The Real Reason We Don’t Exercise

Are you sick of hearing the same old lectures about the need to exercise? Tired of reading list after list of reasons why you really should work out? So over sifting through tip upon tip suggesting how to motivate yourself?

The nation’s collective “Move Thy Buns!” shout has been getting consistently noisier for a few decades now, and yet, despite all our best efforts, desire, and intentions, most people just don’t exercise enough. If at all. End of story.

Strange, because we know exercise is not only great, but actually necessary. I don’t believe there’s a single person alive right now who doesn’t know that exercise will help them lose weight, or live longer, or reduce stress, or just feel better. Whether you’re a gym rat, or are simply maintaining a decent standard of fitness, or are a regulation couch potato, I’d like to offer a thought as to why exercise, for the most part, just won’t stick.

The reason is because the baby boomer generation is the first generation to learn about the need for exercise. Our parents didn’t exercise. Sure, there were the Saturday rounds on the links for Dad and Mom played tennis with the ladies at the country club from time to time. Or there was the occasional evening constitutional or family camping trip. But exercise as a way of life? A daily habit? A necessity? It just wasn’t in people’s consciousness. Take a look at old male and female movie stars whose bodies were adored in their time – John Wayne didn’t have a six-pack. Miss Monroe had plenty of curvaceous heft. The silhouette was enough – nobody was sculpting, toning and defining back then. Sports were for fun, walks were for digestion, and activity was for stress relief, but the thought of daily exercise? Unheard of.

It makes sense to me. Our parents’ generation was really the first to be fully “modern” – ladies keeping house in middle-class suburbia and office-going gentlemen in the ubiquitous gray flannel suits. These are huge generalities, of course, but I think they’re largely true. It wasn’t uncommon at all for our parents to have been raised on a farm – until the 1930s, most families were still connected to agriculture or heavy labor in some way. But our parents weren’t farmers, and even a blue collar union job at GM was fairly mechanized. We simply weren’t raised to be active.

So, the Boomers are the product of at least one generation that didn’t work out. It’s taken us a few generations to realize that the hard labor Gramps put in on the family farm was probably really good for him. We don’t live that way anymore, so yes, we do need the gyms and fitness videos and exercise gear. And change is hard. Really hard.

I’m obviously a huge proponent of exercise. I work out 5 or 6 times a week and many of you know that I’m a retired athlete. I think everyone ought to work out at least a few times a week to the extent that they are able. That said, I also think total change takes more than a single generation. While I don’t go in for the “blame game” (it’s our parents’ fault), I also think it would be unrealistic to think society would change completely in the span of one generation. I’d love for everyone to get plenty of exercise – and I hope you have made it a part of your life. But if you look at the issue from a longer-term perspective, the fact that fitness videos and gyms are so popular is a pretty encouraging sign. If you’ve changed even a little, that’s a big deal.

Now, if you’re a couch potato or a once-a-weeker, move thy buns! (You’re not gettin’ off that easy!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, Apples. How were you raised to view fitness? How do you work exercise into your life? Are you changing with the times?

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[tags]exercise, generation, gym rat, baby boomer, fitness videos, exercise gear[/tags]

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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17 thoughts on “The Real Reason We Don’t Exercise”

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  1. For me, growing up had NO emphasis on exercise. I was involved in a once weekly youth bowling league (a social exercise for my parents) and in high school I took an interest in downhill skiing (another social exercise, this time for me). Fitness and exercise weren’t talked about in the home. I was exposed to it at school, dreaded gym class, and ballooned to over 300 lbs (never measured BMI then, buit ‘balloon’ is an appropriate word) before graduation through poor diet and sedentary lifestyle.

    now, 10 years later, I’m finally getting on track. I spent all that time on up’s and down’s like most people. Exercise didn’t exist until my friends got interested in Dance Dance Revolution about 2 years ago. I give credit to the game for getting me up and really moving for the first time ever (I was tricked, mind you).

