 1 lb weights.  I have small hands but I can hold two 5 lb weights in one hand.  You can also find adjustable free weights that can be changed from lighter to heavier with very little effort on your part.  If you must have some exercise equipment, invest in resources that will grow with you not ones that you will outgrow altogether.

My children take up all of my energy.

Children are exhausting.  There’s no denying that.  I think we are all born with a certain amount of energy and we end up using massive amounts of it when we are little and don’t have much left by the time we have children of our own.  And they demand your attention.  A lot of it, which is likewise exhausting.  The truth is, having children under foot when you need to get moving can be a complication.  That's not an excuse; that's a reason.  If you've been working all day or spent the whole day amusing your child(ren), you are going to be exhausted, too tired to exercise. Don't kid yourself.  Exercising when you are tired can and will lead to injury!  So children are a complication, an exhausting one.

They can also be an impetus to exercise.  Children love to explore, run, play.  So take walks together and play “I Spy” games while walking.  Don’t stay inside when it rains.  Unless it’s a bitterly cold driving rain or a scary thunderstorm kind of rain, there’s a lot of fun to be had jumping into puddles.  If you can find fun things to do with the children then this is quality and quantity time!  Do some morning stretches together.  Think of a word that is commonly used in your home (not too common) and every time someone says the word, do 10 jumping jacks.  First person to figure out what the word is gets to make everyone else do 10 more jumping jacks, then a new word is chosen and the game starts all over again.  March in place during commercials.  Challenge one another to stand on one foot the longest.  Hula hoops, jump ropes, even kicking a ball back and forth can all be fun activities. 

This is a wonderful opportunity to be an inspiration to your children, to show them how important exercise is no matter how young or old you are.  Making healthy choices for yourself is an educational experience that can last a lifetime.  Better still, it will help ensure that you'll be there to enjoy physical activities for your children's and maybe even your grandchildren's lifetimes.  And nothing can be more precious than that.  

I want to write more about excuses versus reasons.  I was actually planning on doing so anyway because I have a lot of reasons why exercising is a challenge but I don’t let those reasons become excuses not to do something each and every day. More importantly, however, I never ever shame myself into doing what I know is best for me and my body.  Shame is a useless means to any end and I, for one, am tired of reading articles that think it is effective.  


  1. I especially liked the frequently used word game. Too bad it'd look awkward at work :) This solution-aimed attitude is much more motivating than shame-based. I've recently read an article providing some tips how to exercise at work, and I use some of them, whereas I just discard the articles that try to convince me to do something unsuitable for my lifestyle no matter what.

    1. I have every "reason" to not do a lot of the things I strive to do but I try not to let my reasons become excuses. As a result, I've been able to empower myself in surprising ways. I don't understand these articles that push shame in the guise of good advice. The thing is, the advice in the article is good but to dismiss the reality of life, to say that lack of time or having children are excuses and not perfectly valid reasons, is not conducive to empowering the individual. I don't know why these things continue to be written, let alone promoted, on websites that truly should know better.

  2. You put your finger on something I had often sensed but not identified when reading articles of this kind. "Shame." It's true that there always seems to be that undercurrent of "You should" and "You have no excuse" in the way they are written. Your approach is commonsensical but more important, compassionate. This is excellent and deserves to be read by many!

    Love your photo -- and what do you mean, Romanov is the pretty one? He is a very handsome boy, make no mistake. But the lady with him is, too!


    1. Terry, It took me a while to realize that a lot of these resources that are meant to inspire and motivate are actually fueled by shaming. The "thinspiration" and more recent "fitspiration" pictures I see on social media are off-putting especially because there are no words or the words sound right but when put with certain images are subtly shaming.

      I won't debate which of us is the pretty one in the photo. You'll have to take my word for it when I say he was infinitely sweeter than I.

  3. Yes! I love this approach. I have a pretty strong rebellious reaction to being told I should do something. But I have a really great reaction to being invited to creatively solve a problem. Invention, exploration, experimentation -- it took a lot of that sort of thing for me to develop my exercise habit and to keep it going.
    Joy's Book Blog

    1. Joy, Isn't that the way, when we feel justified, to become defensive? And sometimes we are well and truly justified. I'm sorry but when my children were small, finding time to exercise was a challenge, often insurmountable. And developing a habit, when one is constantly pulled in multiple directions, is nigh impossible. Until exercise is a habit, it's so easy to just forget it altogether. Besides, who wouldn't rather read a book with a child than burn some calories? Even now, I can't say I would rather sweat than read. :P