I was that kid who was always picked last in gym class
April 22, 2014 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Exercise was never my “thing”, but now I need to make it my “thing”. I’m pushing 50 years old, and my sedentary lifestyle is taking its toll in the form of borderline-high blood pressure, various aches & pains, and a susceptibility to becoming easily tired.

I’d like to ask for people’s advice on coming up with an exercise regime. Here are some criteria:
  • My right knee is prone to tendinitis. Walking and other low-intensity exercise doesn’t seem to bother it, but I can’t run on it. Aside from my knee and aside from my general slothfulness, I’m in reasonably good health.
  • I’d rather not join a gym. I find them to be scary, and money is a bit tight right now, anyway.
  • I suspect that walking, by itself, isn’t going to be intense enough. I’ve tried walking in the past, and I didn’t feel like I got a lot of benefit from it (although maybe I didn’t stay with it long enough).
  • I live in a part of the country where the weather is bad between (roughly) October and March. I don’t mind the snow and the cold weather, actually, but I suspect that I may have some trouble doing outdoor activities during the winter.
  • I don’t have a lot of free time, but I do have some flexibility during the work day: I could take off for an hour without too much trouble, although it might not be the same time each day. There are trails near my workplace.
I’d also be interested in people’s thoughts about strength-training vs. aerobic training.

Finally, are there any psychological tricks or techniques that I can use to keep myself motivated? As I said, I have a history of disliking exercise.

posted by alex1965 to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
For me, the weather is bad March to October (last year November). Since I have to take an hour every day for lunch hour, I use a pedometer and smartphone combo to read or listen to a book or podcast, and walk on another floor of our shared building (less foot traffic than our floors). Only a handful of pounds over the first couple of months, but it was a start. Alternate an indoor walk and a trail walk, just to be aware of the differences, for a change of pace (ha!).

It's a start. And you can add small weights and things to up your game as you go along.
posted by tilde at 12:44 PM on April 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

As someone who once did extra credit to try to get her gym grade up and was also uncoordinated, I sympathize. However, I have come to make exercise one of my highest priorities because of the many physical and mental health benefits.

1. Start by walking the trails near work at least three days a week. Walking isn't going to make a Huge difference alone, but starting with something too hard won't do you any favors, either. Walking will get you started!

2. While you walk (with maybe some good music and a pedometer to see you through and track progress), think about what other forms of exercise you don't hate/don't hurt. Would you consider bike rides? Hiking in more hilly terrain? Doing some supplementary pushups/pullups/squats? Saving up so that you have an indoor option in the colder months, like swimming?

You will need both some aerobic and strength training to feel better and be fitter. You can do both on your own, and build a lot of strength with purely bodyweight exercises. For example, if you can't do a pushup, look up modifications online to see how you start easier and can build up to full exercises while keeping good form. Browse past questions here to see the recommendations for bodyweight and other strength exercises you can do with minimal equipment.

Lastly, I just want to say that I was Terrified to go to the gym at first. I was 100 pounds overweight and Hated gyms. I started at a local Y and came to realize that no one cared what I was doing except to occasionally support me or answer questions. So if you start feeling better with a little more exercise and want to invest in it, consider a low-key gym. I've graduated from the Y to Crossfit, and wouldn't give up my gym communities for anything.
posted by ldthomps at 12:49 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

See if your community has public pools, and then see if they host open swims and/or water aerobics classes. I do water aerobics, and I enjoy it a lot.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:49 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I got myself into exercise by starting with walking and tracking my progress with a Fitbit. Seeing exactly how many steps I walked and setting goals for myself (make it to 6000 steps today! 7500 a day starting next week!) kept my motivation high. Also, the Fitbit gives you goofy stats about how far you've walked - like you've walked the height of the Empire State Building. Neat!

When the weather was nice I walked outside and blasted music on my ipod - this made the time fly by. When the weather was crappy I seriously just did laps around my house until I reached my goal - not as exciting but I could turn on my favorite junky tv and turn the volume high enough to hear it across the main living space. Every x number of steps I would let myself stop in front of the tv and watch a little. Regardless of where I did my walking I would walk until I reached my goal for number of steps for the day.

Once you get into the habit of doing walking every day for a few months, then you can start adding in more intense stuff like more rigorous cardio* and/or strength training. Really, walking can be plenty if you are starting from sedentary -- plus you don't want to try to take on too much all at once or you'll burn out.

