#017 The 10 Best Excuses Not to Exercise

We all recently saw the headlines, too much sitting increases our risk of cancer by up to 66%! Sitting really is the new smoking. If you figure that sitting to watch TV for one hour shortens your life by 22 minutes and smoking one cigarette takes 11 minutes off your life then sitting down to watch that one hour TV show tonight is the equivalence of smoking 2 cigarettes.

We all know we need to get moving more. Not only do we need to exercise each day but we also need to keep moving all day long. Sitting on our butts the entire day after a grueling one hour work out in the gym will undo any benefit we may have achieved in the gym. Our bodies were designed to move!

We all need to get moving. Based on objective pedometer data, less than 1 in 20 American adults actually moves enough during the day.

Every day I encourage my patients to get moving. Often when I make these suggestions, they have excuses. Let’s face it, we all have excuses why we would rather not move.

I thought that in this article I would compile the top 10 excuses I hear every day why people can’t get active. I know most of them not just because I’ve heard them from my patients, but because I used them myself. Here are some of the top excuses my patients offer when I encourage them to be physically active on a daily basis:

Excuse #1: “I don’t have time to exercise”

Fact: Physical activity creates time.

Being physically active will not only add years to your life, but will make the years you have vastly more productive. Exercise promotes energy, alertness, and concentration, increasing the productivity and quality of the time you spend at work and with your loved ones. A recent study in a prestigious medical journal found that if people could be physically active for as little as 15 minutes per day, that would improve their longevity by 3 years. That works out to be an extra 19 hours of life for every hour of physical activity.

Even if you are not concerned with extra time later, how can you squeeze it in now? I get it. I am a busy cardiologist, serve as in coming president of a large international medical society, have church and community responsibilities, a family with three small children, and I am writing a book with my wife, Jane.

I can only find time to exercise on my off days. What about the other days? As I have analyzed my time, I find that I spend two to three hours each day on a computer. With my treadmill desks and my bike desk I can now convert this “computer time” to “exercise time”.

At my home we have an old treadmill that we purchased shortly after Jane and I were married 20+ years ago. It was a treadmill that was gathering dust and the incline button did not even work. With some old furniture we were not using, an old nightstand on top of an end table, we now had a perfect treadmill desk. The cost? Free. I have included a photo of my “poor man’s” treadmill desk at the end of this article.

At the hospital it was a bit more challenging. I made a strong case and even offered to pay for a treadmill desk. Fortunately my employer, Intermountain Heathcare, agreed to buy the entire treadmill desk for me. If your employer is not in a position to help you with a treadmill desk, could you use a “box” marked for the recycle bin as your new standing desk? That is what I did prior to my treadmill desk. Studies show that even just standing while working can burn an extra 50 calories an hour and strengthen your leg muscles over the course of the day!

To help mix things up at home, I took an old mountain bike that I was no longer using and with a bike trainer and some bricks, wood, and barrels we had in our basement was able to build a bike desk. Cost? Free. I have included a photo of my “poor man’s” bicycle desk as well at the end of this article.

What if you don’t spend part of your day on the computer? Two of my patients, took their Lazy boy chairs out of their front room and replaced them with a treadmill and stationary bike. Now, when they “sit down” to watch TV or a movie at night they now exercise together instead. Is it any wonder why together they were able to lose close to 100 pounds and put their heart disease into remission?

Excuse #2: “My knees or my (fill in the blank) hurt too much”

Fact: The right physical activity is physical therapy.

If your body is injured, it will hurt more if you don’t use those muscles, tendons and joints. There is something every one of us can do to stay active throughout the day. Be creative! If your knees hurt, try swimming, water aerobics, riding a bike or cross country skiing. The right physical activity will strengthen whatever ails you and help you heal faster.

This is exactly what I was doing before I made drastic changes in my own life. Little by little I was withdrawing from all physical activity because it hurt. Somehow I thought that if I just rested my (fill in the blank) that I would start feeling better.

I sat all day for my surgeries. This only made things worse for me. Paradoxically, by standing to do my surgeries all day long, along with other changes, allowed my joints and back to heal.

Find something you can do, cross train, do physical therapy, something until your injury resolves. Many of my patients with severe joint problems and obesity have found swimming, water aerobics or even walking in a pool against the current to be very therapeutic. Do something. Your life depends on it!

Excuse #3: “I can’t afford to exercise”

Fact: Physical activity can be free or even save you money.

You do not have to pay for a gym membership or buy any equipment to begin being physically active. There are many things you can do for free. It does not cost anything to go for a nice walk. It may even be healthier to be physically active outside. All you need is a good pair of shoes to start today.

Be creative. You may even be able to save money by exercising. Can you bike to work? Many of my patients bike to work from April through October. Depending on your gas mileage, most of my patients save over $2,000 a year. What if you could eliminate one car in your household? Better yet, biking to work could give you 60 minutes of exercise time while only “costing” you 20 more minutes than what you would have spent driving your car. Imagine that, a 60-minute work out with only a 20 minute time investment!

Excuse #4: “I don’t have a babysitter”

Fact: Physical activity is vital for children too.

We have three young kids so we understand it can be a challenge to find any/enough time for yourself. Try taking turns with someone else, watching the kids while the other engages in physical activity. Better yet, try getting your kids involved. It will help them build healthy habits and it can be fun. If they are really young, push them in a jogger stroller or pull them behind your bike. Just last night we biked as a family to Grandma’s House. Go for a walk or a hike together as a family. I ski with my kids every week during the winter and spring. Plan physically active family vacations.

Excuse #5: “I am too tired to exercise”

Fact: Physical activity will give you more energy.

