Two out of every ten people exercise on a regular basis. How can this statistic be true when everyone knows that exercise is good for both your physical and mental health? Are the people who don’t engage in regular exercise just lazy, stupid or both?
I know this for a fact: these people are not lazy and they’re certainly not stupid. I believe their reason for not engaging in an exercise program is fear: fear of walking into an intimidating gym, fear of getting injured, and/or fear of looking stupid. And there’s the ultimate fear, the fear of failing, which continues to prevent thousands of people from even trying.
For years, healthcare professionals have urged Americans to start exercising. The well-meaning educator usually says something like this: “I want you to perform cardiovascular exercises five days per week, strength exercises one-to-two days per week, and flexibility exercises as often as you can.”
If that doesn’t scare someone away, I don’t know what will.
Define Your Fear
It’s completely normal to be afraid. I have a Master’s Degree in Exercise and Sports Sciences but when I walk into an unfamiliar gym, I’m intimidated. I don’t know where things are, I’m not familiar with the equipment and I don’t know the instructors. I’m not hanging with a friend which would make me feel more comfortable.
So what do I do? The same thing you should do if you are in this situation: ask for help. Someone will be more than happy to walk you around the gym and show you where everything is and demonstrate how to use the equipment. You will feel more relaxed and comfortable just by knowing these things.
Lose Your Fears
The key to overcoming fear is to clearly understand what it is that you’re afraid of. Most people don’t even realize that fear is keeping them from engaging in healthy activities. Make a list of the reasons why you haven’t been exercising and decide how you will overcome them. Be realistic and don’t be angry at yourself for being afraid. If you’re worried about aggravating an old injury, work with a physical therapist to design your program. If you’re afraid you’ll quit after 2 months, sign a contract with a friend committing to stick with it for at least 6 months.
Once you figure out the real reasons why you haven’t been exercising, the rest is easy.
Think back to when you were a child and learning a new skill. Whether it was piano, soccer or dance, one thing remained the same – you kept practicing it until it became easier. You didn’t try to learn too many things at once.
Now is the time for you to rethink exercise. When you take things slowly and set small goals for yourself, you will succeed. If you have never tried to exercise because you were afraid you’d fail, now is the time to start.
Once you’ve made exercise a normal part of your routine, you’ll find yourself smiling more than you thought possible. Because you can lose the fear and embrace a healthier and happier you.
To your health & happiness,
This article was previously published in Philly Health Watch.