5 Bad Reasons to Not Exercise (And Why Our Brains Use Them)

I don’t blame people for not wanting to exercise, or start up some new fitness regimen. In truth, the odds are stacked up against you such that your New Years resolutions will never get started. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that we as an animal are genetically predisposed to not exert ourselves anymore than necessary.

In a world of difficult to acquire food (in our distant past), energy is a precious  commodity. After all, the hunter who expends more energy obtaining food, than the energy obtained from the food that was caught, will eventually starve to death. But, just because food might be relatively difficult to acquire (compared to shopping in a grocery store) that doesn’t mean it was laborious, or that ancient peoples spent every waking minute searching for something to eat.

Hunter-gatherer cultures like the !Kung or the Shoshone, when living their traditional ways, were observed to not work very much during the day, maybe not even more than 3 to 4 hours. [source] Besides avoiding extraneous effort, our brains are practically hardwired to avoid discomfort and anything that feels like it could be injurious. Our bodies are essentially vessels for our DNA, and a dead organism is a poor tool for transmitting that DNA into future generations.

So, why were our ancestors in such great shape if the homo sapien programming was set up to avoid unnecessary effort? Well, their need for food and their basic survival made it necessary for them to get out there and put their butt on the line. We’re fortunate that modern technologies reduce a lot of the more difficult aspects of acquiring food, but it can be easily understood now, how this convenience is working against us.

When you or somebody you know says they don’t feel like exercising though, they usually don’t bring up these biologically-inspired reasons. Usually, it’s one of these following reasons: no time, no workout clothes/shoes, no personal trainer, haven’t worked out in a long time, or no equipment to work out with. I know these might seem like valid reasons, but with a different perspective and understanding of fitness, you can come to see how they are in reality, very bad excuses.

No time

Most people lead very hectic lives, there is no arguing that. However, the idea that exercising takes up a lot of time and thus cannot fit into your day doesn’t really hold water. You can get one heck of a workout by simply going outside and doing a set of five, 100 meter dashes.

I swear to you, if you run as fast as you possibly can for each of those reps, you will be extremely tired. That whole workout can be over and done with in less than five minutes (allowing for a half minute or so of rest in between in repetition). This kind of training does not fit in with the mainstream idea of fitness (treadmills and bosu balls) so it’s not really surprising that most people don’t do it. (Sprint repeats are also pretty grueling.)

Of course, I acknowledge that half of the problem of time for workouts involves the time spent traveling to the training location, or changing clothes and getting cleaned up afterward. If you can cut down on the total workout time, these other considerations won’t be as problematic.

No workout clothes/shoes

Hazardous weather excluded (I’ll talk about that in a little bit), clothes and shoes shouldn’t be that much of a hindrance in starting an exercise program. You don’t need the most sophisticated sweat-wicking tech shirt to go out running, and you don’t need expensive high-end running shoes either. While there might be some performance gains from feeling a bit more comfortable, if you’re not in a competitive event then those extra seconds you win aren’t that important. If you’re working hard, you’re probably going to benefit from your training.

Just wear enough clothes to keep the neighbors from getting overly excited, otherwise you’ll be doing your workouts out in the yard once a day at the county jail.

Haven’t trained in a while

It seems that once you get going into a workout program, it’s a lot easier to keep at it. Maybe it’s some trepidation towards that inevitable soreness period at the beginning, or maybe you feel a bit discouraged about all of the ground you’ll have to cover to regain your previous level of fitness. Amazingly though, science has discovered that muscles seem to retain a memory of their former fitness levels even as they atrophy from lack of use.

“That memory is stored as DNA-containing nuclei, which proliferate when a muscle is exercised. Contrary to previous thinking, those nuclei aren’t lost when muscles atrophy. The extra nuclei form a type of muscle memory that allows the muscle to bounce back quickly when retrained.” [source] So, if you use to workout on a regular basis in the past but it’s been a while, don’t fret, chances are your body will get back up to speed fairly quickly.

No equipment

I admit, I’ve also felt somewhat limited in exercise options when not having a full set of free weights and barbells. When I didn’t have access to a gym, and all of its available equipment, I felt a bit discouraged. After all, I didn’t want to just focus on running and there is somewhat of a limit to the raw strength gains you can get from body weight exercises.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get strong from doing just body weight training, and if you get a bit creative, you might be able to construct your own simple workout equipment. The book “Never Gymless” by Ross Enamait was incredibly helpful for me. It’s chock full of examples of workout patterns that people can use to stay fit, even if they don’t have access to a conventional workout facility.

No trainer

It might feel like you are poorly equipped (experience-wise) to start up your own exercise program without a personal trainer, but that’s really only a result of our society’s basic detachment from a physical lifestyle. Our ancestors didn’t need somebody to explain to them how to move, they simply watched, emulated, and followed their physical instincts.

While having a personal trainer or coach can be incredibly helpful, and be especially useful for reaching peak potential at a fast pace, gaining basic general fitness is not as hard as some people think. Resources like the daily Crossfit.com WOD (workout of the day) and the plethora of other resources on the Internet make it incredibly easy now-a-days for the average person to start training on their own. Just be sensible about what you can do, and be mindful about the risks of attempting weights or techniques well above your capacity.

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Now, there are certainly good reasons to avoid exercising, either on a daily basis or on a more long-term timeline. These include situations like:

  • being sick
  • lack of sleep
  • injured or chronically ill
  • inclement weather
  • extreme temperatures

Just be smart, and use your head, except when your head is trying to talk you out of exercising for no good reason.

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