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Will Aguila, M.D. Headshot

Why Exercise Is Not About Willpower

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We all know that exercise makes us feel better; it relieves our stress, we sleep better, we have more energy, and it clears out our minds of negativity. So why then, do people lose interest in working out so quickly? Why do people abandon their routines and go back to their old junk food eating habits? Is there a better way to find a routine you like, stick with it, and lose weight without torturing yourself?

For many people, the benefits of working out are not instantly felt at the start of a new exercise program. In fact, when you first begin to exercise, it hurts! You get shortness of breath, your joints hurt, your muscles will ache for days, and you can even feel depressed and uninspired. You might also experience feelings of failure because you have such a hard time performing the workouts at the beginning. So at first, food comforts us, while exercise doesn't! The truth is, in order to get the benefits of exercise, you have to keep at it for a while. You have to get through the "hump" of pain in order to accept and actually enjoy it. You'll have a better chance of sticking with a new exercise program if you take some steps to prepare both your body and your mind for the harsh reality you may face at the outset.

Slowly integrating exercise into your daily activities is the key. Even better, concentrate on increasing activity on a daily basis. Walk a little more and climb the stairs more often, even if you do it slowly. Work in the yard and in the winter, walk in the mall. Wash your car and carry grocery bags a little further in the parking lot. By looking at it as increasing your daily activities rather than structuring an exercise routine, you are more likely to get started and more likely to be more successful. Even something as simple as mopping the floor in the kitchen will count!

Next, lose some weight without exercising first. Losing just five percent of your excess weight prior to beginning an exercise program will allow you to have more energy, feel less winded and lighter, plus, your joints will hurt less. This change alone may turn an "undesirable" exercise experience into a lifelong and enjoyable habit.

When you feel comfortable with increasing your daily activities, then you'll be ready to move on. Here is where taking small, but consistent, steps in the right direction are important. Don't set your standards too high. Do not set yourself up for failure.

Setting the proper goals is very important. We all want to have "rock hard abs" or a fitness magazine body. We are an "abs versus flab" society; it's either one extreme or the other. But we have to set realistic goals and shoot for being fit. Believe me, if you shoot for being fit, the rest will follow. Here is where starting with a professional trainer is very beneficial, as they can help you set an appropriate and safe exercise routine. Also, be sure to always check with your doctor before beginning an exercise program.

If you can't afford a trainer all the time, then try to use one for just the first three to four sessions so that you at least learn the basics. A local YMCA is an excellent resource. There, you can even sign up for a family program and involve your child in different sports while you exercise at their gym or pool. A family plan is affordable and is a much better alternative than signing up your child for a sport and sitting on the bleachers talking to other parents every day while your child practices. Using the YMCA in this way also allows you to exercise as a family and connect with each other; you arrive there together and you leave together! You get a chance to get your kids out of the house and make them active. It is easy to make this a habit.

Remember, that you want to make exercise an enjoyable and positive experience so that you stick with it for life. Exercise is not about willpower! You shouldn't have to fight yourself to keep going. Willpower will only get you so far. Exercise is about resolve.

As a final note, I know that it's often difficult when you're overweight or obese to join a public gym because you may feel self-conscious about your looks. No doubt that some gyms are part social club, part fitness club, but try not to let this stop you from getting the best experience out of your routine that you can.

If you feel intimidated in your gym, you can join together with a group that is physically similar to you. By doing this you will dissipate some of the negative feelings and at the same time, inspire yourself to do better because you are now part of a group. There is sometimes "safety in numbers" at a gym so to speak. Besides, if you create a big enough workout group, you will "own the place!"

Remember that the struggle with obesity is not an obscure dark tunnel, but a predictable journey that offers many side roads and avenues that lead to your success. You call the shots; you make the rules. A bright horizon is in your hands!

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