Best exercising regimen for a chronically-lazy person?
July 19, 2014 12:09 PM   Subscribe

My cousin is an early-thirties chronic sloth. Although he does go out on occasion and he walks from time to time, to say that he is not an exercise person is the understatement of the year. Any ideas on how to get him started on an exercise regiment that doesn't involve people or mornings and is relatively easy to do?

My cousin is 50 pounds overweight, his knees constantly making cracking noises as soon as he moves and they get worse if he goes up stairs or walks faster, and now he started having back pains. He's always sitting at his computer and does not like the idea of exercising or stretching. I'm worried that he's going to suffer a lot on the long run if he doesn't start an exercise regimen, be it muscle atrophy or increasingly weak knees. Problem is, he is a bonafide night owl, he's always busy with his computer-based work, and he doesn't like to exercise at all.
posted by omar.a to Health & Fitness (31 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Does he want to exercise? If he doesn't want to exercise, literally nothing will be best, because he won't want to do any of it.

Assuming he does want to exercise, or at least wants to HAVE exercised: what's his work schedule? how long is his commute? Does he have a partner, or children? Does he live in a house or an apartment? Is his neighborhood at all walkable?
posted by KathrynT at 12:14 PM on July 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's hard to get a person exercising. They have to want it themselves. How about a challenge that you can both do together? A weight loss challenge or a 10,000 steps a day challenge with Fit Bits. Loser owes winner $100 (or more).

I think walking is the best exercise for people who don't like exercise. Especially to get started. Podcasts and music make it more enjoyable. Swimming or cycling is also an option. It sounds like your cousin needs a lot more balance in his life and he may be depressed. He's abusing food and hiding out in his house. Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 12:16 PM on July 19, 2014

He does want to improve his health, he just doesn't want to do anything tough or time consuming (and as I said, anything involving mornings or people). Work schedule is that he basically works on his computer most of the day. Yes, neighborhood walkable and there are no children around.
posted by omar.a at 12:17 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

The "easiest" exercise regime that is effective is lifting weights - look up stronglifts 5x5 program for a very beginner friendly set of exercises.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:20 PM on July 19, 2014

He works on his computer at home, he has no commute? that makes it a little harder.

OK, what I'd recommend is that he get a FitBit, and initially set the goal for something ludicrously low, like 200 steps, something just so that he can avoid the negative reinforcement of the goal never going off. Wear it for two weeks just to see exactly how many steps he takes per day on average. Then set the goal at that number + 10%. Every week or month, depending on his personal psychology, he should up the goal by another ten percent. If he measures how many steps it is from, say, his front door to the street, or from one end of his house to the other, he can try building in little micro-walks throughout the day to get to the goal, or he can walk in his neighborhood after dinner until the thing buzzes, or whatever. This will gradually move him into a more active situation, and may be enough to help his health improve to the point where he can consider more vigorous and scheduled activity.

I would be very reluctant to get a guy whose knees already crackle into weight lifting without SOME kind of feedback about form, from a trainer or a spotter or whatever, just because you can hurt yourself so badly with mistakes you don't even know you're making. If his antipathy towards people doesn't extend to working with a trainer, then that would be a good addition.
posted by KathrynT at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2014 [6 favorites]

It takes around three weeks to form a habit. After it becomes part of his routine, it will be a lot easier to keep up with, regardless of how strenuous or demanding the exercise is. Keep that in mind.

Since his neighborhood is walkable, perhaps one way to incorporate more movement into his daily routine is to run or jog to the grocery store and walk back with groceries in hand?
posted by gemutlichkeit at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2014

Has he asked you to help him? I'm overweight and have said that yes, I'd like to become healthier, but if someone went out and looked, without my expressing a desire for them to do so, for a exercise program or diet, and presented it to me, I'd be annoyed and hurt. Make sure this is something your cousin wants.
posted by Meep! Eek! at 12:36 PM on July 19, 2014 [16 favorites]

Just walk. I walked. Everything else was too competetive (it's no fun to be the worst at everything). I hate exercising with others. I only competed against myself. Trying to lose 50 pounds when your friend only needs to lose 10 can be insanely demoralzing, as well as struggling to keep up with your fit friends.