* you might like swimming. It's a good alternate form of cardio to do because it doesn't put pressure on your joints the way walking does. I like to swim once a week
posted by joan_holloway at 12:52 PM on April 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

This article in the local paper today is about walking meetups, but there's info from a cardiologists who recommends walking 30 minutes a day. The key is doing a brisk walk at a 4 mph pace. Good audio books are perfect for this, especially when you only allow yourself to listen to a really exciting book when you're walking.
posted by shornco at 12:54 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing shornco; walking is better than people think. Especially if you do hills, to get your heart rate up.
posted by Melismata at 12:57 PM on April 22, 2014 [7 favorites]

I would definitely start walking immediately. It's something you can do virtually every day of the year and you can start right this second. Walk 45 minutes a day for a month and then you'll have a good idea of whether that's going to be enough for you or if you feel like you need something more.
posted by something something at 1:07 PM on April 22, 2014

Exercise doesn't have to be your thing. I just think it should be something you do and hopefully enjoy. I don't enjoy cleaning my bathroom, I'm ambivalent about brushing my teeth, and I enjoy eating. Those are all things I have to do, kind of like exercise, in my opinion.

That said, the best exercise for you is going to be the one that you keep doing. If you decide to become a swimmer even though you hate swimming, I think that you are unlikely to stick with it. One way to stick with it might be by assigning something else to it. For example, I enjoy a weekly podcast but I only listen when I'm cleaning so I have to clean, plus I start to notice when I haven't listened in a while, which means I haven't cleaned in a while.

Finally, I'll just point out that the idea that running hurts your knees is arguable. If you don't like running, don't do it but running makes the muscles around your knees stronger, assuming that you don't go from couch to marathon overnight. But again, if you don't like it, don't do it.
posted by kat518 at 1:10 PM on April 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

Start slow and build up gradually. Say, 10 minutes a day of an exercise you don't find daunting. Then keep doing that, and either pick up the difficulty a bit, or the duration, or add five minutes of something you find challenging. Make it easy to build up the habit - when you start feeling better, it creates an incentive to do more - if you can manage 10 minutes a day for, say, a month, you're off to a good start in terms of forming the habit

You don't have to do your exercise all at once, either, if the prospect of carving a chunk of time out of your day is daunting. A short walk in the morning and one in the evening, for example, will help you build the habit just as well as one long one.

There are various progressive programs that are similar in spirit to Couch to 5K, but for other exercises, like pushups, situps and squats that you may want to check out.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:13 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

How about a stationary bike? They're no-impact and can help your quad strength, which can fix a lot of knee tendon issues by taking the stress/weight off the tendons and into the quads.

You could also get a stationary trainer for a real bike, and go outside in the nicer months.
posted by fontophilic at 1:18 PM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: I was the person picked last for gym class, too. I'm constantly amazed that I've been exercising a few times a week for a couple of years now, because I would get so discouraged so quickly in the past. Two things have been really key:

One, my only goal for my exercise routine is to keep coming back to it.

That means taking away any kind of "results" focus and replacing it with pride in building the habit, and simply having fun. It's too discouraging when the results don't correspond to my efforts. If I'm just checking off "did I break a sweat today?" and looking back on how many days that happened, that is a result that always corresponds to my level of effort.

That means that if a certain activity isn't fun for me, or stops being fun, I find a different activity that I think I might enjoy more. Because if my exercise routine isn't fun, I won't come back to it.

That means I am very careful to have correct form, including paying for a class or getting a friend to spot me or using a mirror or going very slowly or whatever I need to do, because if I injure myself, then I will have to take time away from exercise to heal the injury.

Two, strength training has been a revelation. I use this because there's no need for special equipment, and the novice exercises are approachable.

I thought I had bad balance, like some kind of inner ear problem or who knows what, but it turned out I really just had weak muscles. My balance is so much better now.

That feeling of getting winded quickly no matter what I did, not being able to throw the frisbee well, not being able to kick the soccer ball well, like no matter what activity I try, I'm the worst at it of all the beginners in the room -- that was happening because I was exceptionally weak. Just the tiniest bit of strength training completely turned that around.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:24 PM on April 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

Walking is a fine excercise, and there's no right way to do it. For the days when it's yukky outside, your local mall is an excellent place to get your walk on. I used to go to the empty floor of our building and walk up there.

A Wii fit can be fun. We got one, but found we didn't use it all that much.

