What's good exercise for me?
March 9, 2010 8:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm pretty out of shape. I hate the idea of exercise for its own sake. What should I try and do?

41 and wishing I was more fit. Assuming I don't want to do things I find weird like walking/running in big circles, lifting and pushing heavy things, or stretching for an hour, what sort of exercise could I be getting?
posted by Gilbert to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Go volunteer to do some strenuous physical work, like helping friends move or something, every weekend. Volunteer to shovel your entire neighborhood's driveways. Go on hikes to somewhere you want to go anyway. Take the stairs up and down at work. Got a fireplace? Chop some wood. In the summer, get a push mower and use it. Plant trees. You can probably find a volunteer group that does outdoor stuff every weekend like cut back bushes from the shore of a lake (that was one our company did).

On the more formal exercise route, I have tried Shovelglove and found it to be more interesting than other exercise programs because the exercises are simulations of "useful" motions (chopping wood, churning butter, etc.) that are reasonably easy to build some kind of mental scenario around. It helps that it's only 14 minutes a day. You could try it.
posted by kindall at 8:55 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I know exactly what you mean. I hate "exercising" but I can do things that I enjoy for hours, even if they are physically exhausting. But it really depends on your own likes and dislikes. My own list:

-Golf is good walk ruined, but more fun. Leave the cart at the clubhouse. Even the driving range is good exercise if you keep a good pace.
-Tennis is a total blast, but if you don't have the touch for it, it's very frustrating. Try it and see.
-Biking is lots of fun, especially if you have ready access to a good route that won't get you killed as you try to get healthy.
-One on one basketball is a possibility. You can get a good workout without ever sinking a single basket. Even playing alone is a decent workout if you keep your feet moving.
-Outdoor photography is also good exercise. It's walking/hiking with a purpose. While you are stalking your perfect photo, you can walk for miles.
-Don't be afraid of "walking in a big circle" if it also means you are running an errand or doing something fun. Can you walk to a movie theater, mall, bookstore, library, etc? Something a mile or 2 away is perfect. Having a destination and purpose makes it feel way better and is more motivating than just "taking a walk." Crank up the iPod and enjoy the air.

Bottom line: anything is better than nothing. Try some things and find a few you like. Do a different activity a few times a week. My doctor recommends at least 150 minutes a week of such activity in order to not be considered "sedentary."
posted by The Deej at 8:57 PM on March 9, 2010 [5 favorites]

I think we have similar attitudes toward exercise; I find most of it kinda futile and pointless. Here are some suggestions:

1. Integrate exercise into your daily routine. For example, walk or bike to work instead of driving. Where feasible, walk from point A to point B instead of utilising transportation. When you need to climb a flight of stairs, try to sprint to the top instead of ponderously moving from one step to the next. Where realistic/feasible, try to use the stairs instead of the elevator.

2. Find a sport that has some kind of practical value or meaning to you. I only really started getting fit a few years ago, after picking up jiu-jitsu on a whim. Now I do Muay Thai approximately twice a week. These forms of exercise motivate me because I don't see it as exercise for its own sake; I see it as just trying my darnest to get out of the way of the opponent's strikes and to dish out some damage of my own. It also holds some practical value to me in terms of building very rudimentary self-defense instincts.

3. Adopt a healthier diet. This goes a long way towards making you healthier and fitter, and it definitely isn't an example of "doing x for its own sake."
posted by nihraguk at 8:59 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get a dog with a lot of energy. The punishment for not walking an energetic dog is not worth the extra hour of sleep.
posted by little light-giver at 9:07 PM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Horseback riding. Not just going on a walking trail ride - but, sign up for riding lessons. Grooming the horse, tacking the horse up, then riding - learning how to post, how to use your seat, balance yourself and all the other skills needed in riding gives you a good workout. Then when you're tired and your legs feel like jelly, you happily untack your horse, lug off the saddle, and brush your horse down.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:08 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

I enjoy going to the gym to lift weights, but get ridiculously bored running on the treadmill or doing most cardio.

