Tips for When You Don’t Want to Exercise

flippers in swimming pool
Swimming is great exercise for anyone with rheumatoid arthritis.

You know you wanna, well maybe not, but you do know it's an important part of your health and wellness regime. No matter which way you turn, you're reminded to get moving - to just do it!

What's stopping you from exercising?

But reminders and exhortations may not be enough to get you up off the couch. You, or rather, your amygdala may be rapidly time-travelling back to your elementary or high school Physical Education classes. Negative experiences best forgotten, but lodged in your amygdala that remind you of your non-supportive classmates or your PE teacher from hell.

I was “one of those kids” in PE. Perhaps you were one of them, too. In the the always-picked-last group for any team sports. Even though I enjoyed field hockey, basket-ball and badminton, I just wasn't very skilled at them. I was strong, being a farm girl, but that was neither acknowledged nor celebrated. Organized sports only served to make me feel worse at a time when I didn't have a very strong sense of self.

Being last picked didn't do much for my self-esteem, especially during the formative years. It wasn't until I fell into the pool, figuratively speaking, that a love of all things aquatic splashed into my life. From there, I worked around the trauma of team sports. I began to pursue other activities like cross-country, downhill skiing and cycling. I took up squash and racquetball where I could have a certain amount of control. I chose my practice opponents and knew that the responsibility fell on me for how I played.

Back to the amygdala -  an almond-shaped cluster of neurons that play a role in processing emotions. The amygdala stores memories that occur during times of stress. This is part of your survival arsenal, something that was inherited from your woolly-mammoth-hunting forebears. So, once the threat was recognized, through painful and quite possibly deadly experiences, something could be done about it - fight or flee. Then, celebrate with a meal and dance around the fire. Celebration is a good stress antidote. But, in today's world who is going throw a party just because you survived rush hour traffic or the long line-up at the bank?

Fast-forward to your early years when you had a less-than-stellar experience in your Phys Ed classes. When you think of exercise, quick-as-a-wink, those memories surface and serve to keep your butt firmly ensconced on the couch and your feet free from the folly of movement. So, even though you know you need to get moving for the health of it, you are being sabotaged by your earlier experiences.

Aren't you glad to know that there is a way to move beyond the confines of your memories?

Exercise in a group or alone - there are so many different ways to get moving.

I exercise because I wish to maintain the mobility I do have. Rheumatoid arthritis has taken away a lot of my favourite activities, but I choose not to take the Road to Despair. Yes, there are times I've started down that road, but fortunately, I am able to do a U-Turn. It helps to do some stress techniques which, in turn, shift my perspective so that I focus on the things I still can do.

Some activities I like:


This one is especially beneficial if you have any form of arthritis. Not sure about taking the plunge? You too can become a water baby at any age.


I first came across Michaelle Edwards and Yogalign on YouTube. I liked what I saw, so I decided to purchase the book Yogalign - Pain-Free Yoga from Your Inner Core. In this book you learn about the importance of doing yoga in a safe and natural way - one which does not incur further injury. Michaelle goes on the explain how injuries are on the rise due to improperly executed exercises. She teaches how to improve flexibility and strength as you work on releasing your fascia - something which gets "gummed up" in rheumatoid arthritis.

"Fascia is the biological fabric that holds us together. You are about 70 trillion cells all humming in relative harmony; fascia is the 3-D spider web of fibrous, gluey, and wet proteins that hold them all together in their proper placement. How fascia works as a whole - our biomechanical regulatory system - is highly complex and under-studied. Understanding fascia is essential to the dance between stability and movement - crucial in high performance, central in recovery from injury and disability, and ever-present in our daily life from our embryological beginnings to the last breath we take." - Anatomy Trains


Although it's been quite some time since I last attended an enlivening Nia class, I hold the memory dear. Nia draws from the disciplines of dance arts, martial arts and healing arts, all done to cool music. One of the joys of Nia is that is accepted that you do what you can, even if you have restricted mobility. It's the ultimate in starting where you are; whether you are seventeen or seventy or on two feet or two wheels. Check out this video to get a taste of Nia.


A dynamic movement practice that incorporates five rhythms - flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. The dancer is free to move with and through the music. The website describes the movement as:

"The medicine, meditation and the metaphor."

A four-legged personal trainer

Not unlike this one, who happens to be giving me that stare - the one which says, "C'mon, let's go for a walk."