There are tons of fitness DVDs out there, or even downloads via your computer or On Demand through your TV provider. Try each until you stumble across one you like. You're in your living room so you can adapt as you see fit.

I'm not so much about getting fitter, but maintaining my level of fitness. You don't have to go from 0 to 60, you can go from 0 to 5, then from 5 to 10 and so on.

I've worked out my whole life, and I've never enjoyed it. I do it as little as I can get away with.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:37 PM on April 22, 2014

If you're prone to tendinopathy and have always been uncoordinated, you're likely to come across issues unless you take a cautious approach (which I think should look like this).
posted by cotton dress sock at 1:38 PM on April 22, 2014

I have a long list of physical issues. Walking has long been my go-to exercise. You don't even have to set aside time to walk for exercise specifically. You can just incorporate more walking into your life. Park a little farther away from the entrance at work. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Go to the zoo or a public garden or some other "walking tour" style thing for some of your leisure activities instead of some couch-potato thing you might otherwise do (like watching TV, playing games, etc -- it is fine to do those things, but intersperse some more active things as well).

Some people also find gardening is good for keeping themselves active as they get older without being "too much." I kind of have a black thumb, so maybe someone with a green thumb can speak more to that. :-)
posted by Michele in California at 1:42 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Keep trying things until they work, then keep doing those things that work.

Listening to music might help. Or you might do better doing your walks and losing yourself in your own thoughts and coming up with philosophies.

Don't think that because you feel bad for a day or a week, that you will always feel this way. I have times I feel bad and I'm in decent shape. And it's easy to get down on yourself when you feel bad or if you miss a day or two.

The main thing is to start moving, and keep it moving. Don't sit at your computer for hours on end. And I say that as someone who struggles with it, as most of us on here probably all do.

And then the obvious one is if you can get someone else involved, do that. Those days you don't want to do it, they will, and days they don't want to, you will.

But I always suggest people start with just moving. Stop trying to shortcut everything, like loading up all the grocery bags on your arms so you don't have to make two trips. Make the two trips. Did you go into the other room, come back and sit down, and realize there is something else you needed? Get back up and go get it. Leave the light on? Go back and turn it off. Dropped something on the floor? Go back and pick it up. Take all the dishes and put them in the kitchen only to get back to your desk, sit down, and realize you missed that plate and spoon? Get back up, take those in there too. Don't combine trips. It's easy to feel like "I just got comfortable, I don't want to get up and do that thing". Get up. Do that thing. Keep it moving.
posted by cashman at 1:48 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pick an exercise you *LIKE* to do. So many people take up running because it's easy to get started and you don't really need any equipment, and then run half a dozen times and stop because they hate it. I don't mean to pick on running, it happens with other sports too.

Anyway, if you can find an activity you like, whether it's swimming or basketball or hiking, do that. Nothing will matter more in terms of you sticking with it than actually enjoying what you're doing.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 2:41 PM on April 22, 2014

I hate exercise. But I like doing things I enjoy, and that's key when you're talking about a permanent lifestyle change. You don't want to make a change of adding new chores, you want to make a change of adding more fun.

You're at a good age to get into ballroom dancing for example - it's fun, it's social time with (new?) friends, it's lower impact on your joints than walking... yet it's more of a workout, it works the entire body (and as you learn, if you're so inclined you can ramp it all the way up to intense-athletic-sport levels of workout), it can also be a video-game-like logic-puzzle-in-realtime challenge for your mind if that's a direction you're inclined to take it.

There is a world of activity out there. If you think about it, I'm sure you'll find something that give you your exercise and which you enjoy doing, which is all the motivation you need to keep going!

Is there anything that you thought you would try someday, but then forgot about over the years? Now is the time. :)
posted by anonymisc at 2:52 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree, start walking more. Go for a walk during lunch break. Or walk after dinner. If you don't like aimless wandering, pick a destination like a gas station or store. Walk there, buy a bottle of water and walk back.

Check out Tai Chi. There are many videos on youtube. It's easy to do the exercises whenever you have some free time.

Move more. Can you clean your house while dancing? Can you balance on one leg while you brush your teeth? Can you do leg lifts while you wash your dishes or wait for the coffee?
posted by travelwithcats at 3:08 PM on April 22, 2014

Get on your bicycle and go to the swimming pool.
posted by ouke at 3:18 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Try to do whatever it is at more or less the same time every day. Then your body gets used to it. Right now, it's about an hour before I have to leave for the gym, and I know it because I just started craving water and getting restless and in the mood to move around.

