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Tip of The Week

No Excuses for Not Feeling Better

By Melissa Horowitz, Psy.D.

Have you been feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed? Having difficulty focusing? Has the quality of your sleep diminished? Are you concerned that it takes more time to get tasks done? Or have you noticed less success in working through everyday issues? If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then there is one more question to ask yourself -- when was the last time you exercised?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 49% of adults living in the United States engage in regular aerobic activity (1). What is the connection? Well, in addition to the physical-health benefits of exercise, research has also established the benefits to one’s mental health. Specifically, at least 30 minutes of exercise three or more times a week will likely aid stress reduction, decrease negative mood states, improve sleep, restore energy, and improve mental alertness, which includes making more thoughtful and decisive choices (2) (3).

With all of these benefits, why is it that less than half of adults take advantage of this tool to feel better? One possible explanation may be that for many people, it seems way too easy to find a reason to delay or simply not do what one knows is good for them.

Here are a few reasons why it may be hard to follow through with exercise -- “I’m too tired”, “I have no energy”, “others will judge my appearance”, “I have to lose weight before I can exercise”, or “I’m too busy with higher priority obligations.” Sound familiar? When there is an automatic set of excuses that one has been relying on for so long, it becomes difficult to approach exercise with a different mind set.

If this is something you have experienced and would like to disrupt your excuses mind set, here is something to try. Write a list of ALL of the excuses you currently tell yourself for not exercising today. Then write down a counter argument for each of your excuses. Here are some examples to help you get started:

Excuse: I don’t have time.
Counter argument:

  • I can walk during my lunch break. 
  • I can take the stairs instead of the elevator. 
  • I can walk to a bus or subway stop 5 minutes farther away. 
  • I can watch five minutes of an online workout video and follow along. 
  • If I want to feel better, I have to find the time.  

Excuse: People will judge me for being out of shape, uncoordinated and overweight.
Counter argument:

  • People are paying less attention to me than I think. 
  • Other people feel the same way I do, but the ones working out are doing something about it. 
  • The best way to improve my coordination, stamina and lower my weight is by exercising. 
  • Judging myself is only making me feel worse and is consuming more time than the actual exercise would. 
  • I could exercise with a supportive and encouraging friend, which will deemphasize my vulnerabilities. 
  • I can start by exercising at home or working with a trainer to build my confidence up before taking a group fitness class or working out alone while in the presence of others.

Keep in mind that exercise does not have to be a time consuming or costly activity. If you remind yourself why you are making the commitment and make your counter arguments compelling, it will become immensely easier to get creative in finding when and how to incorporate exercise in your daily routine.

(1) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/exercise.htm

(2) http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/pa-health/index.htm#ImproveMentalHealth

(3) Sharma, A., Madaan, V. & Petty, F. (2006). Exercise for mental health. Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 8(2); 106.

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