Why Exercise Feels Like a Drag (and What to Do About It)

Your Purpose AwaitsSometimes while working out at home I catch Buddha (my lab) just kind of watching me doing squats or pushups or pullups or burpees with this look on his face that says, “You feed me, walk me, scratch me, and water me and I love you for it, but what in Dog’s name are you doing?” He probably thinks I’m insane. You can’t really blame the guy. I mean, the stuff we do for exercise is pretty silly:

You’re walking on a treadmill, literally going nowhere for miles at a time.

You’re pedaling like a madman, but instead of seeing the landscape unfold in front of you, you’re watching MSNBC with closed captioning on.

You’re picking up a metal bar with weights on either end and putting it back down over and over again.

Hanging from an overhead bar, you pull yourself up toward it until your chest touches, then go back down and repeat it several dozen times.

Is it any wonder that many people find modern exercise to be meaningless?

Now, not everyone finds it meaningless. I’m a man who prefers a rousing game of Ultimate or a hike through the canyons of Malibu, but I can also appreciate a good strength training workout in the gym and an intense sprint session on the stationary bike. But a lot of people just aren’t moved by conventional workouts. And I think a big reason is that physical movement has become separated from immediate utility. We no longer have to walk, lift things, run, climb, or carry heavy objects to make our living, procure food, or get from here to there. Instead, we work out for promised, basically intangible benefits far off in the distance. If you can’t find immediate value in the exercises, you’re unlikely to do them.

But we do need to exercise. I’d love it if we could all simply incorporate regular movement into our everyday life, and mobile workstations, walking breaks, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking meetings, and short workouts in the office are bridging the gap, but formal workouts are still important – and I’d argue necessary – for health, strength, and fitness.

So what’s a person to do? How can we reinstill meaning and purpose into our daily activity and thus make it feel less like of a drag.

Start active commuting.

Ride your bike to work. Skateboard to work. Or how about rollerblading? Even hopping on one of those goofy recumbent bikes to bypass traffic is a good choice. Whatever the mode, research shows that active commuting is great for psychological and cardiovascular well-being. When compared to passive commuters (either train, bus, or car), active commuters are happier (PDF) and less likely to develop heart issues. They’re also, unsurprisingly, fitter.

Some people just can’t do it. If your commute is 60 miles each way, I don’t expect you to hop on the road bike every morning. If you’re 15 miles away, you’re not going to walk. But there are ways around it. You can always park a mile away from the office and walk the last fifteen minutes. Even those long distance commuters might be able to squeeze the occasional long ride in once a week or two, just to shake things up.

Do physical labor.

Maybe you’re looking for work but haven’t found anything in awhile. Or maybe you’re a student off for summer just kind of milling around in your hometown. If you need work, why not try physical labor? Do yard work, lay bricks, bust up concrete, be a farmhand or a fruit picker. You can even travel and become a WWOOFer (worldwide opportunities on organic farms – volunteer farm worker). All you need is a plane ticket somewhere and you can live, work, get really fit, and enjoy excellent organic produce in such locales as Hawaii, Costa Rica, Chile, Belize, Spain, Hungary, and over 100 other countries around the world.

If you usually hire people to do you yard work, start doing it yourself instead. It really doesn’t take that longand it’s a fantastic workout. Physical labor makes you fit, just so long as you don’t drown your sorrows in drink and junk food.

Go into construction work.

The strength of construction workers is almost unparalleled (both old man strength and farm strength are in the running). They may not always eat the best food or do “cardio” or think much about their health, but those dudes (and ladies, as the case may be) are some of the pound for pound strongest people around. Best of all, it’s functional strength because it was strength developed by doing things in the real world. Construction work also tends to build grip strength better than any dedicated grip-strengthening exercise, so you’ll be ready to lift heavy things when you get back into the gym.

An ancillary benefit is that you’ll learn helpful new skills. Being able to build things with your hands is an important ability that will be extremely valuable when the rage virus epidemic hits and society crumbles around us.

Or if you’ve already got a job you like, pick up some carpentry skills on the side and work on some projects when you have free time. Build a tiny house. Demo that weird shed that’s been sitting in your backyard since you bought the place. Build a treehouse, or a home gym. There are some good online carpentry resources, but depending on how you like to learn the best bet may be to take a class at the local community college.

Do a charity event that you believe in.

