Learning to Love Exercise

Boxing match at Houston's Bayou City Event Center. January 10, 2013.

As a child, I did gymnastics, swimming, ballet, and tennis. I had fun, yet nothing active compelled me. Without the parental prompt, I’d have stayed home to read.

In high school, I climbed on a stair machine and worked out to videos in the game room out of teen appearance pressure. (I still have some Jane Fonda moves memorized.) In college and graduate school, I attempted racquetball and swimming.

None of it took.

So how did I get from forcing my body into exertion to excitedly pushing my physical limits? And how can other people do the same? My friend Rebecca wrote about exercise inducing crushing boredom. She’s not alone in the feeling.

Find a Lifestyle Fit

In school, I hated to run. Stubbornly, I would walk the President’s Challenge Fitness Test mile. Yet when I made the decision to get fit, running looked like my adult lifestyle default:

  • I can run anywhere with running shoes and a few easy-to-pack clothing items. (I’ve even run in the Galapagos Islands.)
  • I can run for a few minutes or a couple hours.
  • I can run from my front door. I don’t need to go anywhere special.
  • Running gets you fitter in less time than most other aerobic activities.
  • I can run with friends. I can run solo.
  • Running does not require expensive or bulky equipment or membership fees.

Psychologists say it takes six weeks for an activity to become a habit. For me, it took six months. And then: I loved running. The lesson? Keep at it.

Find Two Go-tos

Once you find something that fits your lifestyle and you grow to love it, you may obsess. Once I found a passion for running, I ran as much as I could. Unfortunately, overdoing anything turns into eventual burnout.

Try new sports that look fun yet still fit your lifestyle. Exploring led me to boxing. (You know you love a sport when your trainer has to tell you to take a break and drink some water.) Find two activities you enjoy for regular workouts. Options and variety make a difference for motivation.

Integrate Friendships

Hearing my friends talk about bike rides and marathons and watching them in the ring gets me charged up. Being around active people makes you crave activity.

In addition, meeting friends in the same sports gives you people with whom you can exercise—which holds you accountable and turns exercising into socializing. Running, walking, and biking have grown into some of my favorite get-togethers. When you know you’ll see friends, you look forward to an activity more.


Today, I don’t struggle with exercise but with eating. I’ve baked activity into my schedule. And if I don’t exercise, I feel grumpy and sluggish and it seems like my body doesn’t function optimally. And I miss the fun.

I won’t lie: Getting into the exercise groove will challenge anyone. But once you’re there, you’re there.

And it’s worth it.

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Reader Comments (4)

I began walking in college as a necessity. My car broke down and the mechanic couldn't get parts for two weeks. Having pledged all my money to the mechanic I had no bus fare so a walking I would go. Surprisingly it stuck through the next three years in school. Anywhere from 5 to 10 miles per day. I had dropped from my freshman weight of 210 pounds to 170. Then it stopped.

"If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself" - Mickey Mantle

I think that summarizes the majority of the population's attitude towards fitness and not just my own. After school I was "too busy" or distracted, or just plain didn't care. I figured the body could handle this sedentary lifestyle just fine without my help. The pounds piled on and despair set in. Nothing could be done. I needed a jolt to shake me loose.

About three years ago my father's health began to deteriorate. He had never been fat but his sedentary lifestyle had begun to damage his arteries and he had picked up diabetes as well. He is now nearly ninety and as well as can be expected for someone who's had two strokes.

I was not going end my days like that. Walking had helped once and it could serve again. It has been a long descent down from 288 but it is progressing. The body isn't what it was twenty years ago. I am at the point that I am seriously put off if I miss more than one day.

Running. I don't even like to say the word. But I am substituting short stretches here and there and hope to put together a full session soon.

It's not that I want to get to a certain pants size or anything like that. It's become a matter of survival.

February 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam Pora

Yay, Will! And running doesn't matter--it's more important that you do something you enjoy enough to keep at it. That was key to me.

And I think you've seconded my notion that you have to stick with it long enough for it to be something that you love and crave and that's really integrated with your schedule. Until then, it's a chore, no matter what you choose to do to get fit.

February 24, 2013 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

My friend, who is a pain management specialist, said that the worst thing you can do for your body is running. (I'm sure he meant aside from being sedentary). A lot of fitness articles argue that weight lifting is the best way to lose weight and get healthy.

Ultimately, you're right. It doesn't matter what you do as long as you love it and it becomes part of your lifestyle. Moving our bodies can't be this big deal thing that we have to make special accommodations for. Like eating or sleeping it just has to be something that we do.

P.S. I'd like to try boxing but due to my anger issues my husband would prefer I stay away from activities that teach me to hurt more effectively and all weaponry.

March 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYogitastic

Laughed about that boxing comment, Yogi! ;) I bet you'd love it more than you even think you would. It's SO much fun!

And as for running... A lot of people disagree. You might want to read "Born to Run"--such a compelling work of creative nonfiction! I couldn't put it down.

March 9, 2013 | Registered CommenterLeslie Farnsworth

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