The Only Thing I Hate More Than Exercise Is Trying To Love It
When most people think of a health writer, they probably picture a lean, fit, perky woman with a smoothie in her hand, closet full of athleisure wear, and social media accounts littered with fitspirational posts.
I am not any of those things.
I’m so out of shape, it’s like I have the innards of an 80-year-old grandma. I’ve never worn yoga pants to do yoga, and the only time I’m big on cardio is when I spot a chocolate bar clearance sign. As much as I love writing about health and fitness, it’s an obsession that never spilled into my personal life—and the harder I tried to enjoy exercise the way a health writer “should,” the more fitness-averse I became.
My disinterest in exercise started at a young age. Like, womb young. I naturally gravitated toward everything nerdy—reading, writing, knitting, crocheting. I even rocked the occasional cross-stitch. While my friends were playing sports and hitting up dance classes, I was watching Lynette Jennings for decorating and crafting inspo, writing short stories (and eventually, novels), and reading as many installments of The Baby-Sitters Club book series as I could get my hands on. And once I decided that I was going to become a writer, the concept of learning how to play basketball or mastering a push-up (or throwing a shot put with arms that were as flimsy as toothpicks) became even more asinine to me.
I found myself (barely) doing the bare minimum necessary for a passing grade (and all so that I’d never have to attempt another layup). I’d do that thing during laps around the school where you run like Forrest past the teacher and start walking again as soon as you turn the corner. Along the way, I’d make pit stops at the swing set, slide, and balance beams, since the longer I took to finish my “laps,” the less time I’d have to spend missing baskets, handing the other team my flag, and tripping over myself. When I was the last one picked for teams, I wasn’t insulted—I thought it was a smart move. In my second year of high school, I learned that gym class was no longer mandatory and immediately wanted to find a meadow to twirl in.
Skipping the gym wasn’t as big of a deal when I was younger, a time when cutting corners doesn’t bring on any immediate repercussions—but once I hit my late 20s, my fitness-averse ways started to catch up with me. (It didn’t help that I was an over-caffeinated workaholic whose stress management skills were, well, non-existent). My body felt so out of whack that instead of pursuing a writing career, my first instinct was to shop for a rocking chair and a cup to put my teeth in.
I joke about it (a lot), but the truth is I used to be extremely self-conscious about the fact that I don’t enjoy exercise. My fear was that people would think that I’m lazy, or wasn’t trying hard enough to find ways to like it. Some days, it even made me feel like I had no business being a health and wellness writer, considering I was neither healthy nor well.
To ward off feeling like a fraud (and, you know, for health reasons), I tested out a large chunk of the “learn to love exercise” advice that’s out there—trying oodles of different workouts to find one that I enjoy, buddying up with a friend to help with accountability, setting reward incentives to stay motivated, incorporating exercise into already-established habits to make them that much healthier, and yes, paying myself to exercise when the going got tough. Through all of the trial and error (mostly error), I held out hope that my feelings toward exercise would change, or at the very least, the post-workout euphoria you’re supposed to feel would fuel me forward, despite my underlying attitudes. The only feelings that bubbled to the surface as I forged ahead, however, were frustration, resentment, and an endless supply of inadequacy.
Here’s the thing that my brain can’t seem to get past when it comes to exercise: Take a minute to think about the one food that you hate more than any other food. You probably refuse to eat it at all costs (because ew), and you may even avoid eye contact as you walk past it at the grocery store. Now picture your doctor telling you that you have to eat this gag-inducing fare for 150 minutes a week, every single week, or you’ll die.
More and more, we’re being encouraged to do the things we love and discard everything else—the tasks we prefer not to do, we delegate so we can focus on what matters most to us. The foods we don’t like to eat, we don’t add them to our cart. And the hobbies or outings we have no interest in, we leave to the people who legitimately enjoy them. But when you dislike exercise, it’s like the one food you hate most being integrated into every meal you eat for your rest of your life—and the feelings you have toward it are something to be fixed.
I understand the sentiment: You’re more likely to stick to an exercise routine if you’re able to find one that you enjoy, and your health will be that much better for it. However, it’s possible that some people just aren’t built that way. Genes—specifically, those that regulate dopamine in the brain (a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s drive, pleasure, and reward centers)—may play a role in a person’s tendency to engage in, or purposely avoid, exercise, according to researchers from the University of Georgia. So if you suspect that your brain’s autopilot is set to fitness-averse, why fight to override what might be factory set? There’s no law saying you have to be all sunshine-y about exercise; all that matters is that you get it done.
Since fessing up to my feelings about exercise and putting the kibosh on judging, controlling, or trying to change them, I’m ironically more active now than I’ve ever been (in a “let’s get this over with” sort of way, but still). Sure, two minutes of exercise still feels longer than an episode of World of Dance, but by focusing on the behavior of exercise and taking emotion out of the equation, the process has become more bearable for me. This could be because accepting negative feelings may, paradoxically, lower negative responses to stressors, according to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Personal and Social Psychology. But it’s most likely due to the fact that I’ve freed myself from the burden of trying to be someone I’m not.
I’ll never be the woman who tracks her health data—mainly because it would look no different than the factory settings. I’ll also never be the woman who drools over the latest activewear trend. But I’m looking forward to becoming the woman who enjoys being healthy as much as she enjoys writing about it.