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But I don’t have time to fit exercise into my life!

John StJohn Smythe is no slacker. Ever since he can remember, he had it drilled into him that hard work is good. He did his homework at school, managed to go to university, got a job and made his family proud. He’s forged a career, got a house, car, mortgage and family. But getting ahead in life has come at a cost. He didn’t realise it for years, but his sedentary lifestyle has finally dumped him on the sofa like a sack of old, sprouting, purple potatoes.

Here is the latest diatribe from John:

What is this ‘you can fit exercise into your life’ nonsense anyway? Sounds like a load of preachy crap from someone with too much time on their hands if you ask me. Hey, I’d love to spend more time at the gym, but I’m too busy to even think about it!

Like tonight, I was waiting for my boss to finish a call at work, so I could check he was happy with my bullet-point indentation on that super-important PowerPoint presentation (I think he was impressed). Before you know it, I’ve missed the train home, so I sit around playing Angry Birds waiting for the next one. I could walk it to the next station and get a different route home…but, you know, I’m knackered. Then when I finally get home, well, I could go to the gym, but that training plan they gave me would take at least 45 minutes and I don’t have that time. Plus it would be lame just to go for 15 minutes and – hey – we’ve still got some of those Doritos left, result!

Tomorrow we’ve got that really important committee meeting where everyone will really care about what everyone else says, so no time for exercise in the morning, gotta be sharp. Then I’ve got that overnight stay to speak to the guys in operations, so, there goes Wednesday and Thursday.

Friday is always takeaway day by holy decree, so I’ll just go for a run on Saturday for a hour and a half, right?

Actually, scrub that, I’ve got to take the kids to football practice, then ballet, then swimming, then Mandarin, then tennis, then drama, then that annoying kid’s birthday party, then cubs, then brownies. Sunday we’ve got the Jones’s coming over so that day is a total non-starter. And I need to catch up on sleep.

Besides which, I don’t want to look like a complete numpty doing some lame exercise video in my living room, are you nuts? What would the neighbours think? Plus I wouldn’t even know when to start. Anyway, I’ve already paid the non-refundable admin fee at the gym which I’m never going to get back, so there’s no way I’m cancelling. End of.

Sound familiar?

You may identify with John’s predicament. You may pity him. But there are problems with this way if thinking. It is based in a number of false assumptions, namely:

  • you have to go to an officially designated place to exercise
  • you have to set aside big chunks of time to exercise
  • exercise if something you do away from family
  • exercise is lower down the pecking order than work
  • if you’ve already paid for something you can’t change it
  • an unpredictable lifestyle is incompatible with a healthy one

Let’s tackle these obstacles one by one and BLAST THEM TO SMITHEREENS.

Excuse #1 – You have to go to an officially designated place to exercise

We have moved from a society where many just had a single space for eating, sleeping, conversing and playing, to one in which everything has its place: separate rooms for dining, preparing food watching TV, sleeping, storing plants, dogs (WTF?) and more.

Many of these barriers have broken down in recent decades, but part of the memory still lingers. Exercise belongs in the park, gym or leisure centre.

Eh err.

Truth is, if you can swing a cat in it, you can exercise in it.

This can take the form of:

  • A living room
  • Garage
  • Garden
  • Stairs
  • Even your desk

There is no rulebook that tells you how to use space. Think outside the box.

Excuse #2 – I don’t have the time!

A common complaint, but one that you can work around. First, you don’t need to set aside lots of time. For example, exercising at home reduces the faffing time either side of your workout you would otherwise spend packing a pack, travelling, staring at adverts on the way, changing and, most annoyingly, waiting for others.

You also don’t need to spend a long time sweating. It’s more important to ingrain the habit of exercise even if it is just 5 MINUTES. The point here is that you are creating a memory, embedding a habit to build on later.

The simplest answer to this excuse is you can always make time. Work it in to your schedule. Think about all the dead time in your schedule. Before work / school. Do you take the lift or stairs? How about lunchtime spent browsing the news (aka 90% rehashed gossip) online?

