Guilt of no exercise 

So you say you feel guilt for not exercising?  With all of us being bombarded with the message from all sides telling us we must exercise more it’s understandable.  And yes, for the sake of looking after ourselves, we should exercise.  If you are a non-exerciser and a busy parent, have a tiring work schedule, or in other ways a full routine, and all of your friends and family you spend your leisure time with don’t exercise, you’re in your uncomfortable comfort zone together.  Everyone in your life is the same as you and you periodically complain to each other about how you should get fit / lose weight or other such health improvements.  The end goal seems so far out of reach.  There seems to be no middle ground, only all or nothing.  Unfortunately the images we are encouraged to compare ourselves to are often the very extreme goal that we probably will not achieve, nor do we need to. But you think if only you could get yourself to start exercising your guilt would be gone.  You think the people who exercise must have no guilt.  Wrong!  There’s a lot of quilt attached to exercise, as with many other areas in life.   

Fitness industry uses strategies of trying to induce feelings of guilt in people in their marketing, same as so many other areas of marketing do.  Inducing guilt is a commonly used and relatively successful marketing strategy. We are all so used to it that we hardly notice it, and we perceive guilt in ourselves and others as ‘normal’.   Guilt in psychology is defined as a self-conscious emotion that is produced when we perceive ourselves to have provoked “a negative outcome by acts of commission or omission”. 

Guilt of exercise 

You may make the decision to start to exercise but don’t really know what you’re doing or how to keep going. Every time you fail to keep going your guilt grows.  But the truth is, the guilt is weighing on us even if we are exercising: “I didn’t exercise today, I didn’t spend long enough exercising, I don’t do enough cardio / strength training, I’m not seeing the results I want “etc.   Or you may have the exercise habit for a long time but change of lifestyle or loss of motivation for whatever reason made you lose the habit and now you’ve done nothing for a month.   

 I’ve been in all those places at different points in my life.  But for a really long time now exercise has been an essential component of my life, without which I wouldn’t be strong enough to deal with rest of life.  Exercise in any amounts can be that for you.   

Common sense in exercise? 

Common sense tells us that from the healthy life point of view any exercise is better than no exercise.  And the truth is any amount of regular exercise at the appropriate ability level for you can make you feel better about yourself, lift your mood, improve your health and your functioning in so many ways, before you even know you are having any results.   But sometimes the pressure of feeling you are not making enough progress, and that whatever you do, you should be doing more, undermines your recognising benefits and your motivation to continue.  Tuning into the communities of regular exercisers at your gym or on social media can have an effect of both motivating due to mutual support and competitive spirit, and at the same time making your guilt worse due to atmosphere where guilt is accepted as the norm.   

Exercise pressure 

The effect of this pressure on some people is that they turn either into the super-exerciser, or the waste-of-time-exerciser.  Being a personal trainer who also teaches group exercise classes in the gyms, I see the examples of both of these, especially in the gym.  The super-exerciser over-trains, spends all their time either worrying about, planning, preparing for, or performing exercise.  Their want to feel that their exercise hardest, longest, most often, compared to others.  Eventually they’ll suffer burnout and feel too exhausted to continue and suffer terrible guilt.  The waste-of-time exerciser spends many hours in the gym every week, talking about how many hours they’ve spent in the gym or how many classes they’ve been to, but actually perform very little exercise.  They will get through an exercise class with minimal possible effort and attend class after class.  Again, their exercise habit isn’t giving them the benefit it could be, although it may be giving them an improved self-perception and a social space.   

Part of what keeps the guilt going is the competitive nature of the society.  To alleviate our own guilt we try to put down others, either for demonstrating more motivation than ourselves or less, thus exasperating their guilt or negative feelings.  This behaviour is also so commonplace all around us that we think it’s ‘normal’.  We have all witnessed others being put down for their lack of fitness or their passion for it.   

Self-perception in exercise 

The feelings of guilt attached to exercise, despite possibly working as a motivating force, means exercise always has an amount of negative emotion attached to it which counteracts the good feelings to some extent.  This is a bummer.  Especially as negative emotions / negative self-perception in themselves are bad for our wellbeing.  This was demonstrated by a study carried out by researchers Octavia Zahrt and Alia Crum from Stanford University, analysing data from three national surveys covering more than 60000 adults in the US.  The surveys looked at their health, background, physical activity levels, and how their perceived their own activity levels.  The researchers then looked at the participants death records from 21 years after the surveys.   Controlling for factors like age, body mass, chronic illness and physical activity levels, they found that the individuals who perceived themselves as less active than their peers tended to die younger even if in reality they were getting equal amounts of exercise to their peers.  (71% more likely to die within the 21 years).   

Positive exercise mindset for long term habit  

In reverse, feeling positive about ourselves is good for us, and taking steps to look after ourselves should give us those positive feelings.  Exercise isn’t a punishment, it’s a blessing.  It should be a stress reliever, not a cause of stress.  How can we work towards removing the guilt attached to exercise?  

Part of our learning on our personal journey towards fitter life needs to be learning how to focus on ourselves, empowering ourselves through the personal lens of self-care in the “me zone”.  We need to try to steer away from comparing ourselves to others, and from comparing others to each other.   We need to use common sense and scrutiny in examining the advertising and the peer attitudes we are faced with, to avoid falling for the guilt trip unawares.  This is the hardest part of keeping fit to learn, but the lesson once learned most likely to lead to a long-lasting habit. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t socialise with other exercisers, but hopefully when we do, we can benefit from and cultivate mutual support and encouragement without the guilt trip.  We need to move from the guilt-exercise zone to the exercise-because-we-can-feel-the-benefit zone.  Looking for the healthy balance that helps us to perform in the many spheres of life necessary, not just in exercise.   

If you are wondering if you could benefit from personal training online or in West Kent, contact us to discuss any of your queries.