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Real Story: I Don’t Like Exercise. Now What?

I’ve always been jealous of people who like exercise. Iron Tribers, diehard yogis, anyone who’s experienced a runner’s high — some people just seem wired that way, and I am not one of them, yet I know I have to do it. So what now?

I’ll sit this one out

I exercised growing up — soccer, track, an unlikely stint as a cheerleader — and I’ve always run sporadically. But the ugly truth is I’ve never really liked the exercise part all that much. Sure, I feel good when I finish doing it, and I feel guilty if I don’t. But I can only think of a handful of times I’ve enjoyed the act of running or push-ups or “feeling the burn,” even though I’ve been doing it for 20 years.

What gives?

There may be a scientific reason why I hate working out. After exercising, most people receive a mental reward from dopamine, the chemical associated with motivation, pleasure and well-being.

However some people’s genes interfere with the chemical’s release, and exercise isn’t as enjoyable without those rewards.

So let’s say I’m one of those people. Do I get a special “Get Out of Gym Free” card because of it? Nope! Even if I know the reason, I also know I have to keep exercising for my emotional and physical health. I want to be the kind of person who craves a run the same way I crave pizza, but that isn’t me, and it probably won’t ever be. And that’s OK.

Everyone has things that come naturally to them — for me, it’s writing, problem-solving or getting organized. Even when those things are hard, they feel worth it to me because, deep down, I like them. Other people get that kind of satisfaction from running a marathon. One isn’t better than the other, and I think being honest about the things we don’t like is the first step toward figuring out how to do them.

7 tips to make exercising easier*

1. Decide that you’re exercising.

Deciding that you’re exercising is as important as deciding how you’ll do it. Thinking of it long-term freed me from diet and exercise spurts pre- wedding or pool season. It was actually a relief to make a commitment.

2. Figure out the details ahead of time.

Having a plan ahead of time can help you stick to it — running, yoga, weights, whatever — decide how and where you’re going to do it. I’m not one for terms like “setting your intentions,” but with exercise, picturing myself getting up and doing it helps. That includes checking the weather so I know when I can drag myself out for a run.

3. Put exercise first — literally.

This is non-negotiable. If I spend all day planning to hit an after-work gym class, dread will swallow me whole. So I don’t give myself the option to back out. I get up, brush my teeth, put on clothes and go. I might stop to get water; it’s that much of a fire drill.

4. Try some apps.

For strength training, I found an app where trainers are equal parts annoying and motivating, but they keep me moving. Find an app that allows you to do a trial run before paying, so you can test several out and only pay for the ones you like.

5. Track your activity.

A visual always helps, and it can be basic. I have a puppy calendar in my bathroom where I track what I do with color-coded stickers: green for running, pink for yoga, yellow for strength training. I don’t punish myself for sliding off track or, God forbid, post Instagram photos of my successes or failures, but seeing a row of colored dots (or empty spaces) is motivating.

6. If you hate it, try something new.

My parents raised me with a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality, but that does not work for me with exercise. If I start a workout and hate it, I switch to something else! When you’re trying to build a good habit, don’t make it harder on yourself.

7. Don’t get hung up.

This means different things for different people, but I realized that tracking how far I was running was making me miserable because spoiler: it’s not far. But if I know I’m going to run for 20 minutes and I’m going to treat myself to a new 80’s playlist every time I do, that’s good enough.

And remember: this isn’t about powering through a juice cleanse or a yoga retreat; we’re playing the long game here. The habit itself is the goal. And if you have ideas for the exercise haters among us, send them over in the comments.

*A few caveats:
1. This is not trainer or doctor-approved; it’s just what works for me.
2. I still hate exercise. I’m also still doing it.  

Ashley Brantley

Ashley Brantley has been writing about food, culture and health for more than a decade, and has lived in three of Tennessee’s four major cities (Memphis, Nashville and Knoxville).

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Get more information about specific health terms, topics and conditions to better manage your health on bcbst.com. BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee members can access wellness-related discounts on fitness products, gym memberships, healthy eating and more through Blue365®. BCBST members can also find tools and resources to help improve health and well-being by logging into BlueAccess and going to the Managing Your Health tab.

WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
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