8 Exercise Excuse-Busters
"I've gotten older and lost my pep"
It's true that aging can affect energy level—and your metabolism. But it doesn't control it. In fact, a lot of what seems to be age-related energy loss is really about changes in your lifestyle. Obviously, if you've traded in long Sunday strolls for minivan driving to and from soccer games, then that—more than your age—is probably to blame.
Try This: Move more, not less. Even if it's making an effort to fidget more, there will be benefits. "Just being restless—standing, pacing, toe tapping—can burn about 350 calories a day," says sports and exercise consultant Greg Chertok. And all of that movement will get you energized; it won't make you more tired.
"I exercise to no avail"
If you've been doing the same step workout or taking the same walk for more than a few months, it's time to make some changes. Just as your body adjusts to a loss of energy expenditure by gaining weight, it responds to exercise routines by helping your body adjust to the extra work you're asking it to do. In order to keep your body responsive and energetic, you have to challenge it with new moves and new routines.
Try This: To bust out of a rut, try a new class every month, hire a personal trainer every few months to give you a new program, or simply change your routine on your own by adding jogs or sprints to a walk, buying a few new workout DVDs, or changing your jogging path. Whatever you do keeps your heart beating hard.
"I sit at a desk all day"
Since most of us aren't yet equipped with those fancy treadmill desks, it can be hard to fit in a full workout during a busy workday. But not impossible.
Try This: You can minimize the effects of long-term sitting by taking active and high-intensity breaks. If there are stairs in your company's building, climb a few flights every hour (go to a restroom on another floor, if possible). Alternate a stair-climbing break with a walk outside to let the light do its magic—it can decrease melatonin (the hormone that can induce sleepiness) and increase serotonin (a mood booster).
If your day is booked, "Exercise for 10-15 minutes immediately prior to and after work, and cut your lunch in half and spend the time exercising for 10-15 minutes," says Jeffrey A. Potteiger, Ph.D., with the American College of Sports Medicine. "At the end of the day you will have performed 30-45 minutes of exercise."
"I'm always so hungry!"
Eating is one of the three ways our bodies burn off energy, so it's important to eat regularly. Small, balanced meals that don't make you feel too full and are centered on whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, are best. These foods will keep your blood sugar (and energy levels) balanced.
Try This: If you're always hungry, make sure you're not being so diet-conscious during the day that you feel deprived or are still hungry after dinner. "I call this 'diet-by-day, blow-it-by-night pattern," says Nancy Clark, R.D., a nutritionist with the American College of Sports Medicine. "It's a good way to get fat! The better bet is to fuel by day and then eat a little less at night." If you're used to eating at night, allow yourself a treat or two during the day and see if that helps you feel full enough to resist after-dinner binges.
"I've hit a plateau with my walking workout"
Walking is wonderful exercise, if for no other reason than that most of us can find a time and place to do it. But if it's not getting your heart rate up, you're probably not working as hard as you could be.
Try This: Pick up some weights or do some yoga to get your basal metabolic rate moving. "Weight training is important to build muscle because muscle burns calories 24/7," Clark says. Numerous studies have found that vigorous weight lifting (you keep moving during exercises) may keep your body burning extra calories for a few hours after the actual workout is over.
"I'm so tired I plop in front of the TV at night"
Of course you're tired. You get up early. You eat pretty well all day. So what if you sit down in front of the TV for a few hours—and have a snack or two? Well, the bad news is that studies (on men) show that long bouts on the couch can hike heart-attack odds even if the men also exercised.
Try This: Instead of sitting on the couch for a few hours, pick a show or two to watch for a short amount of time—a half-hour or an hour, for example—and then take care of some chores, get some sleep, and wake up for an early-morning walk or workout.
Or, turn on some music, says exercise consultant Chertok: "Studies have shown that listening to your favorite music during exercise can improve results, both in terms of being a motivator (people exercise longer and more enthusiastically to music) and as a distraction from things like fatigue and one's negative self-talk." Keep the music going for at least three songs (about 10 minutes). To lift your mood and your metabolism, you should be almost breathless by the time your dance break is over.
"I don't have time to exercise"
Let's face it, we all say this but there's some wasted time in every day that we could carve out for exercise if we really wanted to.
Try This: If, like lots of women we know, you wake up earlier than the rest of the family, use that time for yourself. Postpone drinking coffee and checking e-mails for 15 minutes and do something high-energy first thing in the morning, such as cleaning (really!), jogging with the dog around the block, or a short exercise program, such as jumping jacks, lunges, or flowing yoga like Sun Salutations.
If your morning workout is long, eating something first will probably prevent you from overeating afterward, says sports nutritionist Nancy Clark.
"I haven't exercised in a long time. A very long time."
Well, the only solution to that problem is to just do it.
Try This: There are two approaches to this problem and both are based on TV shows. The first is One Day at a Time and the second is The Biggest Loser. If you are someone who needs to start slow, think about increasing small bouts of movement into parts of your day. Crochet or knit while you watch TV, get up during every commercial, walk while you're on the phone, park far from the grocery store, and play with the kids at the park rather than sitting on the bench. All of these small bursts of movement will, in total, increase your metabolism, and may help you begin to look forward to a more rigorous exercise program.
If you hope to see big results quickly, then follow The Biggest Loser example. Try one hard workout (assuming you know your health is sufficiently good enough) and see how you feel the next day. Better? More energetic? Happier? Try it again. Chances are that after a week, though you won't have lost the amount of weight a TV show contestant does, you'll see at least some shift in the scale and a lift in energy (and you will also be sleeping more soundly). Results are often what people need for inspiration.