Also, I kind of reject the notion after 3 weeks exercise becomes a habitat. It took me a lot of exercising for a month, giving up, re-starting before anything became even halfway a habit. I do better now but it's still not automatic.

Listen to musc, go for a walk. 15 minutes is a good start. And if his knees are cracking he should under no circumstances be doing high-intensity workouts until a doctor checks him out.
posted by Aranquis at 12:42 PM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Start playing Ingress with him. All my slothful internet nerds are playing it and getting way more exercise because you have to be near a portal to hack it. Stealth health strategy.
posted by heatherann at 12:47 PM on July 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

Assuming he asked's much easier to start eating better than to start a workout habit. If he can do that and lose some weight so his knees/back feel better, he'll probably feel more like walking more, etc.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:54 PM on July 19, 2014

The best exercising regimen for a chronically lazy person is the one they decide to do themselves.

I'm assuming he's asked for you help, if not I would tread carefully, as mentioned above, showing up with a diet and exercise regimen if you haven't been asked can be insulting.

Maybe show him this thread (or similar threads) to give him some ideas.
Set initial goals that are very easy to reach like KathrynT's suggestion.

If it were me, I would start walking 20 minutes in the morning, 3 times a week and then go up from there.

Metafilter has HealthMonth team which is very helpful to setting small realistic goals and upping them every month.
The fun part is you could also join and have a friendly competition!
posted by Snazzy67 at 1:20 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not inexpensive but eliminates most excuses--perfect for the work at home computer user
posted by rmhsinc at 2:04 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Swimming and biking are best for people with knee problems. Could he bike to do his grocery shopping? Or around his neighborhood? It does not involve other people and he could go at night.
posted by travelwithcats at 2:41 PM on July 19, 2014

Maybe get a dog? Then he'd have to walk.
posted by trip and a half at 2:55 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does he consider you "people"? If you live nearby, could you be his walking companion a couple of times a week? A regular, defined meeting time with you, pulling him away from the computer and out of the house. Seconding a Fitbit since he's already a tech guy, and if you followed suit maybe a bit of friendly competition would be motivating.
posted by Iris Gambol at 3:57 PM on July 19, 2014

Hit post too soon. If applicable, would he be willing to address his health issues from a dietary standpoint first? Fifty pounds overweight with knee issues (and a round-the-clock sedentary job that's kitchen-adjacent) -- if part of the problem is what he's been eating, he might try updating that? Seeing the resulting weight loss, coupled with fewer knee aches, might give him the energy to incorporate exercising into his routine.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:03 PM on July 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Any access to water aerobics?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:22 PM on July 19, 2014

shovelglove? pretty minimum time and money commitment, plus fun swinging around of manly things...
posted by Makwa at 5:53 PM on July 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by KokuRyu at 6:12 PM on July 19, 2014

I nth walking as a place to start. Low impact, very unlikely to cause injury, also good for the mind to get away from the computer and look at stuff that is not made up of pixels.

Also, I kind of reject the notion after 3 weeks exercise becomes a habitat. It took me a lot of exercising for a month, giving up, re-starting before anything became even halfway a habit. I do better now but it's still not automatic.

This is really true for me also, and sometimes I feel like a loser/weirdo because it is really easy to stop exercising, even after I've been doing it for a while.

I personally don't notice the big mental health, stress reduction, better sleep, etc., benefits that people claim exercise affords them, so it is easy to slip out of the habit.

Also, exercise is really about fitness - about having a stronger, more flexible, more capable body. Weight loss is mostly about what you (don't) eat. They can definitely be synergistic, but exercise should really be undertaken with the idea of fitness, rather than weight loss, in mind.
posted by jeoc at 6:35 PM on July 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

A ten-minute walk three times a day (or a five-minute walk six times a day) is pretty much the same, health-wise, as one thirty-minute walk, so if he can get into the habit of taking a quick break between tasks and doing a short walk, either around the house or outside, that would help a lot.