There are charity fitness events every weekend, nearly everywhere. 10ks, walkathons, 5ks, what have you. You may not believe in every cause. You might find some superfluous. But everyone has at least one cause – a disease or a displaced people or an endangered species or a beleaguered nature preserve – they care about. And each one of those causes probably has a charity fitness event that you can participate in.

Whereas going for a run might sound like torture if it’s just to obtain the purported fitness benefits, going for a run to raise money for research into a cure for Alzheimer’s might feel more worthwhile. I find that Googling “[disease/condition/cause] charity run [your location]” usually produces some good leads. If you can’t find a local event, you may be able to be a “remote runner.” Just message the event organizers and see if you can’t participate from afar.

Plus, you could always just organize your own event. It doesn’t have to be a grandiose endeavor. You don’t have to solve world peace or save the Siberian tiger. How about raising money to feed local homeless (even if it’s just a few people) or help them start a farm? Start small.

Do nature clean up.

Whether it’s beach clean-up, forest clean-up, desert clean-up, roadside clean-up, or park clean-up, just go help clean up nature. Cleaning up natural areas is hard work. It involves a lot of kneeling, bending, squatting, and lifting, so be sure to practice excellent movement quality. Bend at and lift with the hips, not the lower back. Practice that Grok squat. You can even throw in some lunges, Grok crawls, and other bodyweight movements as you clean to increase the intensity.

But most importantly, cleaning up nature, well, cleans up nature. That’s where we come from, and we need to respect it and care for it. It’s still what feels like home. It is home. I don’t care which side of the environmental spectrum you fall on. Plastic bags, food wrappers, dirty diapers, and other bits of assorted human waste and garbage do not belong in natural environments. We can all agree on that, I hope (you’re not Don Draper, are you?).

As with charity events, you can find clean-up events easily by Googling “[beach/forest/park/desert/road/environment] clean-up [your location].”

Don’t shy away from helping friends move, renovate, or tackle big jobs around the house.

Instead of making up an excuse next time a buddy asks you to help move apartments or houses, go help. Moving large, bulky, heavy furniture through doorways, around corners, and up and down stairs is a test of brains and brawn. It requires – and develops – great strength, but it also forces you to coordinate with your carrying partner and plan your approach. Between tenuous grips and oddly shaped “weights,” these definitely aren’t perfectly balanced barbells. Even something as straightforward as loading up several dozen boxes of books into a moving van is an incredibly taxing workout.

Being the friend who’s always willing to help others move to a new apartment also gets you an important perk: they’ll help you when you need to move.

I’ll admit it. Making our workouts useful, utilitarian, and objectively meaningful isn’t easy. It’ll take effort and creativity. And it might take more time than we’d like, especially when we could just hire some guys for a few bucks to handle our yard work, donate to a charity instead of participating in a charity fitness event, and pay movers. But if you find conventional exercise to be meaningless, maybe a little inconvenience is just what you need.

Let’s hear from you guys. What objectively meaningful, useful, and utilitarian workout methods can you think of?

Thanks for reading!

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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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110 thoughts on “Why Exercise Feels Like a Drag (and What to Do About It)”

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    1. Spit my coffee out. Heard in my head the crew from The Office saying it while jumping in a dumpster.

  1. Buddha is telling you to just do a few downward dogs and then take him for a long walk already.

  2. I like the advice, although you’ll probably never see me mowing the lawn! Trying to keep up with playing with my kids is always a humbling experience though.

    1. The first time my oldest beat me in a sprint was terribly humbling.

    2. Can I mow your lawn? I’ll just bring over my weight-laden mulcher and have a go. Mowing’s my favorite exercise–instant progress on the grass!

  3. This is why I’m going to get involved in Movnat. Fun times and my kids like to play with ‘ole dad’.

  4. How about play with your kids or grandkids. Coach their team or a neighborhood team, and actually do the running and other training that you require of them.

  5. After spending the last 2 years working out ‘formally’ 5-6x a week I’m finally feeling the urge to get back to ‘real’ workouts. Like hiking, walking places and yardwork. I’m just not stimulated by running and lifting weights like I used to be!

  6. Mark,

    Do you have some ideas for those of us in colder climates? Winter is approaching here in Chicago, and active commuting (along with many other outdoor activities) is kind of out of the question when there’s 6 inches of snow and sub-sub-zero temperatures.

    1. Toronto here. On days the sidewalk is clear I walk part of my commute. I do have the option of walking another route underground if weather is bad but I find that hot and crowded. Of course if weather is bad I will have some snow shoveling and ice chopping to do.

