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Have You Given Up Exercising?

There are lots of reasons for abandoning an exercise program.

Key points

  • It's counterproductive for people to blame themselves for failing to exercise.
  • Examining the reasons for abandoning an exercise routine can help people develop a routine that sticks.
  • It can help to slowly and incrementally increase physical activity or try a different activity.

If you’ve tried exercising, joining a gym, an aerobic dance class, or just doing it on your own, what happened? Maybe you found it unpleasant, didn’t have the time, or it was just too boring. Perhaps you hated to sweat, felt self-conscious or lacked the skill to play the sport or learn the dance moves. I know how you feel! Why would anyone want to strain their muscles, get out of breath, or feel wiped out?

There are lots of reasons for quitting, but how do you feel after dropping out? Discouraged? Guilty? Disappointed in yourself? Think you’re just too lazy? Instead of this negative thinking, you can examine the cause of your downfall and develop a strategy for incorporating exercise into your daily routine.

Start by recognizing that new habits, especially when they are effortful, take time to develop so you can drop the nasty thoughts you’ve had about your previous attempts to get active. Rarely does someone flip a switch and have an instantaneous transformation. It’s much more common to have several false starts and then many repetitions before a new behavior becomes a habit.

Next, review your last attempt to exercise. What happened? Sometimes a simple change in routine can derail exercising. If you went on vacation, or got sick, or changed your hours at work, you might have found it difficult to resume exercising. Or maybe you tried jogging or playing a sport and found that you just didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps your goals were unrealistic. If you’ve been inactive and joined a gym the workout routine your trainer suggested might have been too strenuous. Once you’ve identified the reason you gave up you’ll be able to find a routine that you can maintain.

In future blog posts I’ll have detailed suggestions for overcoming the barriers to developing a comfortable exercise habit, but here are a few ideas to get you started

  • If fitting exercise into your busy schedule is an issue, think of “exercise snacks;” little breaks in your routine that can be short bouts of activity. Remember that chores like raking leaves or mopping the floors can count. Just do it vigorously.
  • If your previous attempt was too difficult, too tiring leaving you out of breath, or just painful, simply scale back the intensity or try something else. What activity did you like when you were younger? Riding a bike? Dancing? Can you develop an exercise routine using that activity?
  • Do you feel self-conscious about workout clothes drawing attention to your body or foolish because you lack coordination or skill? The difficulty isn’t with the activity but with how you think about the activity (more about that later).

There are many reasons for giving up on exercise but, with realistic expectations, you can move past your reluctance and turn exercise into a habit.

Edward Abramson, PhD
Source: Edward Abramson, PhD
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