For the past few weeks, I've been combating boredom at work by doing a few pushups or squats in my office every so often during the day. Doens't take longer than 30 seconds or so, and I do push-ups against the desk because I am not strong enough to do them on the floor. I started out doing them against a wall, so I've improved. I also just started the 200 Squats and 100 Pushups programs this week, to supplement my random other exercises.

I have knee problems too (incipient arthritis), and when I feel I can't do squats, instead I just go down into squat position and stay, without bouncing, to work those muscles a bit. In a couple of weeks of doing that no more than 3 times a day, I improved my endurance from less than 30 seconds to almost a minute, so yay.

I also added a 3-pound weight to my desk accessories after I had to go to physical therapy for wrist RSI problems, and it's easy enough to pick it up and do some idle lifts while I'm sitting at my desk: perhaps a few hand weights in various sizes that he can play with while thinking on a work problem might help.
posted by telophase at 7:09 PM on July 19, 2014

Does walking help the upper body as much as it should?
Nope, no access to anything water-related unfortunately.
Nope, he doesn't mind that I'm asking about this.
posted by omar.a at 9:47 PM on July 19, 2014

Depending on what's meant by 'no people' I can personally recommend some form of personal training. [My own 'no people' thing applies to crowded gyms and team sports and feeling a bit ashamed if I go out running while fat]. However:

Some friends bought me a batch of personal training sessions. I wasn't sure I wanted it, but the gift had to be used. I'm glad the imperative was there.

In my case I met with the trainer and we worked for the first few weeks in a completely empty gym. (Many trainers will come to your home, but I was glad in the end that I had a chance to get used to the gym environment). Any skilled trainer will help to push the trainee *just enough* that they start to see benefits whilst not getting pushed too hard and quitting in a fountain of sweaty rage. (I still have mini episodes of this, but they subside when I can breathe again!) I actually think I have built up a bit of a "Stockholm Syndrome" thing with my trainer: I have come to trust their view of what I am capable of more than my own, and I think that 'outsourcing' this belief has helped me be somewhat more motivated and less inclined to neglect myself physically. Now I feel confident enough to attend just regular gym classes. Every few months, if I can, I treat myself to a few personal training sessions to re-engage with it more (or to top up the "indoctrination", who knows?).

My point here is that I didn't want to do it at first. I had to have someone else hold the reins for a while, whilst I gained some sense that it was worthwhile even trying and that *even I* could do something in this area of life. Maybe it sounds like I'm pushing a bigger commitment than your friend thinks they want to make, but honestly it wasn't that big a deal, and I actually think that the whole complex of offloading the thinking-about-doing-it to a professional and wanting-to-do-what-the-trainer-thinks-I-really-can was helpful in cutting the brush away from a whole area of life I never thought I'd be able to explore.

But having been there now, I know I can. I recommend having a guide at first though.
posted by aesop at 1:54 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Bicycling and walking with technology involved so he can feel all geeky about it. He needs to be able to see it all on his computer: weight lost, distance traveled, average speed maintained, etc.

And if you can ride or walk with him, do that to encourage him. Or are you one of the people he needs to avoid?
posted by pracowity at 2:35 AM on July 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Does walking help the upper body as much as it should?

Don't worry about this. The goal here is to get started doing something, anything active, to help avoid the long-term cardiovascular and musculoskeletal effects of being totally sedentary. If he decides he likes exercising, he can worry later about strengthening specific muscle groups. For right now, the first step is to incorporate into his day enough movement to support his general health. With cracking knees and aching back, gentle walking, ramping up slowly if he likes it, is best.
posted by decathecting at 7:14 AM on July 20, 2014

I'm somewhat similar to your cousin. I think that it is a very personal thing and he'll probably need to read through/listen to some suggestions and pick the one that resonates with him. There isn't really wrong way to get exercise as long as you're not injuring yourself and ANYTHING is better than what he is doing now.