    Finally, this year when the doctor said I should consider blood pressure medication at 28 years old, I said enough was enough. I changed my diet pretty drastically to the low fat, high veggie, med grains, avoid processed foods, and drinking only water. I tricked myself into exercising again by enrolling in a fitness center class at the community college. The trick is that my attendance and participation equal a grade that affects my GPA, and that is some good motivation! I’m making an effort to take at least one PE class per term, and walking in the park next to our house twice a week until I’m capable of doing more.

    To directly answer your question: I worked in exercise by taking a class and choosing to stop wasting time in front of the tv and using the facilities available to me.

    As for changing, I’ve lost about 40 pounds since January ’09, my %fat went from over 25 (I measured it for the first time in march and it was 25) down to a current 17.5%, have lost several inches from my waist and dropped a shirt size. I have also switched to primal eating since stumbling upon your website about a month ago, and now eat 5-6 smaller meals a day rather than the 1-2 HUGE ones and almost constant snacking from my previous life. I don’t miss grains at all, though I do find them hard to avoid unless I cook for myself (telling people you have a wheat allergy is a great help… and it’s true, we get inflamed from them, right?). I had the withdrawal’s that I see people talking about from the sugar and I powered through it by trying to figure out why I really wanted it. Often I would find it was a stress reaction and not a true desire and could eat a vegetable or fruit to calm my need to eat something, then spend some time working on getting rid of the stress… much more effective than eating a pint of ice cream until my body was too distracted to feel stress.

    Good luck to everyone, and thank you Mark for this amazing resource!

  2. 1970’s – 1985ish:
    I grew up in central europe right next to a national forest.
    My parents made it a habit to walk with us for 1-2 hours every sunday morning through the forest and let us kids just blow steam.

    My school had 5 hours of physical education a week which included field hockey, swimming, sprinting, throwing ball, stretching, etc…

    In highschool you could even get the title and medal to be a rescue swimmer…and train to be a future tri-athlete.

    Since the 1990’s they’ve added all kinds of other extra things (computer be one of it) to teach kids and cut down on Sports. They’ve also added a snack bar (during my time we had to bring food from home in a lunch box) so kids now get Soda, Candy, etc…
    As a result even european kids are heavier now, following the american trend.

    Sure glad I’m not a kid born in the 1990’s or later…I’d probably raid that snack bar every chance I get.
    Want a green apple or a Snickers bar during your school break? Snickers bar…DUH…

    1. I feel like my life has shown exactly this trend, if smaller scale. I was born in 1991 and my family was probably middle of the road in terms of exercise: we played tennis together or hiked every few weekends. But neither of my parents were really into sports and running races was almost a foreign word in my house.

      Since early childhood, my life has definitely changed in terms of exercise’s presence. Somewhere around grade 11, sports (I was in track and Cross country) started being less of an optional, fun thing and more of a compulsory, essential-to-staying-fit thing. Today I marvel that I could’ve lived so independently from any exercise mentality, and wish I could go back to where it was just a fun thing I did. Somewhere along the line I really began hating the feeling that I SHOULD go exercise.

  3. It’s changing for the better now more and more. Now it’s becoming more and more cool to be fit and healthy.

  4. I think my mom tried to raise us using play as our exercise. I had some serious ADHD going on when I first started elementary school, so my first grade teacher told my mom to enroll me in ballet and gymnastics, probably so I could have an outlet for all my energy. My brothers played soccer and basketball. I ditched the “girly” sports for soccer, and eventually volleyball, while my older brother joined track. My parents played volleyball at a near professional level, but just for fun! Only recently has our family evolved into “gym” people–mostly due to time constraints that changed how much time we get to “play.” Looking back, I’m really thankful that I was raised this way, because it makes it so much easier now to go for a “fun run” or to ride my bike to a friend’s house when it’s nice 🙂

  5. The only joy I had throughout childhood was spending my day in the woods. Eventually I was put on medication to make me less violent (I was a normal kid but my mom had a tendency to overreact) which unfortunately had a few side effects (increased hunger and decreased energy). So, now I’ve stopped taking that medication (and surprise, I’m not violent, the dumb bitch was wrong) and I once again find pleasure in exercise.

