The Exercise Excuses


When I start mentioning to patients that weight loss and exercise might help their knee osteoarthritis, diabetes or blood pressure control I get hit with “but…” very quickly. The excuses come thick and fast.


I thought I would share the 5 common excuses I hear as a GP and why they usually aren’t valid. If you’ve ever uttered these words when it comes to exercise (even to yourself) then let me very gently rebut you and perhaps even change your mind!


“I can’t run because my joints hurt”


My joints don’t stop me from running- instead it’s my over active brain that has no idea what to do whilst my legs are moving. I find running utterly boring and have never been able to go past 10 minutes. If you can’t run because of your joints or because you’re brain cannot accept this mundane form of exercise then fine – but don’t let that be your ticket to “well I don’t need to exercise.” I don’t expect you to run through ankle instability or plantar fasciitis – but I do expect us to find an alternative way you can get moving and shaking that your joints will accept.


Sore joints, wobbly knees and whining feet can all cope with low impact exercises like cycling or swimming. Strength training like yoga or pilates may be just what your joints are craving. For patients who have a tough time finding exercise that suits them we involve exercise physiologists who can develop a program that suits the patient.


Running isn’t the ONLY form of exercise remember?


“I don’t have the time to attend gym classes”


I understand this – being a time poor mother and GP I can identify with this one. But it’s all a matter of compromise– do you sacrifice 30 minutes of extra sleep in the morning to get to the 6am class? It means a little bit of preparation before bed– packing a bag of work clothes and going to bed a touch earlier – but it can be done. Or do you say no to 1 or 2 evening social engagements this week and attend a class instead? That’s how I made it work prior to being a mother.


I remind my patients constantly that the gym isn’t the only place they can attend group physical activity. There are groups who meet in the park, personal trainers who run group sessions and if you have friends they might be keen to join you for an interval sprint session.


“I don’t have time to exercise… FULL STOP”


Nope – don’t believe you. When patients say this to me I get an average day timetable from them. 99% of the time I can find a pocket where they have picked couch time or social events over exercise. This is my forte – sneaking exercise in when I can – so I don’t buy the excuse of lack of time.


I bet anything that you spend SOME time in front of the TV. Most of my patients admit they watch a favourite program either once or twice a week. Boom – there’s the window. Pop a treadmill, exercise bike or cross country trainer in front of the TV and promise yourself that you will not watch your show without being on that machine (The Bachelorette is even more enjoyable if you burn calories at the same time!!). Or if you have pockets of time here and there grab a skipping rope – 3 x 10 minute sessions are perfect! If you have someone at home with you, try what my husband and I do and have a quick boxing session – excellent for fitness and any venting!


So time poor isn’t going to cut it with me. As a new mother who is working and trying to maintain a half decent home I don’t let that excuse enter my mind, so you shouldn’t either.


“I don’t feel confident swimming”


As a water challenged being I hear you but swimming is an excellent form of cardiovascular exercise for people with joint issues (because it’s low impact) and asthma (indoor heated pools can be very lung friendly for those whose asthma is worse with cold air). You don’t need to Ian Thorpe it down the fast lane for swimming to count as exercise – a doggy paddle or breast stroke (and yes I’m talking head remains ABOVE the water!!!) counts too (as does briskly walking up and down the pool or attending an aqua aerobics class). If you don’t feel comfortable in bathers – a big t-shirt will save your dignity – as will going at non-peak times (something I tell my body conscious patients).


Despite all the reluctance to get into bathers – swimming is a fantastic form of exercise!


“I can’t afford a gym membership or personal trainer”


I hear this one a lot. And quite frankly it’s the weakest excuse of them all. You don’t NEED a gym or a personal trainer to exercise. You need motivation – you need to chuck your sneakers on, chuck out the excuses and go for a walk, run or cycle. Grab your partner, a friend, a group of friends and use them to help motivate you. You don’t need to pay someone to yell at you to run – tell your motivated friend that you REALLY want to join them for their weekend hike or cycle for the next month – they will end up pushing you a bit without you (or your wallet) knowing about it.


I remember telling a newly diagnosed type 2 diabetic patient of mine that weight loss would greatly help her diabetes control (if not reverse the diabetes completely). She recruited 3 girlfriends, all in their late 60s, and they would walk around the local lake 4 days a week – rail, hail or shine. Not only did she significantly improve her diabetes control, but another member of her walking group (who was also my patient) lost enough weight to come off 1 of her blood pressure mediations! Now these ladies proved you don’t need a gym or a PT behind you – just a good group of friends who are willing to chuck their sneakers on!