I've found that playing raqcuetball is a great workout as well as a lot of fun.
posted by rancidchickn at 9:12 PM on March 9, 2010

Don't drive anywhere. Sell your car.
posted by salvia at 9:12 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, don't buy your food -- eat whatever you can create in your yard or community garden. You'll find yourself building chicken coops and double-digging in no time.
posted by salvia at 9:14 PM on March 9, 2010

I was going to suggest racquetball as well. The hardest part for me is finding someone to play with, and that's not generally too tough.
posted by papayaninja at 9:16 PM on March 9, 2010

I don't exercise. I train. I found a physical challenge that appeals to me, hired a coach, and now I train to make steady progress towards accomplishing my goal. (Well, a series of goals, actually.) Suddenly, I'm not a just an aging soft-bellied wimp... I am an athlete. I can't speak for anybody else, but that's what has worked for me.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:16 PM on March 9, 2010 [4 favorites]

-Nthing sell your car, adding "get a bike". Learn to commute and do your shopping on your bike. Get some biking raingear. Do wonders for ya.

-Also, as you get fitter, you will find that physical exertion becomes fun and feels good. Being strong feels good. This is your body rewarding you for taking care of it.

This means lifting/pushing/swinging heavy things using your muscle power. That's how you get more of it. Which feels good. Weakness, lassitude, and lack of physical exertion feels like shit. This is also your body giving you feedback.

If you're pretty out of shape, walking more and low intensity stuff like that will help. But if you want to get "in shape" as opposed to being "less out of shape", get strong. Get you some heavy things and start moving them through space using only your muscle power.

-Exercise is good for the brain and is directly linked to growth of new brain cells and neurons. Srsly, read this book on the new research linking brain health and exercise and you may discover the motivation to get over your dislike of exercise.

-Whatever you do, don't join a gym with lots of machines.

Best of luck & power to you.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:31 PM on March 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is there any physical activity you enjoy doing? Swimming, running, walking, playing tag football, dodgeball, roller-skating, dancing, etc? Go do that.
posted by Anonymous at 9:36 PM on March 9, 2010

I am a big believer in "free exercise" which means getting exercise from normal activities. Walk. Avoid elevators and take the stairs. Walk up escalators. Carry stuff. Carry stuff upstairs. If it makes you feel winded, you're getting exercise.

Any chance you get to exert yourself - do it.
posted by three blind mice at 9:43 PM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Disguise your exercise as something useful. That's what works for me (I hate exercise but I'm fine with walking or cycling somewhere, as long as there's a purpose to it). So ride your bike to work, walk to the grocery store, etc.

Your car is probably your most insidious enemy; think about ways to do your errands without it.
posted by Quietgal at 9:45 PM on March 9, 2010

I don't exercise. I train. I found a physical challenge that appeals to me, hired a coach, and now I train to make steady progress towards accomplishing my goal. (Well, a series of goals, actually.) Suddenly, I'm not a just an aging soft-bellied wimp... I am an athlete.

Shit yes. This is really well said. I'd urge you to consider this comment and your attitude towards exercise. Along the same lines, the first few pages of the book Starting Strength are another statement about the value of hard physical effort that I find rather eloquent. I didn't used to get it, either. Now I do, and I think it's weird not to exercise.

The way your question is written seems a little odd to me. Why is it that you want to be "more fit?" What does being "more fit" mean to you? If you have no particular goals to speak of, you could be getting "exercise" doing about a million different things, so just do whatever you think is fun. Lots of people play sports, for instance.

If you have a specific goal, or even something general like you want to get stronger, or get faster, or have better endurance, or lose fat, then you can get some advice. Otherwise, just find something physical that you find difficult but enjoyable and start doing it regularly. At that point, specific goals may become clearer.
posted by ludwig_van at 9:59 PM on March 9, 2010

Response by poster: Loving these tips, and getting lots of ideas. stoneweaver, I actually did volunteer at a CSA last year (for free food). I barely made it through, but I made it. I would love to be gardening, but am currently in an apartment.
posted by Gilbert at 10:02 PM on March 9, 2010

One thing that worked for me was getting an iPod. An hour on an elliptical machine was pure hell; an hour on the elliptical listening to This American Life, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, etc., was enjoyable.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:09 PM on March 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Make sure you eat better too. You won't become more fit if you're piling on the Big Macs if you're only getting light to moderate amounts of exercise.

I am in the same boat as you in terms of feeling awkward on the machines running or lifting weights. What I find helps is going on runs/walks through areas that you love the scenery. When you're doing it, it no longer feels like you're either a) a hamster running on a treadmill or b) doing the "big circle". Try going at dusk to enjoy the sunset while you walk or at dawn to see that sun rise if you're a morning person. Perhaps you could take up a new sport! Tai Chi is low impact enough or even yoga since that does much more for you than just stretching. Yoga also helps build up muscle strength and flexibility.

