Why You're Not Exercising, and How to Change

There is a particular style of distorted thinking that is widely practiced by most people, but it is an absolute staple for those of us with eating issues – it’s called all-or-nothing thinking.  To demonstrate, it is all-or-nothing thinking that comes up with the following lines of “reasoning”:

• “Well I’ve gone and blown it by eating one cookie, so I might as well finish the row/bag/etc.”
• “I don’t have time to walk five miles so there’s no point in exercising today.”

It is the twisted logic of all-or-nothing thinking that gets us eating the whole bag of cookies and skipping exercise altogether -- what a great combination that is.  If it wasn’t so damaging, it would be funny.  Now that you’re clear on what this thinking is about, let’s look at how it can sabotage your ability to invest in a level of physical activity that would otherwise strengthen you and improve your quality of life.

We’ll start with the premise that daily exercise of some form is your absolute best bet toward maximizing your health and well-being.  You may not personally know this to be true yet, but the evidence is absolutely overwhelming in this regard.  Those who move in some manner every day feel better, function better, get sick less, sleep better, etc – life is decidedly more enjoyable for those who make time for daily activity of some sort.  Daily exercise doesn’t have to always mean getting on the treadmill or going to the gym -- it can mean walking in your neighborhood or on a local trail.  It can mean mowing your grass, shoveling your snow, washing/waxing your car, or doing whatever the daily maintenance of your life requires that involves strenuous activity at times.  It can mean sports, dance, yoga, or volunteering to rehab homes for the poor in your spare time.  The point is, it can mean anything, as long as it gets you moving and using your muscles in a way that keeps them fit and ready for action.

Let’s come back now to our not-so-good friend, all-or-nothing thinking.  The reality of our lives is that occasionally, days of missing exercise are going to happen – sometimes it’s simply necessary.  All-or-nothing thinking will tell you that if you can’t do it every day, you’re not doing it well enough to bother with it at all.  It should be obvious that moving six or seven days out of ten is far superior to being sedentary for most or all of those days.  Puzzling creatures that we are, most of us need to consciously and compassionately remind ourselves of facts like that in order to keep making the best we can of what we have.

That idea of making the best of what you have brings us to the next point: the level/intensity of how you exercise in a given day.  All-or-nothing thinking may tell you that unless you're doing "a full workout" (whatever that means to you), it doesn't count and isn't worth doing.  The reality is that for each and every one of us, energy-level fluctuates from day to day.  You may have the energy and strength for a full-on workout some days, and feel barely able to shuffle your way through other days; obviously, there are all those in-between levels of energy as well.
It's important to match your activity to your energy level.  If, on a given day, you feel like you can barely put one foot in front of the other, a cardio workout is probably going to make you wish you were dead, if you can even do it at all.  On those low-ebb days, the answer is not to skip exercise (which would be the all-or-nothing solution), but to match it to the energy you have.  The worst days may be your good opportunities for a simple stretching routine, a more leisurely walk, or even weight exercises that can be done a couple at a time throughout the day.  Don't try to make your body do something it simply can't do in that moment, but do exercise it at the level it can manage.  Hopefully, tomorrow will be better, at least a little.  Energy-matched exercise will help you preserve and build up your energy reserves rather than draining them.  Remaining still is really only the best option for some instances of illness or injury, and then only for limited amounts of time; other than that, you'll ultimately feel better if you keep moving at some level.
Believe it or not, the quality of your sleep also ties in to all of this.  When you've had a bad night, your energy level will naturally be lower the next day, both emotionally and physically.  If you're lucky, you'll rally during the day and get back to a more energetic level, but there's a good chance you'll just drag for much of the day.  The connection is that on those days-after-the-bad-night, you can expect to feel physically drained and have no interest at all in physical activity.  It might feel easy to just stay sedentary on those days, but you do so at the risk of creating a vicious cycle -- the more sedentary you become, the more your sleep cycle is disturbed and the more fatigued you continually feel, etc.  The take-home point is this: Don't let bad nights (even if it seems they're all bad nights) get in the way of staying active at some level every day.  Just make sure you match your activity to whatever level of energy you do have, and you'll know you're doing your best to keep from losing ground and even start things cycling positively rather than negatively.

For more information on the importance of exercise in your life and how to increase your motivation for it, see Why You Love Exercise but Don’t Know It.

Copyright © 2007.  Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW.  All rights reserved.


Some other articles you may find useful:

Are You a Compulsive Eater?  Test Yourself and See...

Compulsive Eating: Serious Health Issues
Essential Truths about Your Body
Fat: Important New Findings

Raising Kids to be Emotionally Balanced with Food 

Why You Love Exercise, but Don't Know It 

Your Weight May Not be the Problem

Self-Help for Intense Anxiety
When is It Time to Consider Psychotherapy?

Depression Series, Part One: Depression -- Myths and Facts

Depression Series, Part Two: Who Gets Depressed, and Why? 

Depression Series, Part Three: What to Do about Depression 

Depression Series, Part Four: When Someone You Love is Depressed  


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