Getting in shape means ditching the couch and the excuses

That end-of-workday fatigue is due to mental stress. Do something active for 20 minutes and you'll reduce stress and wake up.
Just five months ago, over a New Year's champagne toast, you firmly resolved to get more exercise in 2005. But, so far, your only activity has been jogging to the fridge for soda refills and an occasional biceps curl with the TV remote.

No doubt you've had good reasons for not working out. Perhaps you didn't want to miss reruns of Seinfeld. Or your sweat pants weren't the right shade of gray. Or maybe it was too cold or hot or wet or dry outdoors. Whatever your excuse, fitness experts have heard it before.

"Some people will use any excuse they can think of so they don't have to exercise. But, they're only kidding -- and hurting -- themselves," says exercise physiologist Richard Cotton, spokesman for the American Council on Exercise and founder of It's not a bad idea to take an occasional day off from your exercise routine to give your body a rest.

However, if you're serious about getting fit, then you need to take fitness seriously.

"Give exercise the importance and respect it deserves," says Dr. Paul Stricker, a sports medicine specialist at Scripps Clinic in San Diego. "If you think that your life depends on it, you'll make the time to do it."

Fitness experts offer the following sure-fire strategies to circumvent your most common exercise cop-outs.

'I don't have time'

"Make yourself an appointment to exercise. If you look at it as you would any other important appointment, it takes on priority," Stricker says.

Noting that you don't have to complete a day's activity all at once, it's possible to fit increments of exercise into your schedule.

"Doing 20 minutes of activity three times a day can be just as effective as a full hour all at once, if it's done with enough intensity," Stricker says.

Cotton suggests mapping out your weekly schedule and looking for time slots to squeeze in 30 to 60 minutes of activity.

'I'm too tired'

Got no get-up-and-go? Then, it's time to get going.

"The fatigue you feel at the end of a workday usually is mental stress. Perform an activity you enjoy for at least 20 minutes, and it'll relieve that stress, and you'll feel great afterward," says Glenn Schweighardt, exercise physiologist and manager of the Sharp Memorial Hospital cardiac rehabilitation program.

He suggests you think about how good you feel when you're finished working out and try to remember that feeling.

'It's too cold (hot, wet, etc.) outside'

Everyone has heard that exercise is good for them, but that doesn't stop us from using Mother Nature as a reason to stay rooted to the couch.

For less-than-perfect weather, dress appropriately. If it's hot, wear clothing that wicks away moisture and drink plenty of water. If it's cold, dress in layers and wear gloves. If it's wet, wear rain gear and a hat.

Sometimes inclement weather is a good excuse to cross train. If it's too hot to run, swim instead. Too wet to cycle outdoors? Try a Spin class. And, when it's too cold to walk around the park, head to the yoga studio.

'I have a nagging injury'

Afraid exercise will kick up that old football injury in your aging knees? Worried that your tennis elbow might rebound?

Visit your doctor or physical therapist and get an exercise program to help strengthen your injury. Most doctors say that some movement actually can speed recovery of an injured joint or muscle.

Choose a workout that doesn't involve the injured area. If you have a sore knee from running, then hop on the elliptical machine. If you've got an injured shoulder, try walking or using a stair-climber. Or jump in the pool. Deep water safely supports your muscles and joints without impact.

'The gym is too crowded'

Try to schedule your workouts at a time of day when fewer people are there. Avoid the gym during peak hours -- early mornings, evenings and Saturdays mornings when group exercise classes are jammed and lines for the equipment are longest.

If that's not possible, avoid the gym altogether and go for a walk in a local park or ride a bike. Or, get moving with a home exercise video.

'I'm too fat and out of shape to exercise'

"You're only going to get fatter and more out of shape if you don't do anything," Cotton says.

He recommends starting out slowly, with just five or 10 minutes of walking. And then progress slowly.

"It's more than you did yesterday. And, with every exercise session you gain more benefit," Cotton says.

If you're too self-conscious to exercise in public at first, do some activity at home -- crunches, exercises on a stability ball or some stretching.

'I've nothing to wear to the gym'

You don't need the most expensive athletic shoes, the latest yoga top or hottest exercise tights to work out.

"It's not a fashion show. Wear whatever you feel most comfortable in. Almost everyone has shorts and a T-shirt or a sweatshirt and sweatpants," Stricker says. "It doesn't matter. The important thing is to get moving."

'Exercise is so boring'

Search for an activity you enjoy. Take a few classes or workshops to sample different modes of exercise and sports until you find one that's a good fit. If you can't find an exercise that appeals to you, then make your movements purposeful. Walk to the grocery store. Bike to the drugstore. Run to the post office.

"Get busy doing things that must be done. Wash your car, paint your house, clean out the garage," Schweighardt says.

Sometimes it helps to start a new activity with a friend. "Using the buddy system not only makes exercise more fun, it's also a good motivator," Stricker says. "You and a friend can hold each other accountable. You can make a game out of it and see if you can go a little farther or faster each day."

'Exercise makes me too sore'

If you haven't exercised in a long time, there's probably no way around it -- you're going to feel your muscles later.

The pain has a name -- delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) -- and it's the result of microscopic muscle breakdown.

"It's not harmful, but if you are sore and you don't do anything physically, the soreness will just linger and linger," Stricker says. "If you do some mild form of exercise when you're feeling sore, you can flush it from your system more quickly."

'I travel too much to exercise'

Just because you're on the road doesn't mean you can't hit the road for a workout.

Try to book a hotel with a fitness center or access to one. Ask the hotel concierge about nearby running or walking routes and paths. It's a great way to get to know a new city.

Don't want to leave your room? Come prepared with some packable exercise gear. Rubber-handled tubing can offer a great resistance workout -- perfect for biceps and triceps exercises and chest and upper-back work. Elastic stretch bands are good for working out inner and outer thighs.

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