If I were you, I'd just try a lot of new activities until you find one that you really love! I had problems exercising before coming to college but since then I've started playing ice hockey and other sports so that I don't have any issues about staying fit anymore :)
posted by astapasta24 at 10:13 PM on March 9, 2010

Martial arts.
posted by gnutron at 1:06 AM on March 10, 2010

People gave me awesome advice that I didn't take here.
posted by b33j at 2:16 AM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

iPod plus walking does it for me. It’s gotten to the point where walking is an excuse to listen to more podcasts. Find any excuse to walk instead of using a powered machine to get you there.
posted by ads at 4:02 AM on March 10, 2010

Try a yoga class - it might seem like "stretching for an hour" at first, but even after the harder classes you leave feeling incredibly relaxed and peaceful. It's weirdly addictive.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:18 AM on March 10, 2010

I don't have specific ideas for activities themselves, although the list here is great.

I just came to say that like you, I hate exercise in and of itself, but I force myself to do it because once I get into the habit the positive feedback (looking and feeling better) becomes a loop making it easier to exercise. Way better than being in a negative loop!

So stick with it for just long enough to start seeing results and then it is a motivation in itself. Good luck!
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:00 AM on March 10, 2010

I don't know if you're a TV person, but at my old gym, the elliptical machines, treadmills and whatnot each had their own built-in television. This let me enjoy some mindless brain candy that I couldn't get in my formerly television-free apartment (inane home decorating shows and the like), but I had to work for it, so to speak. It's still exercise for the sake of exercise, I know, but if you watch television anyway it's a better way to ration the hours.

Otherwise, nthing all the suggestions above. It can be hard to motivate oneself to walk somewhere just for the sake of walking, but it's suddenly easier if you're meeting a friend at a cafe that's a 20 or 30 minute walk from your home. Good podcasts make longer walks more fun.

And yes, it will definitely help if you don't have a car, if this is feasible in your life/neighbourhood.
posted by nicoleincanada at 6:23 AM on March 10, 2010

Another thought (and I mean this sincerely and non-snarkily): I tend to become more active without evening trying much if I intentionally limit my time on the Internet. It's too easy for me to waste a lot of time online researching all the fun, activey things I could theoretically be doing were I not sitting in a chair at a desk for yet another hour.
posted by nicoleincanada at 6:29 AM on March 10, 2010

I'm older than you and in my best shape since my twenties. I started biking, doing a trail (10 -20 miles) at least once a week and doing errands by bike as often as time permits. I walk when I can and take the stairs rather than elevator. I hate to exercise and never do, but find long bike rides and walks a joy with an ipod. Biking for the length of an amusing podcast is pure fun. Ipods are fairly cheap used and there is always someone selling one on Craigslist.
A few weeks in to the new regimen and you will have renewed energy to spare.
posted by readery at 7:00 AM on March 10, 2010

As a contrast to all the above, I just learned to relax and love the machine.

I am in a similar position. I am out of shape and I am struggling to build a habit of exercise. I need 30-45 minutes of sustained aerobic exercise 4-5 times a week so that I can lower my fasting glucose, lower triglycerides, and raise my HDL cholesterol (yes, diet too, yadda yadda.)

While I agreee that the machines can be mind numbing, they give me chance to catch up on my magazine reading and podcast listening. So my exercise time doubles as my media/staying informed time. I can get through one issue of Time, Esquire, Utne, or the Week in one 45 minute session on the elliptical machine. Big print books also work very well for gym reading, btw.

I resisted exercise for years based on the rat on treadmill paradigm of exercise for its own sake. But then again, it's indoors with AC which in Houston is kind of a plus. No mosquitos. A bathroom nearby (which can be an issue for morning exercise outdoors if you're, um, a regular guy.) And I don't have to find a partner to do it.

