Overcoming Exercise Inertia

David Mendosa Health Guide April 03, 2008
  • Starting to exercise isn't easy for anyone. It sure wasn't for me, even though I knew all too well how important exercise is for controlling my diabetes.

    It's a particularly personal example of the universal problem called inertia, which Sir Isaac Newton told us about 321 years ago in the greatest single scientific work ever. Inertia means that a body at rest tends to remain at rest.

    But that's only part of it, the down side. Inertia's up side is that a body in motion tends to remain in motion.

    Once we get going it's easier to keep going than to stop. I know that Sir Isaac was right. Now, for me it's harder on my psyche -- to say nothing of my body -- not to exercise every day than to exercise.


    "I used to exercise and really liked to do that," a correspondent named Jan wrote me this week. But she stopped working out after going through several surgeries. Subsequently, she totally lost her desire to exercise.

    "I know you used to hate to exercise and now you like to," she continued. "What happened to get you started, and how do you make yourself continue?"

    Jan's message got me to reflect on how much my attitude about exercising has changed. I wrote her back that it was indeed awfully hard for me to get started.

    But once I got a my exercise pattern established, I felt so much better that there's no way now that I could stop -- unless I had to because of some injury. I dread arecurrence of the arthritis in my left knee that kept me off the trails a few years ago.

    Now that Jan stopped exercising because of her surgeries, inertia means that it will be as hard for her to get going again as it was at first. But, as I wrote her, exercise is a virtuous cycle -- the absolute opposite of thevicious cycle of most things in life. The longer she does it the easier it will be because she will feel so much better.

    I guess the trick to getting started is for Jan (or anyone else) to do the exercise that she likes the most (or perhaps dislikes the least). For me it has always been walking or hiking. Maybe listening to music or a book on an iPod would help her (or you) as much as it has me.

    Another trick is to reward yourself. I often promise to reward myself for exercising by stopping at my favorite coffee shop for an espresso or just a cup of coffee. And I think that it is as important to keep the promises that we make to ourselves as those that we make to other people. Plus, espresso and coffee makes me happy.

    We can also build on our personal differences. All my life I have been hard of hearing. I compensate for my poor hearing by being more visual than most folks. I appreciate beauty wherever I find it. That's the main reason why I'm an avid photographer. Wanting to take beautiful pictures of where I hike is often enough incentive to get me out on the trail.

    Here's another way I think about exercise. Like most people, I spend most of my life doing what other people want me to do and helping them. We all need balance in this and is other ways. I maintain my balance in this way when I realize that by exercising, I am finally doing something for myself.


  • I hope that I have encouraged Jan -- and you -- to go down that exercise path. She replied that she she is going to get started. And as soon as she can afford an iPod she plans to buy one.

    Since I know how important it is to have someone paying attention to what we are doing -- it's called the Hawthorne effect -- I asked Jan to keep me informed. This should give her just a bit more incentive to do what she knows that she needs to do.