Two things really worked for me. Strength training and getting a dog. Since even our fenced in back yard will no longer contain her without close supervision and she HATES pooping close to home, the dog MUST get walked twice a day, period. Forcing you to get off your ass and go for a walk is a terrible reason to get a dog though.

I also work from home and I will say that on the days when the dog isn't home (at day care or something) and I don't have to take her for a walk, I get LESS work done. I had a temp job once where a group of us would go for a 10 minute walk twice every day and the days when we didn't walk were less productive than the days that we did. I'm certain that there have been studies that back this up but I can't be bothered to find one right now.

As for strength training, I had tried having a gym membership but it just took too much time and effort and it was hard to have a plan. I didn't really know what I was doing.

I ended up having to remove as many barriers as I could. I bought a good weigh bench with squat rack and a set of Olympic weights on craigslist and put it in my basement. I read "Starting Strength" a couple of times and had a session with a personal trainer to check my form. Then, since I'm lazy, I embarked on the beginner program but just twice a week instead of three. At the start it was because it took that long for me to recover. Then it was because I'd rather keep it to twice a week forever than try and fail to form the three per week habit and give up altogether.

You're only doing a couple of lifts so it doesn't take a ton of time even with a good warmup. You will see results FAST. It feels good to be stronger and I was already a pretty strong guy. I can now deadlift 300+ pounds (I don't know how much more because I need to buy more weights) and just knowing that I can do that is pretty cool. If I include throwing on some workout clothes and a quick shower after I'm done (though I often don't work up too much of a sweat) the whole workout takes up maybe an hour each time.

Something to keep in mind is that body weight is a problem solved in the kitchen. It's all diet. I have lost a little bit of weight but I've also gotten much denser. I've lost a solid 10 Lbs but I've lost two inches off my waist and gain some size in my legs and shoulders that help to make my waist look smaller.
posted by VTX at 7:30 AM on July 20, 2014

It starts with simple things like taking a walk around the block in the middle of the day. If he does that consistently and gets into that habit, he can go up from there. Eventually he should take breaks where he walks for a mile or two. 20-40 minutes). But start off with taking a walk around the block.

Have him get an app like "Moves" or any other pedometer-like app that keeps track of how long he is walking each day.
posted by deanc at 7:38 AM on July 20, 2014

I agree that walking is a good idea. Getting a set of hand weights and doing a few minutes of lifting every day is another low stakes way to get started.

Another possibility is getting an exercise bike for his home. Although this does require some money upfront, he could use it any time of day/night while reading, watching TV, etc. I'm sure you could probably find one used so you wouldn't have to pay for a new one. For upper body workouts, there are also those rowing machines.
posted by litera scripta manet at 10:27 AM on July 20, 2014

I think a Wii would be a good way to exercise. I am one of those people that prefers some type of point system to my physical activities because I really enjoy the satisfaction of winning or at least showing measurable improvement. I also find running and walking to be quite boring. Games that get my heart pumping include Dance, Dance, Revolution and Wii Fit.
posted by ender_wiggins at 5:08 PM on July 20, 2014

Have him work on his diet. He can lose weight via that alone and once he is smaller and there is less pressure on his joints he will probably have more energy and be way more inclined to exercise.
posted by hejrat at 3:48 AM on July 21, 2014

I think walking is a great way to just change behaviour; changing behaviour is really really hard. So worrying about increasing upper-body strength is really premature.

Walking has helped me lose weight, and it has also really improved my "core" strength. It's actually kind of amazing. I can now bound up a flight of stairs without losing my breath, or quickly jog across the street if I need to.

Now that I am in the position to think about running, I am working out at the Y. But I had gone to the Y once in a while before I started my daily walks, and it was to stay motivated.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:43 PM on July 21, 2014

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