      1. AND chop ice–that’s my winter exercise. Instant progress on the driveway.

    2. I work in downtown Chicago, and I made a commitment to active commuting last winter. Yeah, that one 🙁 There were some awful days, I will admit. But I’m glad I did it and overall think being outside helped me in a variety of ways. If you walk long enough and wear the right gear, you’ll find yourself getting very warm. Even the snow wasn’t always a barrier because I walked on sidewalks traveled by many people. Active commuting in a Chicago winter is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s worth considering.

    3. I used to live in Chicago and as long as it was at least 20 degrees outside (ignoring the wind chill), I would walk to work. I bought a warm parka and snow boots, etc and enjoyed not being on a crowded train or bus.

    4. Yes it is hard, that is why it should be more challenging, and a far better workout. Dig deep and get your but out there.

    5. Skiing or snowboarding:) or for active commuting how about some of those Nordic skis?

    6. Winter Hikes! I lived in Wisconsin all my life. Bundle up, head to a park, and hike away. If you need a “goal” to the hike, try Geocaching. We did lots of winter geocaching in parks north of Chicago. Trails are always fairly cleared by other hikers. Lots of fun, and great exercise tromping thru the snow! Also, rode my mountain bike thru the city all winter to commute- snow or not!

  7. It’s crazy that we are essentially so out of touch with the planet that we have to simulate real living. It sounds like science fiction but so much less glamorous and interesting.

    1. Like those Google-glass-wearers…”glasses so we can still have real-time interactions.” WHY NOT JUST TAKE THE DAMN THINGS OFF?

  8. How about exercise as part of a sport? Jiu Jitsu (or Boxing or Muay Thay) is a great sports that offers incredible conditioning, greater strength, lots of psychological rewards, higher self-esteem, not to mention the actual ability to defend yourself in many real-life situations.

    Some people may disregard it on account of being “too old”, but a good Jiu jitsu instructor will be able to tailor your training to your age and condition, and as a bonus you will make many new friends of all ages and walks of life. Some people have the prejudice that jiu jitsu academies are filled with trouble-makers and bullies, but that`s the exact opposite of the truth. All people in my academy, and the ones I`ve visited, are super nice, respectful and polite, especially towards the elderly, and regardless of rank.

  9. @Thomas, used to live in Chicago, you have no shortage of Snow and less shortage of needy folks who can’t shovel their walks/driveways. put the snowblower away get a good shovel (a serious snow shovel or a #12 grain scoop) and start helping those folks out. It is serious cardio, stretching, AND weight lifting ALL in the same session. BTW did I mention the pay it forward value of helping those folks?

    Based on Marks once a week concept and Chicago’s twice a week snowfall, you’ll get plenty of all the things Mark talks about in this post. Drives my wife nuts that I won’t use the tractor to clear my 60 yards of 2x driveway and sidewalks. I’ve done it most of my life and it really works well for staying in cardio shape. I can get my heart to 80%(or wherever) very quickly, and keep it there as long as I need to…

  10. Especially if you live in a warm climate- Buy a clothesline and hang out your laundry out to dry! Good for your body and the environment.

  11. I’d rather get fat and eat bad carbs all day then watch MSNBC! But I love the rest of the blog 🙂

  12. I run up 5 flights of stairs several times a day to go to the bathroom on the 5th floor instead of the 1st floor. It’s a nice break from sitting at my desk all day.

  13. Great article. I do ranch work. Laying tiles, hauling dirt, planting & maintaining gardens, cleaning chicken coop – there always seems like work needs to be done. Have a college kid that helps with heavy lifting – still leaving some of it for myself. I also wear a pedometer and target 10000 steps a day with a minimum of 7000 which is 3.5 miles. Winters coming and I’ll keep an eye on the pedometer during the day to make sure I’m on track – doing a loop around the property several times a day. Another thing that is good – I don’t do enough of – is to hit/kick the punching bags. Great 15 minute workout!

  14. I believe one great reason to keep working out and staying healthy is to be ready in case of emergencies. You never know when you may need to pull yourself up and over an object, crawl 100 yards out of a crumbled building, sprint away from someone trying to harm you, being able to walk 8 miles out of the forest or canyon if lost and generally not feeling helpless when the ^#$^& hits the fan.

