Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Guilty About Not Exercising? Possible Options

There is consistent evidence that exercise is important. The August Harvard Health Letter recently described, “exercise as medicine.” Research finds that it reduces stress, lifts depression, improves memory, prevents stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer and plays a significant role in heart heath.

While these findings are a source of validation for some and motivation for others, there are many who can’t just do it!barbells

On some level they may want to but often they report:

  • I hate exercise.
  • I have no time.
  • I’m too depressed.
  • It is freezing outside.
  • I’m a working mom-I barely breathe.
  • I am very uncomfortable at the gym.
  • I plan to exercise, but I am exhausted when I get home.
  • I get so stressed about not exercising–I eat more and exercise less.
  • I was the kid who wanted to read instead of playing ball.
  • I was injured–I can’t exercise the way I once did.

The continual recommendation to exercise replete with media images of fit people swimming, running, smiling and sweating leaves many feeling frozen, guilty, embarrassed, defensive and less and less likely to take a step.

Exercise Benefits from Unconventional Options

The good news is that experts and researchers are increasingly letting us know that we can achieve many of the gains associated with exercise without spending hours at the gym or engaging in more conventional exercise regimes.

Findings and Unexpected Options:

Small bursts-Big Impact

There has been considerable research confirmation that small bursts of exercise and activity can make a difference in your health and body.

A Boston Study reported that bursts of less than 10 minute of exercise recorded with a motion detector attached to 2,109 men and women resulted in weight loss, lower MBI and cholesterol much the same as those who exercised for longer periods of time.

A 2006 study reported in Preventive Medicine in 2006, found that multiple workout sessions as short as 6 minutes apiece could help sedentary adults reach fitness goals similar to those achieved when working our for 30 minutes at a time.

Far from discouraging those able to exercise more intensely or in intense bursts over a longer periods of time, the message is–whatever you can do is additive and will make a difference.

Unexpected Option- Don’t Take it Sitting Down

Pew Research tells us the 82% of American adults own cell phones or devices that serve as a phone. Men and women make from 5 to 30 calls a day and send from 10 to 50 texts a day.

What if you never took a call sitting down?

  • While I don’t advise this for city streets, public places or parking lots, what if in the safety of your home, backyard or office you stood up and walked around at the best pace possible for as long as the call takes? Three 10- minute calls would clock you into exercise for 30 minutes.
  • Whether you are in slippers, sweats or a suit your phone calls have you moving.
  • Given how engrossed we get it our phone calls, almost dissociated from what is around us, your talk and walk is likely to distract you from the boredom or fatigue that may have kept you from exercising.
  • At the very least, if you can’t walk and talk, stand and talk. Dr. Joel Kahn, author of The Whole Heart Solution, recommends that we stand as much as we can be it in our home or at our desk at work for even 5 minutes bursts throughout the day. He reports that when we sit a lot, we activate our aging sensor and our risk for dying young from heart disease, diabetes and other health problems.

Mind Matters for Exercise

Mind matters when it comes to doing the chores, physical labor or household tasks that steal time from conventional exercise.

  • In a fascinating Harvard Study, eighty-four female room attendants from seven different hotels were divided into either an “informed” or “uninformed” group. The informed group was told that their work (cleaning hotel rooms) is good exercise and satisfies the Surgeon General’s recommendations for an active lifestyle. They were also told how their work was good exercise. The group that was not informed (i.e. control group) was not given this information.
  • At the end of four weeks, the informed group perceived themselves as exercising more although there was no reported difference in exercise outside of work or changes in their work tasks.
  • Most striking was that physically the informed group who perceived themselves as exercising more showed a significant decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index compared to the non-informed group.

Redefine What You Do As Exercise

These findings were explained in terms of a placebo effect, the situation where a patient is deceived into thinking they are really getting treatment when they are not (sugar pills instead of actual medication) but their belief in the power of the medication actually results in improvement.

While this may be true, I suggest that these results reflect much more than a placebo effect. They invite us to value our mindset in enhancing benefits to our bodies. They invite us to consider the value of redefining chores or other tasks as viable and effective alternatives to exercise.

  • With a change in mindset, perhaps a chore re-defined as exercise changes the way we approach it and the conscious and unconscious efforts we make while doing it.
  • Perhaps the recognition that we are not just raking leaves, carrying boxes in the storeroom, or cleaning the playroom but actually doing something that equates to exercise promotes self-esteem, lowers resentment, reduces boredom, fatigue and keeps us going.
  • It may even motivate better eating to match our recognition that we are, in fact, exercising!

Music on the Brain – Movement in the Body

If you just can’t exercise but love music—you have a powerful motivation to move.

Daniel Levitin, author of This is Your Brain on Music, reminds us that music engages nearly every area of the brain. If you have ever been at a concert with 25,000 people standing, singing and moving, you know that we are stimulated by music.

A new study, reported in the New York Times, suggests that listening to music makes strenuous workouts feel easier and may nudge people into pushing themselves harder than they had thought possible.

Music as the Road to Exercise

Music is a natural road to exercise. Put on your earphones and turn the music on and it will help you put on your sneakers, open the door and start moving.

Whether you take the long way to the deli, vacuum, walk the dog, or just take a three minute phone break to a favorite song on you smart phone—it will reduce your stress and count as a burst of exercise.

Guilt About Not Exercising?

Step away from all your pre-conceived ideas of exercise–step in small bursts–take nothing sitting down—change your mindset–redefine what you do as exercise and when in doubt–do it to music—the first step matters.


Listen in to Dr. Joel Kahn speaking about his book, The Whole Heart Solution on Psych Up