The trick is finding that thing that makes you happy as well as gives you exercise. Walking is a good default. But you might also consider dancing (like a square dancing class or something?), yoga, or joining a basketball team. There are exercise and yoga videos on Netflix for those cold months.
posted by salvia at 4:10 PM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: Walking. Audio books.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:20 PM on April 22, 2014

My tip on the psychology of motivation: as someone with a history of being absolutely rubbish at every sport known to man, I learnt to keep myself motivated by reframing what my idea of "doing well at exercising" was.

Doing well, for me doesn't mean"I can run 10km" or "I can score dramatic three-pointers in basket ball" or "I can swim 1500m in 20 minutes".

It means I show up regularly and swim, or run, or whatever. Even if I only manage to swim 10 laps. Even if I only run 2km and walk the rest of the way. Turning up and trying is always achievable. And consistency and habit are what brings you the health benefits.
posted by girlgenius at 5:06 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pedometer pedometer pedometer. You have zero basis for even THINKING that walking won't be "intense enough." Get a Fitbit or any off the shelf pedometer and shoot for 10k steps a day. Stick with it- it's not intuitive or easy to walk that much EVERY DAY but you'll get used to it and your body will thank you.

I'm 50 and though I have been fitness directed for most of my adult life I never thought that (1) 10k steps/day was even attainable- I consider myself a flaneur and I was only doing around 6k per day, and (2) that walking would make that big of a difference. IT DOES. I lost around 15 pounds and look and feel much better since I started the program 16 months ago.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:17 PM on April 22, 2014

Exercising in the water doesn't have to just involve swimming. Personally, I hate swimming. I find doing laps to be boring, I only know a couple of strokes, and due to sensory issues, I really REALLY detest water on my face - which eliminates the vast majority of swimming strokes.

However, programs like water aerobics and aqua jogging? Much more my speed. So when I go, I avoid the lap-only swim sessions. For my pool, for instance, they have Water Aerobics, Gentle Fitness, Deep Water Exercise, Shallow Water Exercise, Deep Water Jogging, and AquaZumba. They also have unstructured open swimming sessions that isn't just lap swimming; I use it for aqua jogging. It turns out that while I detest swimming, I love aqua jogging, and I can happily jog all day in a pool. So, you might find something that you really like, and most of the water exercises are low impact.

Also, my pool has a whirlpool and a sauna - both of which are heavenly!
posted by spinifex23 at 5:36 PM on April 22, 2014

Yoga. Beginner-level class, once per week. If the idea of chanting or new-agey stuff turns you off, look for more "casual" classes through local parks & rec departments or community centers. Seriously, just one hour each week will make you stronger and more flexible, and you'll feel better able to do your other exercises/activities. You will love it!
posted by Boogiechild at 6:01 PM on April 22, 2014

Best answer: Here's the thing about gym class in school: they switch topics every two weeks or something. That's fine if you are the sort of person who spends their free time throwing balls around anyway, but if you're only practicing skills during gym class, two weeks once a year is just not enough time to learn soccer/ basketball/ lacrosse/ baseball/ etc. For me, the most important factor in becoming an active adult was committing to the same activity for long enough to realize that I was capable of improving at a physical skill.

On the weather front, have you ever tried snowshoeing? You can pretty much strap on snowshoes and go, and it gives you a reason to go out in the cold.
posted by yarntheory at 6:58 PM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, ouch, you sound not dissimilar to me.

The only thing I have been successful at with this is finding a thing that requires physical activity to do, that I wanted to do, that was not "exercise" but instead "doing this thing which is fun, which happens to be a workout." For me it was paddling a boat.

My dad has been very dogmatic about going ice skating quite regularly since he retired, and that also strikes me as a good exercise-y activity that may not register as "now I am exercising."

I incentivized my kayak trips with good picnics and a beer; you wouldn't "deserve" a smashing lunch and a beer for a brief paddle, but on a longer trip down the river of course you are entitled to Guinness and cherries or whatever. If you can make bribery work for you, bribe away.
posted by kmennie at 7:05 PM on April 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Picked last in gym class too...in Summer camp I was always assigned in baseball to deep roving right field. Also easily bored with exercise.