  15. Giving up some modern conveniences gets movement back into your life quite naturally and has the side-benefit of being better for the planet:

    Turn your gardens with a pitchfork, not a rototiller. Then go help your neighbor do theirs.
    Clean your house with a broom and mop, not a vacuum cleaner.
    Wash your dishes by hand.
    Beat your eggs with a whisk, not a mixer.
    Chop your veggies with a knife, not a food processor.
    Remove snow with a shovel, not a snow blower. Then go do your neighbor’s walk and driveway too.
    Don’t take the car and run to the store five times a week. Run errands once a week, favoring businesses in a walkable area. Park the car, then walk between stops, and carry anything you buy with you along the way.
    Raise your own organic food and do all the planting, weeding, harvesting and processing by hand.
    Wash some clothes by hand, dry all clothes on lines for a great bending-and-stretching exercise.
    Chop wood for your woodstove, rather than buying it already split.
    And so on…

  16. Sounds pretty ordinary, but last Sunday DH and I made a trip to Costco, which is about 45 minutes from home. It’s a trip we make about every six weeks, and we often pick up items for friends and neighbors, too. To make a short story long, he strained his back on Friday helping a friend who’d just been released from the hospital where they kept him largely immobilized for several weeks.

    And so I offered to load the carts with the heavier stuff — paper products, detergent, (organic) canned tomatoes and frozen veggies, frozen meat and fish (wild caught of course!), bottled water, etc. Thanks to doing my 3x/week with weights, and starting my PB workouts a month ago, I was able to do all the lifting without strain. And everything that went into the cart also got off loaded into the car, and then unloaded from the car and put into the pantry or the freezer. So I did three sets of who knows how much lifting!

    My point is this. An ordinary activity was made easier because of the prep work, and afterwards I felt as if it was the best workout of the month! BTW, I am 74 and he is 75, so we are fortunate to be in such great physical shape.

    1. Shopping at warehouse stores is my OTHER favorite exercise–all that lifting, pushing heavy carts around, and then pushing it against foot traffic, so i have to dodge and weave that heavy cart…

      Those 40-lb boxes of cat litter are my absolute favorites.

  17. Hi Mark,
    Great piece, and I really believe in doing physical work. I wash my car almost always by hand, & find it provides many benefits, including stretching, upper & lower body workout, Vit D from sun, (although the car should be in the shade, earthing, if you have a concrete, dirt or gravel driveway & do it barefoot, and a renewed appreciation for your car, and what it provides for me.
    Yard work has many benefits too, as you mentioned, not the least, being “:communing” with nature.

  18. BooYah…..just did the Terry Fox run at my daughter’s school….lapped the kid 3 times. Post runner high right now and I feel GREAT!!

  19. I’m 71, and can’t be bothered with going to the gym, too boring. For my exercise I look after the garden growing flowers, some vegetables and fruit ( plenty of squatting and bending there), mow the lawn regularly, do my own housework. I make preserves to sell and lift two boxes of preserves in and out of the car to take to Country Market once a week. I go with a walking group once a week for a brisk hours walk with friendly people. I also do country dancing once or twice a week. When it snows (I’m in the UK), I clear my drive of snow so I can get my car out of the garage, and so I don’t fall over on frozen snow, my drive is quite long. I then go and clear part of my elderly neighbour’s drive so she can get safely from her front door to the road.

  20. Something I started doing this year was biking my work commute and biking for small errands. It made me bike a lot more when I had a purpose for my biking. Doing a set mileage just for mileage, annoyed me, but when there was a task I did more and was happier and more satisfied and now I usually try to bike before I’ll drive my car.

  21. “Hanging from an overhead bar, you pull yourself up toward it until your chest touches, then go back down and repeat it several dozen times”.

    I believe you meant several times, not several DOZEN times. Come on!

    1. I can barely do three, once. An exaggeration to make a point methinks. Some Sisson satire. Although I am sure many people out there could do a few more than me.

      1. Yeah, I suppose you’re right; Mark’s tongue was deep in his cheek.

  22. Our “back 40” has tall firs, native hazelnut trees, and big leaf maples, but it was also overrun with blackberries and ivy. So we removed the invasives and replaced with native plants. We created a loop path and covered it with bark fibers. Now we have our own mini-park, complete with a walking path, which we now use for fitness laps (instead of driving to a local park 3 miles each way). The physical work involved in removal, planting, weeding, wheelbarrowing, chipping, and ongoing maintenance of our “park” — and now having our own fitness walking path — have all been wonderful “natural exercise” perks of the project.

  23. I started running last spring as a supplement to my cycling addiction. Running also allows me to stay fit while I’m traveling for business (not easy to bring along a road bike for a business trip).

