Man running on treadmill 1200 x 800

Here are the most common and beloved excuses for not exercising and the reasons why they just don’t hold up:

Excuse #1: “It’s not worth the effort”

There is a huge body of evidence that documents the health benefits of exercise. Here are some of the findings:

  • Mortality: Regular exercise reduces the risk of all-cause mortality in most individuals—men, women, older as well as younger people.
  • Obesity: When exercise is combined with a weight loss diet, the results are better than with diet alone.
  • Diabetes: Aerobic exercise improves insulin sensitivity as well as glucose control. In addition, it may help prevent type 2 diabetes in some high-risk groups, such as people with metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes.
  • Cancer: Some studies have shown that exercise may provide modest protection against breast, intestinal, prostate, endometrial, pancreatic cancer, and colon cancer.
  • Dementia: Exercise reduces the risk of dementia and may improve cognitive function in older individuals.
  • Osteoporosis: Weight-bearing exercise appears to increase bone mineral density in both women and men. Exercise also decreases the risk of hip fractures in people with osteoporosis.

As the World Health Organization points out, “better health is central to human happiness and well-being.” So, is it worth the effort? You bet it is!

Excuse #2: “I don’t have enough time to exercise”

People who exercise regularly also live busy lives—they have two jobs, two kids, too much to do, and too little time…just like non-exercisers—but they still find time for regular physical activity. They make exercise a priority. It becomes an expected part of their everyday lives. So, Couch Potatoes, take a look at how you are spending your time. Is that late night TV show really more important than a good workout? Or, here’s another possibility, could you find a way to watch it and walk on a treadmill at the same time?

Excuse #3: “Exercise is so boring”

Then, find an activity that isn’t boring. If you hate running, try hiking. If swimming bores you stiff, try biking. Consider dance classes, tai chi, mountain climbing, wall climbing, rowing, kickboxing, or regular boxing….come on now, there are a zillion fun ways to get moving. Find one you like and, as the Nike folks say, “Just Do It.”

Excuse #4: “I hate exercising alone”

Then group classes might be just the ticket for you. There are plenty of free as well as paid options. Alternatively, find a friend or two to walk with or make a habit of hiking with your family every weekend. If you want to push yourself to get the most out of your workouts, then consider hiring a personal trainer. Trainers can be particularly helpful if you want to optimize the benefits from activities where technique is important, such as weight training, yoga, or pilates.

Excuse #5: “My back hurts”

When I was a practicing emergency physician, we routinely prescribed bed rest for back pain. Boy, were we wrong. We now know that getting up and moving is better for people with back pain. Gentle yoga classes may be particularly helpful in keeping chronic back pain in check. My husband, who was hospitalized for severe back pain in the 1980s, has controlled his chronic back pain for years with yoga-like stretches. He explains more in this video we made to celebrate his 80th birthday!

Excuse #6: “I’m too old”

I am not too old to exerciseMy mother-in-law, Annie, was in her 80s when she surprised us by being featured in the book, Growing Old Is Not for Sissies: Portraits of Senior Athletes (1986 version) (photo above). If her story isn’t enough to convince you, get your hands on this wonderful book to see how people are working out and staying fit all the way into their 100s. It is important to know that it is never too late to get started. One of the more famous characters in the San Francisco Bay Area running community was former hod-carrier, smoker, and drinker, Walt Stack, who started running in his late 60s. He went on to run more marathons and even ultra-marathons than many of his running peers.

Excuse #7: “I have kids to take care of”

Hey, chances are your kids need to get more exercise, too. Make working out a family activity: walk together, bike together, play baseball together. Lots of activities now target moms with young kids—yoga classes for mom and baby, for example. An added benefit of making a point of exercising if you have kids is teaching them, by example, the importance of regular physical activity.

Excuse #8: “I’m too fat”

No matter how fat you are, you will benefit from physical activity. A friend of mine who lost more than 200 pounds told me he started with a very modest goal. He parked his car at the far end of the parking lot so that he had to walk farther to get to his office. Over time, he gradually upped the ante. He eventually took up bicycle riding. He is now a “century” bike rider…that means he does 100-mile bike rides. You don’t have to aim for 100-mile bike rides, but you should aim for increasing your activity until you have reached at least a half hour of modest to vigorous physical activity per day.

Excuse #9: “I’m thin already”

Although exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, everyone can benefit from increased physical activity. Go back up to Excuse #1 to see how.

Excuse #10: “I’m not a gym rat”

Gyms are not just for folks with perfect bodies. In fact, many gyms now target people who are just starting to exercise or who are seriously out of shape. If you decide to join a gym as your form of exercise, choose one that is convenient and has a good variety of equipment, including the type of equipment you like to use the most. Take advantage of the gym’s trainers. They can show you how to do the exercise in a manner that promotes fitness and avoids injury. If gyms still aren’t your thing, then consider converting your guest room into a gym. We did that 20 years ago and now use that room more than any other in the house.

Excuse #11: “I have cancer”

Observational studies, particularly of patients with breast, colorectal, or prostate cancer, have reported a link between survival and exercise. Exercise has also been shown to have a direct effect on the quality of life factors, such as fatigue.

Excuse #12: “I have arthritis”

Sorry folks, you can’t use this one either. The Arthritis Foundation website states that “multiple studies show that mild to moderate exercise is beneficial for people with arthritis.” In particular, they say it helps people with osteoarthritis, also known as “wear and tear” arthritis, reduce pain and increase flexibility.

Did your favorite excuse make this list? If not, post it in the comments section. I’ll bet there is a way to debunk it too.


The original version of this post was published on July 8, 2006. It has been reviewed and completely revised and updated by the author.