[content warning: exercise.]
It’s a few weeks into the New Year, and everyone’s earnest resolutions about exercising more have become the grim feeling that they would literally rather be hit in the head with a baseball bat rather than put on gym shoes one more time.
So, from your friendly neighborhood recovering couch potato, two and a half years on the wagon, here is my advice: find something fun.
I am utterly missing the part of my brain that finds competition enjoyable, which means that playing most games and pretty much any sport is like watching paint dry. I like achieving something– I like the feeling that I’m getting better than I was before. However, numbers going up isn’t very motivating to me: I like something I can show off. I am generally frightened of other people, and whenever I exercise around them I spend the whole time self-consciously contemplating all the negative things they must be thinking about me. And the only thing I find more colossally boring than running is swimming laps.
So I do bodyweight fitness mixed with some yoga. I feel good about myself when I can do crow pose or a handstand when I couldn’t before. I enjoy the tiredness in my muscles. And I don’t have to talk to anyone or leave the house.
Now, what makes it fun for you is probably going to be different from what makes it fun for me. Maybe you want to listen to Zombies, Run! while you jog. Maybe you want to play soccer with a bunch of your friends. Maybe you like going on a long walk and thinking about philosophy. I don’t judge.
But whatever it is, it’s worth the effort to find what it is.
Exercise is probably never going to be easy the way that browsing Facebook or playing stupid phone games is easy. Most forms of exercise won’t be pleasant the whole time you do them, either. But that’s true of a lot of things people do for fun! Programming involves a lot of glaring in frustration at that stupid bug that won’t just fix itself, playing music requires one to practice scales way more than any sensible human would want to, and writers have invented hundreds of things to do instead of sitting down and writing. It is totally possible to find a form of exercise as fun as playing guitar.
You can make yourself do something that makes you goddamn miserable for a couple weeks, maybe even a couple months. But at a certain point you are going to say to yourself “look, if I don’t go out running today, and instead stay at home and watch television, nothing bad will happen, and I really really want to.” And there’s your New Years’ resolution ruined.
Anyway, life is way too short to do things that make you miserable if you don’t have to.
I would advise that, until you get in the habit of exercise, don’t pay any attention to what kinds of exercise are “better” or “worse”. Sure, maybe high-intensity interval training is better for your heart than steady-state cardio, but if you enjoy spending an hour on the treadmill watching your favorite show, then get on the fucking treadmill. The most ineffective exercise is better for your health than sitting on the couch.
For aerobic exercise, the CDC recommends 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (e.g. jogging, basketball) or 150 minutes of moderate exercise (e.g. brisk walking, pushing a lawn mower). That really, really isn’t that much. You can find an hour and fifteen minutes to play basketball sometime in your week, I promise. That’s fifteen minutes a day and you get weekends off.
And don’t get discouraged if you don’t lose weight. Losing weight is really hard. But you know what? Exercise is still good for you if you don’t lose weight! The health benefits do not magically only apply to those with a BMI under 25! That’s another advantage of choosing something fun: if you actually like jogging, then you won’t be discouraged if the pounds don’t melt off the way you hoped, because jogging is a satisfying activity itself.
[ETA: queenshulamit in the comments mentioned an important addition to this post. If you hate exercise because you have enormous amounts of chest pain whenever you exercise, you should go to the doctor, because you might have asthma. If you do not have asthma, enormous amounts of chest pain is still not a normal consequence of exercise, and you may have some other medical condition, be pushing yourself too hard, or just be doing a wrong form of exercise for you.]