But what actually gets me out of bed is two things. My motivation to, well, not die and leave my family without a Dad. And I get some time to myself to read what I like to read. And, as I have found is universally true in life, it is easier once you get the habit going. But your motivation has to be strong enough to overcome the inertia.
posted by cross_impact at 7:13 AM on March 10, 2010

Tai Chi. Low impact (i.e. non-strenuous). If you find a good course, there should be stretching exercises, then the actual movements which will improve your balance and general health, and reduce any stress.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:15 AM on March 10, 2010

What about something like Team in Training? This is run by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and is the first of it's type, but there are others out there. Find a cause you believe in, and want to help, then pick your event. I'm thinking about the Hiking team for next year. They teach you how to participate in a healthy and safe manner, set you up with an intense training schedule, and you're off to a great start. The best motivation is your teammates, who will definitely call if you miss a practice.
It's definitely a time commitment, as well as a fundraising endeavor, but you get in shape for a particular sport, and then you get to participate in the actual event.
The one in my area offers marathon running, biking, triathlons, (I think biathlons too) and hiking
posted by purpletangerine at 7:27 AM on March 10, 2010

My trick is audiobooks. I don't let myself listen to the book unless I'm running, so there's always motivation to get back out there, especially with thrillers like Dan Brown's of Clive Cussler's. Awesome stuff. You get wrapped up in the plot and, some time later, stop jogging! Been doing it for years.
posted by kryptonik at 7:41 AM on March 10, 2010

Do you like dogs? The animal shelter needs dog exercisers. Don't take an elevator for fewer than 3 flights; use the stairs, and increase the number of flights over time. Do housework vigorously. Rake leaves. Work in a community garden(mmmmm, fresh tomatoes). Park in the farthest spot, not the closest. Get off the bus a stop early and walk. Bake bread. Ride your bike on errands, even if you have to drive close to town with the bike, then ride around. As you get in shape, it gets to be easier and more fun to look for ways to use your body instead of a machine. Bonus: you're using less oil, saving money, reducing carbon footprint. I have a woodstove, and find that stacking wood, and keeping the woodbox full is good exercise. Some people feel that incremental exercise doesn't count, but my experience differs.

The thing that gets me moving the most is music, so I go to a dance group. Dance music gets me moving to do work at home, too.

I still need to find more ways to build strength training into my days.
posted by theora55 at 8:28 AM on March 10, 2010

I honestly and completely love the hell out of my WiiFit. I was a total skeptic going in -- to the point that we borrowed a friend's Wii and rented the board for a week, because I figured neither I nor my wife would be that interested in it after a couple of days.

Two months in, we've purchased both, and make a point of spending 45 minutes to an hour every night having fun with it. The games range from balance games (not strenuous) to aerobics games (medium to very strenuous -- the hula hoop and boxing games are actually close to a "real" workout); there's also yoga and strength training, the former enjoyed by my wife and not me, the latter isn't a concern as we both do some weight training on the side.

I was even more surprised to discover that my parents, who are in their 60s and have never played a video game, love the thing as well.

Things like the obstacle course, snowball fights, "flying chicken" game, etc. really do feel more like games than like exercise, but definitely encourage lots of motion and engagement. It's well worth renting a system for a few days, if you can find one to rent, and giving it a shot.
posted by Shepherd at 10:25 AM on March 10, 2010

This is going to sound crazy but have you tried using a jump rope?

I hated (HATED!) jump ropes. They were evil evil things. That is until I figured out how to properly use them. Now, I get into a very zen state (one that I can't achieve doing anything else), while getting one of the best cardio workouts out there.

A few suggestions though. Make sure you get a jump rope that fits. This is imperative or else you will blame yourself for your failures even when it was the equipment. I would recommend a speedrope (thin, licorice like plastic rope) over leather and braided because of the fact that it has an easier learning curve. To check to see if a jump rope fits, stand in the middle and bring the handles up to your chest. If they reach the middle of your chest or just below your arm pit then it should be a pretty good fit.

At first just try doing 30 seconds non stop. You will probably feel an instinct to jump REALLY high (like 3-6 inches off the ground), which is fine but will wind you pretty much instantly. Instead, focus on jumping with the balls of your feet no more than an inch or two off the ground (eventually you can get it to as little as 1/2 an inch or so). Hold your arms at a 45 degree (or <>
Try do as many 30 second sets as you can in 15 minutes. It will suck, and you will probably want to throw the jump rope away and never look at it. But! If you come back and try the next day it magically becomes a lot easier. I have never done something that my body adapted to so quickly. You automatically start to fall in a rhythm and it just becomes easy and carefree. At this point you can start developing other skills like double unders, and a standing run (this is my own name for it, and I can't think of the real name). Eventually start moving up to sets of a minute or two until you can do it without stopping. It will take a while, but not as long as you think.