Do you feel too tired after a long day at work to be physically active? Do you just want to relax? It can be difficult to get off the couch when you are feeling drained, but within a short time, you will feel more energized and alive physically, emotionally, and mentally. Studies show that the best energy “pill” we have is to be physically active all day long.

Put your work out clothes and exercise gear out ahead of time. Schedule a time to exercise with a friend. Not wanting to have to put your clothes or exercise gear away for nothing or let your friend down, you will be energized in the end.

Excuse #6: “I am not losing any weight”

Fact: Physical activity will tip the scale in your favor.

Regular physical activity will increase your metabolism so you will burn more calories even while at rest. Most people naturally start to make healthier food choices once they begin exercising.

Unfortunately, others, like me in the past, believe they can eat anything they crave as long as they burn off the calories. The trouble is that exercise rarely works alone. Unfortunately, exercise increases your appetite. An energy drink and a big unhealthy meal following your workout will completely undo any benefit you may have achieved. You also cannot look at exercising as “punishment” for unhealthy eating. You have to eat right and move your body. The two work together.

While physical activity decreases most people’s desire to eat junk, in some people physical activity can trigger the desire to eat the junk. Perhaps this was due to years of conditioning from playing little league sports where we routinely reward our children with donuts and fruit juice following their workouts. Remember, that sports drink and what ever other junk you go for after your work out will undo any benefit you may have achieved. Physical activity is not a free ticket to eat junk.

Staying active may be enough to maintain a healthy weight when you are younger, but as you grow older, you may find it increasingly difficult to lose weight. It may take more time for all the benefits of your new routine to develop. Be patient and think of physical activity as a lifelong plan.

Excuse #7: “I don’t want anyone to see me”

Fact: Physical activity will enhance your self-esteem.

Do you feel intimidated to go to a gym or exercise in your neighborhood? If you worry about not having the “right” clothes or the “right” body to fit into the gym culture or be out in your neighborhood, please consider that this is the time to honor and take care of yourself, rather than being held back by fears of what others may or may not think. Also, you don’t need to box yourself into going to a gym if it doesn’t work for you.

There are plenty of activities you can choose in lots of different locations. Be creative and be willing to experiment. You deserve to feel great and exercising is one of the best ways to feel more comfortable and confident about your body.

Excuse #8: “I just can’t do what I used to do”

Fact: You can be physically fit at any age.

If you have never been active, you now have a chance to get in the best shape of your life. You may not be as fast or as flexible as you once were. It is natural for our bodies to change over time. You simply need to redefine what it means to be physically fit at each stage of your life and go for it!

My patient, Mary, could barely even walk without becoming short of breath. She did not let this stop her. With encouragement and tracking her daily results, she was able to build up to seven miles a day within 3 months! It is never too late to change!

Excuse #9: “Exercise is Too Boring”

Fact: There has to be something you enjoy doing.

I think the problem here is that most people equate exercise to going to the gym. I get it. If exercise meant that I had to go to the gym I would hate it as well. I hate the gym and have not been to a gym in years. For me, I have to be outside or in the mountains for physical activity to be fun.

When my patients ask me what type of exercise should they do I always answer, do something you enjoy. If you enjoy it you will stick to it. There has to be something you enjoy. Do something every day.

Do you like dancing? Go dancing.

Do you like golf? Then golf and carry your own clubs. Stay away from the cart at all costs.

Do you like gardening? Then please garden as this is an incredibly beneficial activity with many health benefits.

Excuse #10: “I am afraid to exercise”

Fact: Except in rare cases, being physically active is one of the best things you can do for your body.

When I encourage patients to be more physically active, I often hear the excuse that they are afraid they might hurt their heart or even die. I am saddened by these fears they share with me nearly every day that I am in the clinic.

If you have experienced any of the following symptoms, please talk to your physician before becoming physically active again: extended period without physical activity, pre-existing cardiac condition, shortness of breath or chest discomfort. Except in very rare cases, being physically active is one of the very best things you can do for your heart.

Amazingly, study after study shows that for patients surviving a heart attack or even living with heart failure, one of the best things they can do to improve their health, wellness, and longevity is to be very physically active. Just days after a heart attack, we get our patients into an exercise program. Try to be honest with yourself: your excuses may be unnecessarily limiting your life.

These excuses are common. Odds are you’ll see yourself somewhere in this list. Even my wife, Jane, and I have used some of these excuses from time to time. The bottom line is that despite whatever limitations you may be facing, there’s always something you can do. Be creative and remain open. Studies show that every effort you make will increase rather than decrease your capabilities over time.

What do you think? What do you do to stay active? Please let me know.  You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Treadmill         Bicycle

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  1. I have a total of one hour each day that I have time to exercise. I have a desk job, and find it difficult to even get in 2000 steps at work. What exercise(s) would be the most beneficial for me each day? I try and work out 6X/week.

    • Hi Julie,

      Thank you so much for your comment! That is fantastic that you have one hour daily to exercise. Don’t give up this hour and continue to use it for exercise!

      The key sounds like trying to find a way to get it more movement at work. Here are some possible ideas you could consider depending on your job and your employer.

      1. Get up and walk for 5 minutes every hour.
      2. Could you use a standing desk?
      3. Could you walk or pace while on the phone?
      4. Could you do walking meetings at work?
      5. Could you consider a treadmill or bike desk?
      6. Could you walk or bike to work?

      As I don’t give any medical advice online, please continue to work with your doctor.

      Hope this helps!


      • I work in a cubicle.
        There are no.standing desks, no.walking desks, no cycling desks. Hallways are too narrow for walkibg meetings (and they’re not allowed anyway).Most offices are this way.

        • Yes, this can be a tough situation that many people face. Perhaps some simple things to consider would even be using a left over box to put on your desk for a standing desk. Also, perhaps walking outside for a few minutes on your lunch break. You may have to be creative but it can be done.