08/26/2011 08:11 am ET Updated Oct 26, 2011

Why Is It So Hard To Exercise?

By Deborah Dunham for Blisstree.com

Everywhere we turn, there are headlines encouraging us to get moving: Exercise shown to ward off Alzheimer’s; Moderate exercise proven to protect the brain from silent strokes; You need 150 minutes a week of exercise to help avoid cardiovascular disease; Just 15 minutes of physical activity a day could add three years to your life while decreasing your risk of cancer by 10 percent.

We know all know it, and yet, many of us still don’t exercise. In fact, 50 percent of Americans don’t meet the minimal 150-minute-a-week guideline and 31 percent don’t work out at all.

We want to know why. Why do so many people not exercise? Why is it so hard?

“I don’t have time,” is undoubtedly the number one response that non-exercisers will give when asked. But, after years of coaching both kids and adults, being a certified personal trainer, running coach and spin instructor, I have my own theory as to why people refuse to exercise -- and it has nothing to do with time (because if the average American watches four hours of TV a day, they have the time). It’s not about errands or work schedules or family obligations; most of the time, it’s really all about self-confidence.

Think about it: The more confidence you have in your ability to do something, the more likely you are to do it, right? This applies to work, relationships, education and even exercise. We are more prone to start running, cycling, swimming, doing yoga or any type of physical activity if we think we’ll going to be good at it. After all, it’s intimidating enough to walk into a gym for the first time feeling unsure of your possibly unfit self and join a class where everyone appears to know what they’re doing -- and look really fine doing it in their really fine outfit. I know, because I’ve been there.

Not being good at something is enough to make me want to give up. During my first yoga class, when I was surrounded by a room full of stretchy, bendy types who could do things I didn’t even know were possible, I wanted to run. Had I listened to my lack of self-confidence at that point, I never would have stuck with it and found one of the most exhilarating, heart-opening practices of my life. But it wasn’t long after starting that class when I read something that completely changed my outlook. It was a passage in Baron Baptiste‘s book (whose style of yoga I was practicing), and it said: “It’s OK to show up and suck until you can show up and shine.” Finally, I had permission to not be good at something and know it was OK. Practice is what helps you gain confidence and improve at your sport (even if your sport is simply getting on a stair-climber for 30 minutes a day).

Self-confidence can not only give us the guts to try a new workout routine, new sport or new class at the gym, it can give us the necessary willpower to stick with it, according to Edward McAuley, a University of Illinois kinesiology and community health professor who led a recent study on the topic:

You can apply the concept of self-efficacy to every single health behavior you can think of, because in many ways that really is what gets us through the day, gets us through the tough times. People who are more efficacious tend to approach more challenging tasks, work harder and stick with it even in the face of early failures.

So, when we think about why people don’t exercise or stick to a routine, a lack of time is really just an excuse. I have found there is typically an underlying reason -- like a lack of self-confidence. But we want to know what you think. Tell us, honestly, why you don’t exercise.

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