We all know exercise is good for your health — so why isn't everyone doing it?: Opinion

I started out my career as a family doctor making sure I passed along lots of information regarding the health benefits of exercise to my patients. Before long I realized my patients had read those articles too.

There may be barriers to exercising you aren't even aware of

Most people know exercise is good for their health, but Dr. Laura O'Connor finds patient beliefs can stand in the way of taking on an exercise routine. (ESB Professional/Shutterstock)

Being a family doctor, and tasked with health promotion, I started out my career making sure I passed along lots of information regarding the health benefits of exercise to my patients.

Before long I realized: my patients read the news. Articles quoting studies about exercise and its benefits seem to be published daily. They knew the health benefits, yet that didn't necessarily make them actually start exercising.

I talk to patients about exercise every week.

For those who are exercising regularly, I see them light up in these conversations.

Regular exercisers in their seventies and eighties are a special group. They have reaped the benefits of a lifetime of physical activity.

I sense their pride in hopping up on my exam table without help, and informing me how independent they are at home.

Many of my patients, on the other hand, are not exercising regularly. I've found that a lot of these patients hold certain beliefs about exercise or about themselves. In some cases, these beliefs have kept people sedentary for years.

A family doctor is meant to be your ally in health. When I hear about beliefs that get in the way of my patients' good health habits, I try to challenge them. 

Here are some examples of what I commonly hear.

'It just seems silly — it's foolish to drive to the gym to run on the spot!'

Human bodies are meant to move.

It's not breaking news that modern conveniences, while relieving us of drudgery and physical labour, have taken away the activities that historically kept our bodies strong.

And that's where exercise comes in.

It might seem silly to run indoors on a treadmill, but with modern conveniences many people don't have exercise built into their lives anymore. (Sorapop Udomsri/Shutterstock)

In a perfect world, our lifestyles would perfectly match with our health needs. But in Canada in the 21st century, not so much.

If we want to maintain good health and also have machines plow our fields and wash our dirty socks for us, maybe we need to schedule in some intentional exercise, for the sake of it.

And, if the idea of treadmill running is silly to you, just pick something else!

'I don't have enough energy to exercise'

As my regularly-exercising patients would tell you, and I can tell you based on my own personal experience — exercising regularly gives you energy!

It's like tapping into an internal spring.

Exercising can give you more energy, and it can keep you mobile into your senior years. (sonsam/Shutterstock)

Strengthening your muscles, heart and lungs makes them better able to endure usual daily challenges — carrying groceries, standing or sitting long periods at work or chasing kids.

You won't know the truth of this statement for yourself until you try it.

If you feel you are at rock-bottom for extra energy, you have nothing to lose.

'I'm not "sporty"'

This statement, or versions of it such as "I can't run, because of my bad knees" or "I can't go walking right now, it's too icy" all have an underlying presumption — that there is one type of exercise that person could be doing and that they have a solid reason not to do it.

It's a false excuse.

There are hundreds of ways to exercise.

If you aren't "sporty" or co-ordinated, you could try something slow-paced and deliberate, like walking, or even weight lifting.

Not a fan of running? Try yoga. There are lots of different ways to get exercise — figure out which you enjoy. (fizkes/Shutterstock)

If you have bad knees, think about swimming, or low-impact exercise like pilates or yoga.

If the sidewalks are slick, take your walk indoors (at a mall or other building, or an indoor track), or commit to some stair-climbing at home.

When there is a real barrier to one activity, let your mind move on to another that is a better fit.

What's stopping you?

If you aren't exercising (even though you know you should), what beliefs are stopping you?

Think about them. Write them down. Are they valid? Talk them out with someone else while keeping an open mind.

If you can change your mind, your body will thank you.

Don't forget to check with your doctor

One last note: when was the last time you read an article like this and it wasn't qualified with a statement like "check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program?" Well, this article is going to be no different.

That stands as good advice, particularly if you have medical conditions, take medicines, or have not exerted yourself physically in many years.

Your doctor isn't going to come up with a perfect training program for you; there are other professionals to do that job.

However, your family doctor knows your health background and risk factors. They can make general suggestions about where to start, and what type of movements or activities might be more risky for you.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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Dr. Laura O'Connor is a family physician in Charlottetown.


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