    To help motivate me to get out there and run, I joined an organization, Achilles International, that provides assistance to physically challenged athletes. So now, when I’m feeling lazy or tired at the end of a long work day, I think of a group of runners in Central Park waiting for me to show up so that they can get some exercise! It’s pretty motivating!

    Achilles International (https://www.achillesinternational.org/) has chapters in many locations.

  24. I live in Maine and shovel a 50′ driveway. If we get a big storm though I won’t do it all at once. For example if we are getting a foot of snow, I’ll go out and shovel after 6″ has fallen and then later shovel the remaining 6″. Good exercise but best of all it saves me from paying a plow operator or buying and maintaining a snowblower.

  25. Hi Mark,
    Surprised you did not include some discussion of games in your article. Like Diana, I too am 71, I found doing sprints uphill was challenging along with 2 x15 minute HIIT sessions with weights each week but GAMES are really fun!

    The best exercises are those we actually do. What about you doing a rating of all the most popular games and fun activities such as dancing in terms of their fitness benefits? Are there some that combine well to give a good upper body and lower body workout?

  26. Hi,

    I have quite a different issue, I work from home an active commute for me is walking upstairs. I love the quality of life I have from WFH but I find it really hard to get the basic level of movement into a day. I’m finding it tough to shed some lazy/convenient habits and get out more during the week.

    1. I work from home now, too, along with my hubby (different jobs). In order to make sure we get out and move, we do all our grocery shopping on foot. The store is about a mile away so a full bag of food also makes a decent farmer’s carry on the way home. Some days, we pass the store and go another mile or so up the road and then double back to do the shopping.

    2. Perhaps take a morning walk, say around a nearby park every morning before starting work – or possibly at lunch time or end of the day. It could actually make your work day more productive.

    3. My hubby and I work from home, too. We get out and play tennis almost every day. Cold climates have indoor courts but we have outdoor courts here in South Carolina. It is a very active and social sport. I can’t recommend it highly enough. Lots of sprinting!

  27. I live on 2-1/2 acres in the desert. I have a hard time staying interested in working out, so I blazed a trail around the yard – 6 laps = 1 mile. Building and maintaining the trail is much more interesting and useful. Now I’m constructing a rock garden where a cluster of baby Joshua trees is growing next to the trail. I’m having fun walking around the yard choosing rocks for this, and instead of buying gravel I’m handpicking smaller rocks and pebbles and carrying them in a bucket. It might take longer, but it sure beats a gym membership. My next project will be cutting up a pile of tree trimmings into firewood.

    1. That sounds like fun! We go on vacation to the desert each year (camping at Joshua Tree). Sometimes I wonder how people survive the heat year round though.

      1. It does cool off in the winter. Next week we’re supposed to have lows in the 40’s. And even in the summer the nights are cool.

  28. For me, commuting by skateboard isn’t an option ( unless maybe i can get through the Lincoln Tunnel with one!!!), but I just bought me and my 2 little kids some skateboards. I haven’t done it in 20+ years, but I found myself taking it out into the driveway the other night around 11pm, just because it’s so fun and I’d been thinking about it all day! I also started re-seeding some bare spots on the lawn, which took a lot longer than I planned ( I have a lot of bare spots!) and I was arguably sweatier than during my cross fit session earlier that morning. I wish I could commute by bike, but for now, skating and playing tennis with the kids while throwing in some gardening in between will have to do!

  29. Great points. What I tell people to keep motivated is, “Don’t workout…train!” I’m an archer athlete and bowhunter. All of my training is focused around successful fair chase hunting, wanting to be the best I can be. But I don’t workout because it’s boring. I train!

    That’s me. What do others want to train for? Make a choice and commit!

  30. I got my wife to start hiking with me–she loves it and I really have to work to keep up with her when she leads on those narrow trails.

    I love mowing the lawn– really! I also enjoy chasing our dog Kipper around the yard trying to get her frisbee away from her. Talk about short sprints and burpees.

    At work I send my stuff to the printer on another floor which forces me to walk and use the stairs.

    And finally, every day at lunch I either run the hills, walk for about 45 mins, or run three miles. That’s after I do bodyweight exercses in the company facility closet where no one can see me!

  31. Exercising for sport is a nice motivator. In order to excel in a sport, you can practice functional movements that translate to results in your sport of choice (yoga, parkour, baseball, hiking, kayaking, etc…). Compete with yourself and it’s a healthy obsession 🙂

  32. Mark – Some of us have the good sense not to watch MSNBC, ever. Just saying.

  33. I’ve got “move frequently at a slow pace” down pretty well, but I’m still looking for inspiration to “lift heavy things” and “sprint occasionally”. Actually, I’m using six flights of stairs at work to get some exercise but exercise isn’t yet a big enough part of my primal life.

