Excuses, excuses, excuses. Who hasn’t used one or more of them to justify why they can’t (won’t) exercise. The problem is most of them are bogus and can easily be debunked. Let’s take a look at some common (and beloved) excuses for not exercising. And, the reasons why they just don’t hold up. Is your favorite exercise excuse on the list?
Exercise 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.
- Cardiovascular diseases: Exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke, heart failure).
- Obesity: Exercise, particularly resistance and endurance training, are effective in helping overweight people lose weight when combined with a low-calorie diet.
- 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: Exercise may provide modest risk reduction in many different types of cancer, including breast, lung, esophagus, stomach, colon, endometrial, liver, bladder, and kidney. Further, other studies show that exercise improves treatment outcomes and foster overall health in cancer patients.
- Dementia: Exercise may reduce the risk of dementia and may improve cognitive function in older individuals.
- Osteoporosis: Exercise has been shown to prevent bone loss in postmenopausal women and, in some cases, it contributes to increased bone mineral density.
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?
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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, cycling, 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. There are big gym classes, small gym classes, and even live-streamed group classes. Alternatively, find a friend or two to walk with – socializing is good for your health too. 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. And, along the way you make a new friend.
Exercise 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
My 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.
Exercise 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 getting regular physical activity.
Excuse #8: I’m too fat
No matter how overweight or obese 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.
Exercise 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 so you don’t waste a lot of time getting there. Also, be sure it has a good variety of equipment, including the type of equipment you like to use the most. And, if you like to take group classes, check out their offerings before signing up.
Further, you should 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 25 years ago and now use that room more than any other in the house.
Excuse #11: I have cancer
An April 2020 article in The Scientist reviews the scientific evidence that shows that physical exercise may play a role in fighting cancer. It also improves treatment outcomes and the overall health of cancer patients.
Excuse #12: I have arthritis
Sorry folks, you can’t use this one either. The Arthritis Foundation encourages people with arthritis to get exercise, particularly walking and mind-body exercises such as tai chi, qigong, and yoga.
Closing question about excuses for not exercising:
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.
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The original version of this post was published on 7/8/2016. It was reviewed and completely revised and updated by the author on 8/17/2017 and again on 5/7/2020.
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA
Patricia Salber, MD, MBA is the Founder. CEO, and Editor-in-Chief of The Doctor Weighs In (TDWI). Founded in 2005 as a single-author blog, it has evolved into a multi-authored, multi-media health information site with a global audience. She has worked hard to ensure that TDWI is a trusted resource for health information on a wide variety of health topics. Moreover, Dr. Salber is widely acknowledged as an important contributor to the health information space, including having been honored by LinkedIn as one of ten Top Voices in Healthcare in both 2017 and 2018.
Dr. Salber has a long list of peer-reviewed publications as well as publications in trade and popular press. She has published two books, the latest being “Connected Health: Improving Care, Safety, and Efficiency with Wearables and IoT solutions. She has hosted podcasts and video interviews with many well-known healthcare experts and innovators. Spreading the word about health and healthcare innovation is her passion.
She attended the University of California Berkeley for her undergraduate and graduate studies and UC San Francisco for medical school, internal medicine residency, and endocrine fellowship. She also completed a Pew Fellowship in Health Policy at the affiliated Institute for Health Policy Studies. She earned an MBA with a health focus at the University of California Irvine.
She joined Kaiser Permanente (KP)where she practiced emergency medicine as a board-certified internist and emergency physician before moving into administration. She served as the first Physician Director for National Accounts at the Permanente Federation. And, also served as the lead on a dedicated Kaiser Permanente-General Motors team to help GM with its managed care strategy. GM was the largest private purchaser of healthcare in the world at that time. After leaving KP, she worked as a physician executive in a number of health plans, including serving as EVP and Chief Medical Officer at Universal American.
She consults and/or advises a wide variety of organizations including digital start-ups such as CliniOps, My Safety Nest, and Doctor Base (acquired). She currently consults with Duty First Consulting as well as Faegre, Drinker, Biddle, and Reath, LLP.
Pat serves on the Board of Trustees of MedShare, a global humanitarian organization. She chairs the organization’s Development Committee and she also chairs MedShare's Western Regional Council.
Dr. Salber is married and lives with her husband and dog in beautiful Marin County in California. She has three grown children and two granddaughters with whom she loves to travel.