9 tips to get you in motion

So now you've found some physical things you like to do, but sometimes, maybe too many times, you don't go and do them. Activity starts in the head, but you can use your heart to motivate yourself.


  • Remember that you can turn everyday activities into exercise. Housework, yard work, grocery shopping, moving house, going to work. Keep in mind that you may need more than a dance around the house with the Swiffer or a Watusi with the water hose.
  • Make the decision to exercise the night before. Get your gear out so you're ready to go the next day.
  • I give you permission to re-write Marianna's Law as Applied to Exercise. It states that the more you think about doing exercise, the more likely you are to think yourself out of going - "I'm tired", "It's cold outside", "I'll go later." To borrow a phrase from Nike - Just do it!
  • Make a deal with yourself if you're feeling lazy or tired. Agree to do a shorter version of your workout. Many times, I ended up doing the full workout, once I got going.
  • Vary the intensity of your workout. It's amazing what you notice when you slow down, around you and also about you - how your marvelous body is working.
  • Maybe some new work-out gear or clothing may be just the thing to inspire you.
  • There are so many options available to get you moving. Try them out until you find some you like.
  • Mix it up - try a new location, class, route, activity.
  • Pay close attention to how you feel. How has your mood changed? Are you less angry, anxious, frustrated, worried. Keep this in mind, or even write it down, so you can use this to help you get moving the next time. I notice that I always move better after my swim - it's like an inflammation vacation for me.

Exercise can help you address and undress your stress, and a stress program can help you meet your exercise and fitness goals.

In case you need more motivation, here are 50 Reasons to Exercise.

Your Turn

What is your favourite way to get exercise? Do you have any tips to get moving? Are there any exercise challenges you've risen to and met? Did it surprise you?

3 Replies to “Tips for When You Don’t Want to Exercise”

  1. Hi Marianna,

    Thank you for this wonderful post full of fun exercise ideas as well as thoughtful ways to get off the couch!

    In terms of exercise, I tend to do more standard versions like walking, lifting weights and going on the elliptical machine. However, I’d love to try out Nia and/or 5Rhythms. They make exercise look fun!

    My current challenge is to encourage/motivate someone else who is in poor health to get moving. In the past week, I’ve succeeded on 5 out of 8 days to get her to walk (even if it was just for 1000 steps) outside with me as slow as she wished with stops/sitting to rest. The last day we walked, we went as far as 2500 steps (!) but the amount of work I find myself having to do to get her out of her apartment to join me on the walk is exhausting…

    Do you have any suggestions as to what I could say to her? (At the moment, her physical shape/health would prevent her from being enticed by any of the wonderful exercise ideas you’ve suggested above.Walking is really the only exercise she is willing to try/do right now.)

    1. Hi Dorlee,

      I do encourage you to try out both Nia and 5Rhythms. Too bad I wasn’t there; I’d go with you!

      The ideal situation is when you offer information and strategies/tools, then encourage the person to the point that they become motivated. Extrinsic to intrinsic – a metaphorical handing off of the reins. A transferring the responsibility. The trouble with encouraging/motivating someone else is that it is often easy to fall into over-care. The effort expended, as you’ve noticed, is often more on the part of the motivator, rather than the motivatee. This can lead to frustration and burn-out. As a teacher, and as a coach, I have sometimes fallen into over-care. It happens quite surreptitiously. I now tell clients that I will teach them tools and techniques, provide strategies and daily integration emails, which will taper off. I want them to graduate from me.

      It sounds like you’ve done your part. Perhaps back off a bit, and offer a simple invitation to join you. If they decide not to go, accept that. It may just change the energy a bit.

      Sometimes, for some people, the more you encourage, the more resistant the person becomes.

      Water exercises would be another great suggestion which you could offer. A lot easier on the joints and it’s a wonderful way to build endurance and strength, while keeping cool.

      1. Hi Marianna,

        I wish you were here to join me with Nia/5Rhythms. It would make it that much more fun!

        Thank you for this valuable guidance – I had fallen into the over-care mode but retreated yesterday. I also love that idea of framing things from the beginning as in I’ll provide the support and/or strategies at the beginning which will taper off so that the walk does not become my required daily obligation.

        Your suggestion of no longer pushing totally shifts the dynamics and returns the responsibility back into her lap (where it should be). Thanks again!

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