So ditch the excuses. I’ve heard them all before – and my response usually involves the line “I’m busy too BUT I manage to do at least 30 – 60 minutes of something active 6 days of the week” – and that’s the truth. So before you put your pajamas on tonight or sit down to watch some TV – is there anyway you can sneak in something active? And is that voice in your head that was very free with the excuses finally silent?



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What Makes Us Exercise?

Social media is flooded with people who love to share their love of exercise, pictures of their own abs and their ability to run long distances with fluorescent shoes and matching tights. I always feel overwhelmed – gees I don’t have a six pack to flaunt and I don’t have a this elusive ‘thigh gap’ all the fitness gurus rage about.


But does this mean I am not fit? Does this mean that I am not healthy? And most importantly does this mean I don’t exercise enough?


I’m sure at some point you have felt inferior to someone who talks about how healthy and exercise driven they are. I have.


The truth is – you don’t need to be stick thin and an exercise junkie to be healthy. And certainly the Australian National Heart Foundation Guidelines are happy with adults achieving 150 to 300 minutes of exercise per week so why isn’t that enough?


We need to stop seeing exercise as a burden. We need to stop trying to compete with our own brains and its major goals its puts on us (e.g. ‘I want to be able to run 15 kilometres in the next 6 weeks’).


We exercise to maintain a healthy weight and prevent obesity. We exercise to reduce our risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. We exercise because evidence has shown it is good for mental health and is beneficial in conditions like Depression. It’s also helpful in fibromyalgia (a disorder where people suffer from diffuse muscle pain and fatigue). We exercise for OURSEVLES.


I don’t see it as a burden anymore. When I walk my dogs with my husband it’s about us all being healthy and getting some activity into our day. When I have a quick 30 minute kick boxing session on the verandah before dinner its because I need to build up my minutes of exercise for the week and because it will make me feel better about my day.


I think about banking my exercise – I need to make it to 300 minutes (as per the National Heart Foundation guidelines) by Sunday so every minute I do gets banked towards it. THAT is MY motivator.


I’ve stopped trying to measure up to the unrealistic expectations of fitness in the media– I don’t need a six pack to know I am healthy. I don’t need to be a size 6 to know that I am doing enough.


Its not for anyone else – its for you.


Build exercise into your life in whatever capacity suits you- whether its walking the dogs, swimming, pilates, cycling…. And make sure you are doing it for you – and for the right reasons – the six pack might be the unexpected outcome of your exercise endeavors but it is by far the least important – it’s the benefits to your health that count!

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Can Exercise Adapt To You?

I’ve never been able to go for a run. I’ve tried. But I don’t really get it. I find myself over analyzing the process thinking – “oh my goodness – how long could I possibly do this for?” “Why do my knees hurt already?” “What am I meant to be thinking about at this point to keep going, am I meant to think at all?”


My husband on the other hand loves a run –so do most of my friends. I’ve always wondered – am I the weird lady who doesn’t like running? But judging from my patients’ experiences – I am not alone!


I’ve finally accepted that its OK I cant and don’t like running! I’ve stopped trying to put the square piece in the circle hole – it aint gonna fit!


Put me on a pilates reformer and I can do hundreds like the best of them. Put me on a bike in a spin class or my beloved red bike fondly named “Clancy” and I’m happy to cycle for hours.


I often find patients telling me they have trouble with exercise because their joints hurt when they run or that they don’t like gyms. I’ve negotiated with morbidly obese patients what exercise they can do – yes, you can go for a gentle stroll and if you feel confident to hop into bathers or a big t-shirt then hydrotherapy is fantastic for exercise and your joints. The truth is we can ALL find some sort of exercise that suits us and we just need to the adapt the exercise to our joints/lifestyle/preference.


If you have sore joints or tight iliotibilal bands (like ME!) try cycling, swimming or pilates. If you don’t like gyms try cycling, walking or hiking. If you don’t like exercising alone because you can’t get motivated go for class fitness like a spin class or join an outdoor exercise group for their program.


Find something that suits. Trust me, you don’t need to learn the hard way like me – with sore knees and a real bitterness towards running and my poor husband after he tried to make me give it a go!!


Find something that works for you. I promise you there is SOME sort of exercise that fits for you!

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