Excuse #3 – I can’t get away from family

The assumption that you can’t get any form of exercise done around the family is one to be challenged.

Instead of booking or negotiating time for workouts, training or long runs, consider the option of doing it together. I wouldn’t recommend swinging a kettlebell near a toddler, but the novelty of watching mummy and / or daddy jumping around in the living room often provides a source of amusement that kids like to mimic. Yoga and Pilates can work well at home too; granted you may have little ones clambering over you from time to time, but rather than getting annoyed, think of it as an opportunity for an extra challenge.

Try adopting the golden rule to prioritise family activities over solo exercise. This can range from going for a walk or hike, cycling, kicking a football around in the garden, to doing a spot of gardening with the kids creating their own fun (or better still helping out).

If you find it impossible to get any sweat-related activity, make a pact with your other half to give each other a permission slip to make time for exercise.

Excuse #4 – work is more important

A major fallacy of the modern era places work above all else: family, health, community.

If you are reading this you already know there are plenty of studies out showing that regular exercise basically turns you into an unstoppable human machine – boosting blood flow delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain, even enhancing memory function. But despite this knowledge, many otherwise intelligent people choose to listen to the nagging social acceptance devil on their shoulder rather than the fairy of long term wisdom.

This requires taking a step back from the day to day grind and assessing your priorities in life.

Sure, in your twenties starting out in a career you may feel you can work all hours. But know this: time catches up with everyone, and if you neglect your body, you will pay for it in the long run. You may think showing dedication by working long hours and making sacrifices will help you get ahead. But have you ever stopped to challenge that notion with yourself, your colleagues or even clients?

Look at how many elements of your life are positively impacted by exercise: current physical and mental health, your long term health outlook, self-esteem, relationships (as long as you you don’t overdo it) and of course….your work. By contrast, how many elements of your life are positively impacted by work? Getting paid. Anything else? No?

If you are lucky to be in the right career, you may get a feeling of self-worth, or even better a feeling of higher contribution. Otherwise – wake up.

If you are working somewhere that values presenteeism over output, then maybe you should look elsewhere for paid work.

Excuse #5 – I’ve already paid for gym membership

Of course you may be someone who derives a lot of value from being a member of a gym, or you may use a pay-as-you-go variety, or perhaps you’ve shopped around (little-known gyms attached to some hotels can be great value), in which case this is a moot point – proceed to #6.

Say you’ve paid an admin fee to join a gym. You’ve paid enough money every month to fund Lady Gaga’s lifetime supply of bacon. And you’ve been twice. But you feel committed to staying until at least the first 12 months is up because you’ve already shelled out so much, and you never know, you might make up for it all in December and go 31 days in a row! Bingo!

This is an example of the sunk cost fallacy – your decision to plough on is made because of the emotional investment you have accumulated, making it ever harder to abandon a course of action the more money you spend.

It takes courage and a leap of faith to change course in the face of accumulated investment. But once you cut the cord with a futile project, the feeling of elation is hard to match.

Excuse #6 – My life is too unpredictable, I couldn’t possibly fit it all in!

An unpredictable lifestyle is not incompatible with a healthy one. You just need to plan for various contingencies.

  • Going away on business? Do a short HIIT workout in your hotel room. Pack a resistance band. Bring some HIIT cards. Take your trainers and go for a run
  • Carve out time in the morning before you leave the house to do something, even if it is nothing more than a rudimentary warm up and cool down / stretch routine
  • Put time in your Outlook calendar, mark it as “Performance management” (cos it sort of is) and go for a run at work. If you don’t manage to, try again the next day
  • Take the stairs. Always.

Ok. Just maybe I’ll think about making some changes. I’ll have a go at doing a quick cardio video before work. But I’m not giving up fish and chips on Friday.

Free your mind and the fitness will follow.