“The whole thing just makes me feel really nervous.”
I nodded and decided it was best not to smile.
“I finally made myself sign up a week ago, and that was difficult enough. Today I sat on my couch and tried to think of as many reasons as I could not to come in. I had some errands I needed to run. I didn’t know what I should wear. I didn’t know what I would do once I got here.”
She paused for a moment.
“Just excuses,” she sighed.
I often forget the anxiety that people feel when it comes to starting an exercise program. There is a saying amongst fitness professionals that our industry does a fantastic job at keeping fit people fit, but does a poor job at getting the unfit fit. Other professionals in the field must also have a hard time relating to the unease a new participant in exercise feels.
Every single person living in the modern world knows that physical activity is vital to maintaining a high quality of life. New information comes out about the benefits of exercise in the media weekly, and there is a plethora of information about innumerable different methods of moving the body just a quick Google search away. This is the main reason that I, an Exercise Physiologist, have mostly avoided writing on the topic of exercise in this column. The knowledge and information are ubiquitous.
What is forgotten, though, is that making lifestyle changes can be quite difficult, and beginning an exercise program is no exception. The human species has literally forgotten how to move. Whether it’s walking, running, squatting, or lifting, I see poor movement patterns on a daily basis. Movements that are innate to our species must still be practiced in order to perform them efficiently and effectively. It should not seem imbecilic to hear that someone is nervous about starting to walk more, or run, or lift weights. A lifetime of avoiding these activities has left the person out of touch with the physical organism they inhabit. The motor patterns are simply not there. A lifelong sedentary human will feel about as comfortable demonstrating efficient running form as I do when I stare blankly at my tax forms.
It would serve each of us well to take a step back and slow down.
Exercise professionals need to do a better job of relating to the concerns a sedentary person experiences when they attempt to begin exercising. The vast majority of people do not need, and probably should not attempt, “high-intensity” exercise protocols. Simply asking someone to begin exercising for 30 minutes on most days of the week can sound pretty daunting. We do not need to teach people an “exercise-ball-half-wall-squat-with-a-yoga-block-pinch-and-isometric-hold.” We do need to show people how to squat correctly so they can safely pick up objects off the floor.
The beginning exerciser needs to take a good look in the mirror as well. Be realistic in your endeavors and accept that it may be a long road to becoming physically fit. Travel that road one step at a time, and know that while it is a human birthright to inhabit a strong and able body, it is each person’s responsibility in the modern world to reclaim this right. Physical activity must become a vital component of the healthy lifestyle, not a means to lose weight. Do not be afraid to seek help, but be choosy as to whose advice you listen to. Put away the negative self-talk; a mindset upgrade is past due. You are a noble being, no matter what the old tape recorder in your head says. Foster love for yourself in order to summon the courage to step into the unknown.
“My friend told me I need to walk for at least an hour here in order to get anything out of it.” The woman glanced between me and the treadmill, grimacing.
“How about today, on your first day, you just walk for ten minutes. Just go at a comfortable pace and take note of how your body feels tomorrow morning.”
Her face lightened up and she smiled. “Ten minutes – I can do that!”
A new seed of self-confidence had been planted.