Physical fitness is an important aspect of leading a healthy life. Regular exercise can stave off serious health conditions like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. It also has myriad positive psychological effects.
Experts agree that regular aerobic exercise increases mood, reduces anxiety and helps us manage stress. So, what’s the problem? Why do our patients continue to struggle with preventable chronic diseases and spend countless dollars on psychiatric medications, talk therapy and nutritional supplements?
It’s simple. Unfortunately, the human psyche is wired so that it talks people out of doing things they don’t want to do. And there is a sizeable portion of our patients who do not like to exercise.
The psyche’s main weapon is the excuse. Excuses, or what I like to refer to as “exercise killers,” are lurking in every nook and cranny of your patients’ minds. They are positioned and eager to take out any thought or behavior intended to motivate them.
These excuses are abundant, accurate and lethal to any haphazard or poorly thought out plan. So, if you want your patients to be successful when it comes to exercise, whether it is in the morning or after work, you should educate them on the most common exercise assassins….and how to avoid them.
- I don’t have time. I understand. Your patients are busy. But, so am I and so are you. We all have constant work, family and social obligations coming at us every day. Did you know the average American watches 34 hours of television each week? That comes out to around five hours per day. If your patient exercises just 30 minutes a day for four days a week that leaves them 32 hours to sink into their couch and zone out in front of the boob tube. Maybe they are not interested in giving up any of their television time, see if they would be willing to exercise over lunch or get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning. The reality is that the average person only needs about 150 minutes of exercise a week to experience significant health benefits. And it doesn’t matter when those 150 minutes happen.
- Exercise is boring. It’s hard to argue with your patient about this one. Yes, exercise can be boring. But, it’s most boring when a person does the same thing over and over each day. Ask your patient to shake things up a bit. Instead of running, doing pushups, or lifting weights, have them try a few different activities. For example, they can go for a swim, bike ride, hike, or participate in a game of racquet ball. Or if they want to be a bit more creative, they can take their partner dancing. This may lead to another unnamed activity that is good for their fitness and a lot more enjoyable than hitting a ball around a court!
- Getting started is expensive. Starting an exercise program does not have to be expensive. It can be, but it does not have to be. If your patient heads out to their local mall and drops 200 dollars on a pair of the newest running shoes that flash and have gold plated coil springs in the heels, then yes, it can be expensive. Instead of spending their hard earned money at their local fitness boutique, visit a “big box” sporting goods store. They can find a decent pair of shoes for less than 50 dollars. And before they take out a second mortgage to finance a gym membership, ask them to try exercising outside. It’s free and the views are great.
Above are just a few of the exercise excuses that keep our patients from hitting the treadmills and elliptical machines. There are many more of them out there.
In my opinion, as part of any thorough behavioral health intake, we should ask about our patients exercise habits. And more importantly, ask about what keeps them from fully meeting their exercise goals…if they have set any.
Do your best to not let these exercise killers get a hold of your patients. Once they do, it is very difficult to shake them. If they can ignore them, at least until they can get their shoes laced up, they have won the biggest battle.
*This article is based in part on Dr. Moore’s book Taking Control of Anxiety: Small Steps for Getting the Best of Worry, Stress, and Fear.
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