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Retire Your Excuses for Not Exercising

Most of us know we should exercise, but we have a lot of excuses for why we don't.

Keep this observation from certified personal trainer Todd Galati in mind: "It doesn't take all that much exercise for people to benefit."

Here are some of the more common excuses people use to explain why they don't exercise. Have you used one of these yourself? See what the experts have to say about it.

'It's too hard'

"People benefit from activity," Mr. Galati says, "any kind of activity." Mr. Galati, who's on the staff of the American Council on Exercise, points out that federal guidelines call for accumulating at least 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week.

"Moderate activity can be anything from a walk around the block to working in the garden," he says. "You don't need a formal program to improve your health. The idea is to get up and move."

'I don't know how to start'

Charles Brown, Ph.D., a spokesman for the American College of Sports Medicine, is a clinical sports and performance psychologist in Charlotte, N.C. He says three things will make it easier to start.

The first is to look for activities you enjoy, such as walking, swimming or even taking a dance class. "Find things you would do even if you weren't thinking about exercise. That will make exercise fun."

The second is to get medical clearance by talking with your doctor about what you are planning to do.

And the third is to recognize that it's OK to go slowly. "You're not going to go out and run five miles when you start out." Start at a level that's comfortable, he says, and then gradually increase what you do by no more than 10 percent each week. So if you start on a walking program and do 20 minutes a day in the first week, increase to 22 minutes in the second.

'I'm too old'

"We've heard we're supposed to slow down as we age," Mr. Galati says. "But our bodies were made to move, not sit in a chair." It's true that as we get older, we don't have the same capacity we did when we were younger. "But," he says, "we do have more awareness about what our bodies can and can't do. The way to get started is to focus on what you know you can do, because we're never too old to improve."

'I'm not really sure what I'll get out of it'

Dr. Brown emphasizes the importance of teaching yourself the benefits of exercise.

"Ask yourself what you want to do," he says. "Do you want to live longer? Do you want to be able to go for walks with your grandchildren? Do you want to ride a bike or walk up a flight of stairs without getting tired? Exercise improves our functional abilities. It lets us keep doing the things that are important to us."

'I'm overweight, so it's hard to move'

Being overweight, Mr. Galati says, can interfere with the way we move. "But you're not going to improve by staying still." When people restrict their movement, they lose functional strength by replacing muscle with fat. "Exercise can help you gain back muscle, which will help you regain the strength you've lost. And moving will get easier the more you do it."

'I've tried before, but I can't stay with it'

"Making exercise a habit takes time," Mr. Galati says. Some people are too hard on themselves if they miss a day. "One day isn't going to make a big difference one way or the other." One key to staying with it, he says, is to find a group or a "buddy" to exercise with. "If you make it a social event, it will be fun."

Dr. Brown agrees. "The biggest predictor of success is getting your partner involved. If it's something you and your spouse do together, you'll be able to help each other. Most people won't keep exercising without a support network."

Dr. Brown also emphasizes the importance of setting specific, measurable, action-oriented goals with a time element and then rewarding yourself when you reach them. "For example, your first goal might be, 'I am going to walk around the block four times a week for five weeks.' Then when you do it, treat yourself to a special lunch at your favorite restaurant."

'I exercised, but then I got sick and didn't have the energy to start over again'

Dr. Brown says people need to plan for a relapse. "It's going to happen. You're going to get ill. You're going to go away on vacation. But if you plan for it, you can plan for starting up again."

He says it's important to realize you won't have the same level of fitness, so accept that it's OK to start back slowly. He also says to use the support network you've established. "Call your exercise buddy and say, 'I'm going to be gone for a week and a half, and I know it's going to be hard to get back to walking every day. So I want you to call me on Sunday after I get back and tell me what time to meet you on Monday.'"