FWIW, what worked for me about 3 years ago: bought decent quality elliptical for basement, stacked 3 boxes up in front of it, laptop on top, I watch 35 minutes (one third) of an *action* movie each night while exercising on elliptical...every 3 nights start new movie...rinse, wash, repeat. Lost 65 pounds, feel much better, blood pressure much better.
posted by forthright at 7:18 PM on April 22, 2014

I hate exercise, but I like to walk and be active. Take the stairs whenever you can, park farther away from the store and get in extra steps, walk to the corner market instead of driving, etc. See if you can pick up a used bike, get a helmet, and set a goal of biking to work or wherever. I love to dance, and found a weekly dance group. For almost any exercise, music makes it more fun for me.
posted by theora55 at 7:32 PM on April 22, 2014

Finally, are there any psychological tricks or techniques that I can use to keep myself motivated?

Find an exercise partner. Someone who knows you want to walk but need motivation. Someone who will walk with you.

And start walking everywhere that is within a reasonable distance. Walk to the store, walk to your friend's house, walk to the train station and take the train to work, etc. Teach yourself to think of those destinations as places you always walk to, places you would never think of driving to.

Shopping tip: if you could either drive to a distant store and spend less on products but more on gas and car wear and tear, or walk to a close store and spend more on products but nothing on gas and car wear and tear, choose to walk to the close store. Your health is a very high but hidden cost of driving when you could walk.
posted by pracowity at 4:18 AM on April 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Exercise as an adult is completely different to exercise in school. Exercise in school is all team sports and athletics. I'm actually pretty sporty now, but the things I like (running, cycling, swimming, ballet, tennis, gym classes, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, hiking, scuba diving) are not things we ever did in school (there is a total difference between jogging along the seafront for a couple of miles, and coming last in the 100m sprint with your entire class watching). So just because you hated sports at school doesn't mean you hate all sports. There must be something that you like the idea of - are there any lakes or mountains near you?

The other difference is that whereas at school there was a teacher making you do things, and clearly defined goals (run 800m! Play hockey!) as an adult it is up to you how much you do. That is kind of good and bad - you improve at your own speed and are never made to feel bad, but you have to be self-motivated. So pick something that you want to do for yourself (ie "I'm going to have a nice cycle along the lakefront today" not "I'm going to beat everyone at cycling"). You might find you pick smaller personal goals within that - maybe you want to knock 5mins off your cycle commute or something. If it is something you can do every day, great! Can you cycle to the shop for a newspaper or soda or something when you get home? Can you do two laps of the local park in your lunchbreak?

Walking is fine for that, but you do need to walk for a reasonable length of time. My mother has always walked, but only lost significant amounts of weight when she started walking to work and back every day (8mile round trip). As a bonus, her arthritic knee is much better as the muscles are stronger. I know some people who do a 15min walk (less than a mile) on the treadmill once a week and wonder why they aren't seeing any benefit.
posted by tinkletown at 6:55 AM on April 23, 2014

I realize that this is totally not what you are asking for, but others have really hit the good points about exercise, finding something you like, swimming, biking, hiking, walking, weights,....

But another thing to consider in health is diet. From your description, OP, I am making an assumption that you could lose a few pounds. The fact that you didn't point it out makes me think you are not very obese, but it is amazing what losing even just 10 lbs can do for those joints and improving the joy of exercise. Might I suggest you try some changes in diet? My bias is to suggest that you try cutting a bunch of starchy (yes, even rice and whole wheat) and sugary (yes, even natural sugars found in some fruits and milk) foods and see what affect that has on your joints. I am not suggesting you go all Paleo or super low-carb but just replace some carbs with fat and protein. With a few pounds lost, those exercises listed above are a whole lot more fun.
posted by BearClaw6 at 7:39 AM on April 23, 2014

Best answer: One additional note about being a non-sporty person. My parents aren't exercisers, either, and I tended to think we were just kind of... too smart for that jock stuff. A family of nerds. Who has time to exercise when there are books in the world?

However, when I finally realized something had to change for my health, I looked around me. And the healthy people around me ALL exercised. Not just once in awhile, several times a week. Not just when they felt like it, it was a structured habit. A huge part of maintaining my motivation has been realizing that exercise is a habit, like tooth-brushing, that I need to keep doing regularly for the rest of my life. That's made a huge difference, and I feel a million times better for it.
posted by ldthomps at 8:56 AM on April 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm a few years older than you. One of the things that works for me is finding something I like to watch on Netflix while I ride my stationary bike. If I'm looking forward to watching the next episode of Spiral (my current show), I'm more likely to actually exercise when I get home from work.
posted by maurice at 9:42 AM on April 23, 2014

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