Finding Exercise that Works for You

Sally Sue is a spinning fanatic. She is up at dawn every morning to fit in an hour of spinning before going to work. And she has been doing this for years and rarely misses a day. Cindy is a runner. Getting up at 5 a.m. to fit in her morning run before the kids wake up is never a problem. She has a running group with good friends and rarely does a day go by that she does not join her friends for a 5 mile run before getting the kids ready for school.

What these two fictional characters have in common is that they have found exercise that they love and it gets them out of bed in the morning. Their exercise routine is fun, convenient and social. But most of all both women do not exercise necessarily to lose weight. They exercise for the sake of moving their bodies…because it allows them to feel strong and empowered after they finish and that feeling compels them over time to remain committed to exercising.

The other day I went for a run around Greenlake in Seattle. My running time is my thinking time. On this particular day I was thinking about how some people struggle to exercise or maintain regular exercise programs. Or they start exercise programs and work hard for a few months and then they life gets in the way and exercise takes a back seat. And then there are people like Sally Sue or Cindy who have found a way to sustain exercise programs for the long haul. What makes them different from the rest of us who head to the gym on January 1 full of hopes to get into the best shape of our lives only to fizzle out just a couple months later?

When I had cancer 10 years ago I went to see a naturopath who specialized in complimentary cancer care therapy. He told me one thing that has stuck with me for all these years: exercise is even more important than what you eat for preventing the recurrence of cancer or the development of new disease. This startled me as I would have figured that nutrition was the most important aspect of preventing disease. But this certainly compelled me to lace up my sneakers and hit the road. A year after surviving cancer I completed my first marathon and I haven’t looked back.

But it shouldn’t have to take a cancer diagnosis to get people committed to a healthy exercise routine. The problem is most of us feel like it’s all or nothing. We are exhausted by what the experts tell us we should be doing before we even hit the gym.  If we miss a day we figure we’ve already failed and we throw in the towel and we miss out on the benefits of just being active for any amount of time each week! We tie exercise to weight loss and get frustrated when the scale does not budge – so the end result is the notion that exercise doesn’t matter.

It takes a paradigm shift to make exercise a priority. Exercise should never be tied to burning calories. Exercising to lose weight may be a compelling enough reason to elevate your heart-rate for the short-term, but chances are your commitment will taper off once you have hit your desired weight. And then once you skip the exercise you will be back where you started.

So what are we to do? Perhaps it’s time to redirect our energies away from weight loss and instead toward how we feel at the end of a good, hard workout. I know for me one of the great joys in life is the feeling I have after a hard run. I feel strong, empowered, light and full of energy. The energy lasts through the entire day. When I am in shape I catch fewer colds and rarely get the flu. It’s also clear that staying in shape has most likely played a role in allowing me to stay cancer free for the past 10 years. And, lastly, one nice fringe benefit of exercise is that I maintain my natural weight. I am far from model skinny but I feel comfortable in my own body.

So how do you find exercise that is sustainable? Find activities that are fun, convenient and social.

Make it fun:
There are numerous ways to exercise. Some people find that going to a gym is grueling. They hate it. But they equate exercise with gyms. They pay for a gym membership and never go. Forget the notion that you MUST do something to make exercise legit. My run at Greenlake the other day provided a perfect microcosm of all that is possible when you get creative. I saw two men running in anti-gravity boots. Moms running with baby joggers with other moms. Several women were roller-blading. Others were doing Tai Chi while kayakers rowed across the lake. I loved seeing so many different forms of exercise and one is not better than the other. The bottom line is people were finding ways to move their bodies.

Make it convenient: The most important aspect of a sustainable exercise routine is doing something that is convenient. The best intentions to get to a gym several miles away may work for some but fall flat for others. You gotta do something that is easy and close to home. That’s why walking seems to fit so well for the majority of people. All you need is a pair of sneakers and you are good to go. The bottom line is pick exercise that works well with your lifestyle and budget. You do not need to join a fancy and expensive gym to get what you need to feel good. Research options that do not take you far from home and you may find yourself exercising more often!

Make it social: Research indicates that more people will stick to exercise routines if they can do it with friends. I know for myself that this is a large component to my ability to stick with my exercise routine. One reason I really love to teach group exercise classes is because it’s fun! I love to talk. And leading an exercise group allows me to talk with all kinds of people. On my days off I arrange to go for an early morning run with friends. Knowing that I can have that time to do something good for myself while sharing the trials of life with good friends who I trust makes all the difference for me…it gets me out of bed in the morning. So if you find it painful to exercise on your own do yourself a favor and find some exercise buddies. Chances are you will find yourself exercising more often when you are doing it with friends!


  1. Hana

    Great post, Abbe! Exactly what I needed to read right now and I agree with all points (especially about the weight loss motivation not lasting!) 🙂 Thank you!!

  2. Abbe,
    Love this post. It’s straight from your heart. I have found an exercise I love, Bikram Yoga. I used to yo-yo exercise, but finding something I love has been key! Love your ideas, love your post!

  3. I love to hear when others have found exercise that they love. That’s what it’s all about! Thanks for sharing!

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