A few more reasons why I have fallen in love with the jump rope:

1. You can do it pretty much anywhere. I do it at work when I need to get my blood flowing after I have been sitting for too long.

2. You can do it regardless of what the weather is like thus preventing you from making any lame excuses. This was the downfall with running. I live in a place where there is a 40% chance of rain everyday. So this was a natural benefit.

3. When you become skilled you will impress your friends. Really. You will. There are people who can run marathons who can't jump rope for longer than 30 seconds without winding themselves.

4. It is a full body workout despite it being labeled cardio. Ever wonder why boxers are always doing jump rope? It promotes agility, endurance and strength development throughout your legs, core, shoulders and arms.

5. It is a minimal impact sport. Unlike running where you are hitting the pavement with hundreds and hundreds of pounds of force, when you jump rope you are rarely higher than a few inches off the ground.

6. 10 minutes of jump rope is the equivalent of a 30 minute jog.

7. You don't need a gym membership and a good jump rope costs about 10 dollars. No fancy shoes needed (i do it barefoot), and you can take it with you anywhere.

I know it may, on the surface, seem like pointless exercise but it has become like meditation. It requires pretty intense concentration but in a diffuse way that I can't quite explain. Zoning out sounds too stonerish, so I will return to my original description of it being quite zen.

Hope this helps!

If you need more inspiration check these videos out (these aren't meant to scare you!):

Basic Jump Rope Training

Buddy Lee's Double Under Training

Hope this helps!
posted by ghostpony at 11:03 AM on March 10, 2010 [13 favorites]

If you have ever done any ice skating, taking up roller blading is dead easy. Outdoors, you set your own pace and distance and if you have biking trails around you are also off the streets.
posted by Ferrari328 at 12:05 PM on March 10, 2010

ghostpony, I like jumping rope, but what about the persistent feeling that I am doing something absolutely horrible to my knees?
posted by Shepherd at 1:15 PM on March 10, 2010

Here are some things that I enjoy doing. If you find any of the following enjoyable, they can all be pretty good cardiovascular workouts:
  • Dance Dance Revolution! (I love this)
  • Tennis
  • Basketball
  • Canoeing
  • Swimming
Doing some simple things like taking stairs instead of the elevator, and parking at the far end of the parking lot can also make some difference. On preview, what The Deej and theora55 said.
posted by Vorteks at 8:17 AM on March 11, 2010

Shepherd, have you ever done any jump rope in front of a mirror? Try it some time and evaluate A. how high you are jumping (if it is needlessly high you are increasing the impact to your legs), and B. whether or not you are locking your knees.

Other than that, have you had significant knee injuries in the past? I have luckily avoided most running injuries (except for shin splints when I ran XC while overweight in high school), so this may be dependent on prior history.
posted by ghostpony at 9:51 AM on March 11, 2010

stoneweaver, I highly recommend going to a sports store so you can measure the appropriate length. I am 6'3" and so needed a 9" rope. You can always buy a longer rope than you need and shorten it, but I dislike having knots in my ropes as I think it throws off the weight distribution. Target carries some, but I would read some reviews on their website. I am always astonished at how many poorly made products there are out there which is really why I would recommend reading a few reviews and trying it out before you buy. Check out Sports Authority, Big 5, or anywhere else you might expect to find exercise equipment.

I currently have this 2-in-1 weighted rope that uses ball bearings. Some people dislike ball bearings because they wear pretty quickly, but I haven't had much of a problem. This rope is nice because I can remove the weights if I don't want to do as much strength training (trust me, your arms will hurt even with a 1 pound weight in each), and because the rope itself is heavy enough to maintain momentum and speed. I got mine at a Ross- Dress for Less for 6 bucks (they carry jump ropes in weird places). Also, don't let the woman on the cover fool you, it's a long rope in a neutral color.

I have heard a lot of people like the beaded jump ropes, but I have never used one. They come in REALLY long sizes for people who do double dutch etc, and are apparently easily modifiable by simply removing beads. Also, they are really cheap.

If you want to invest in a higher quality rope many forums swear by Buddy Lee's Hyperformance Jump Rope, but the price tag still scares me away. One of the benefits to his jump ropes are that the ropes are replaceable so you don't have to keep buying handles. They are 5 bucks, so if I were going to do it I would just get the nicest one, and buy two or three replacement ropes. It's high upfront cost, but would become affordable over the longer term (it all depends how dedicated you are).
posted by ghostpony at 11:23 AM on March 11, 2010

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