  6. Although I rarely played sport. I was big into climbing, jumping, cycling etc. as a child. That coupled with strict TV and food options means I can never remember a time when I could see my abs.

  7. “(and surprise, I’m not violent, the dumb bitch was wrong)”

    Yes, you sound like a really mellow guy.

    Alex, you might want to talk to someone about your attitude toward your mother before it turns violent. If my comment makes you mad — read it again.

  8. I was never raised to exercise or play sports, but it was not really a problem, since I was always fairly active…until one day I wasnt. Always waifish, people kept telling me how good I looked with a little “meat on my bones,” but this was not the end. The pounds kept packing on, and while not obese by any standard, I was getting a little chubby. For a girl that prized her looks and beauty, this was difficult. I got depressed, drank a lot, and got fatter. Finally, at 5’7 165ish (afraid to step on a scale) I got all of the bad influences and people out of my life and made a change. Several failed attempts with frozen diet dinners and pills (alli…pretty gross side affects), I switched to eating healthy foods but still not primal. I got down to 145 without breaking a sweat, switched to primal and went down the last 10 lbs. Still 20 pounds ever my low weight…but with no desire to get that small again, I am pretty happy and what I am left with is sculpting the body I want with my new found love for weight lifting.

  9. The AHA reccomends keeping you heart rate elevated to an “acceptable” range for thirty minutes.

    I’m going to put this bluntly. That’s boring as shit and it sucks. And that’s what a lot of other people think about exercise. They think this is something I won’t enjoy at all and it’s something I just have to do for some invisible benefit that I won’t see for decades. The next time you walk into a gym take a look at everyone on the “dreadmills”, look at their faces, and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

    Little do they know that brief anaerobic activity has been proven to cause adapations to the cardiovascular system in less time, with more benefits, and less of a catabolic response. On top of that sprinting or lifting weights with just about 5 to 10 minutes of peak intensity is way more fun the running for an hour on a “dreadmill”.

    Brief intense workouts, eating right, & intermittent Fasting is the recipe you’ll find for optimal success, for weight loss, and for health.

    Matthew Caton

  10. Marilyn Monroe weighed 118 pounds and her measurements were 35-22-35. She had curves, but certainly no “heft.” In today’s sizing, she would have been a size 2 or 4.

  11. I was born in a different country than where I love now. We had huge grounds and an entire forest behind our home and we used to run all day having fun. That’s how my muscles developed. I was very active till the age of 11 then once I went to secondary school though I still liked sports I didn’t do it as frequently. Fast forward 10 years and some extra kilo, and I’m right back on track 🙂

  12. The real reason I don’t work out: stress fractures on both feet, and joints that crunch. I used to work out 6 days a weak. This is me 🙁

  13. After eating I try not to sit still. I go quite a long way in a day. And just warm up. Here is my success!

  14. I grew up in a tradesman’s household, so incidental exercise was a natural thing. As a kid, spending the occasional weekend helping Dad on a job somewhere was pretty normal, and there were a number of jobs around the house that required exercise, from mowing lawns to chopping and stacking firewood. We were also encouraged, though never forced to take up sport, which I did throughout much of my life. However, I never saw my parents play sport. Dad sustained a work injury a couple years after I was born that ended any chance of him playing sport, and Mum never had any interest in it.

    Today, I’m even more active. I’m a Masters athlete (mostly a sprinter), train sports specific 3 times per week, as well as 2 gym workouts each week, and competition most weekends (at least 40 weekends in a year). It’s just natural for me to maintain this level of activity. While most people consider my level of training anything from a “major commitment” to “hell” or “crazy”, to me, it’s something I enjoy doing. I enjoy seeing what I can do, and working towards my goals.