  34. “The strength of construction workers is almost unparalleled…”

    When I lived in Oz many years ago, we office girls used to look forward to running errands. It gave us a chance not only to walk about and get fresh air, but also to ogle the construction and road crews. Most of these fellas were in great shape from a combination of hard yakka (physical labour), surfing and rugby.

    1. …..there’s just something very sexy about a guy who does physical labour!

  35. People need to be careful that they are not exercising to give themselves a boost when they do not have the constitution to sustain it. Recipe for burnout. Exercise is for healthy people. The healthier the more exercise, I suppose. If you are eating right, and a few other things, I don’t see why you can’t do a bit of heavy lifting or sprinting once in a while, as well as frequent low level movement, and chill out a bit more. A stressful job may need a bit more exercise, but a look at reducing the stress would be as effective, to a degree. Started right, the dog thinks you are bonkers. Then you go on to justify why you are bonkers 😉 I am not saying I don’t get physical on occasion, being devil’s advocate.

  36. Very interesting. Yes, I prefer “practical movement”. I miss actually biking to work – used to do it 1-2x a week, 10 miles. Sadly, with a 40-hour a week job and 2 kids, it’s too overwhelming for me now. It would take a fair bit of work to schedule it, pack everything ahead of time (get the bike ready, set out the bag and helmet, pack my work clothes, lunch and snacks, etc.)

    My kids think I’m crazy when I do yoga and pushups and squats at home. The two year old especially (I had to pay my 8 year old to play with him this morning).

    I have to disagree on construction. My BIL worked construction for 30 years and completely wrecked his back, shoulder, and neck. At 50 he was pretty much unable to work.

  37. I admittedly like racing, so I do train a couple times a year for 1/2 marathons, but the rest of the time my fitness depends on home renovations, construction projects, yard work, 3 acres of lawn mowing. I shoe my horse too (equivalent of doing squats for hours!) Yes, I prefer to work hard doing useful things, most definintely. Next up, welding classes and learning how to work a forge.

  38. I’ve started spading my gardens by hand in the spring. It’s a great workout, and also allows you to spade around the “volunteers” that you find growing up on their own. In the warm months, my husband and I take turns with mowing the lawn, which is excellent exercise. We also try to do most of our grocery shopping by bicycle, with panniers on the bikes.

    Then there is raking in the fall (not noisy, fuel-burning leafblowing), and snow-shoveling and wood-splitting (swinging an axe or maul does wonders) in the winter. And there is stacking and carrying the wood. (We heat with a masonry heater for efficient, clean wood heat.)

    It all helps.

  39. We have acreage in sub-tropical Aus and I do most of the outdoor work as h works away. Have a range of heavy powered tools and often choose the manual versions as less intrusive and providing extended body benefits.

    So bowsaw, Asian grass cutter, long pole saw/ lopper get frequent use. A headache from too much working with electronic devices will clear without drugs with outside work, even something quite strenuous like mattocking out tough feral shrubs.

  40. I take my grocery bags into the store, and don’t use a cart. I fill my bags, and carry them around. If I am feeling really rested, I’ll collect the milk and other heavy things first. I carry my stuff around the store, through checkout and to the car (parked on purpose at the end end of the lot). This also implicitly forces me really think about what I buy…..:)
    I also make hiking dates with friends to walk every day of the week instead of aimlessly stare at the TV off the treadmill.

  41. I take ballet three times a week for exercise. Not only do I love ballet, but since it’s a set time with the teacher expecting me (and I’ve already paid for it), I don’t make excuses and skip out when I’m tired. Maybe non-dancerly people would like martial arts?

    Those with a spouse or significant other might try ballroom and/or swing. You get to spend time together and get a workout. Check out youtube videos of swing dancing from the 40’s – the music is irresistible and they move really fast, it would be a really fun workout.

    I also like hiking, which is really easy to adjust according to what kind of workout you need. Mosey through the woods if you’re stressed out and just need to wind down, or go booking up and down hills if you need a leg day workout.

    1. “Maybe non-dancerly people would like martial arts?”

      Actually, martial arts are just like dancing except that there’s no music, and you hit, kick and throw your partner on the ground!

  42. Basic advice if not all practical for many. But where is the “purpose” you spoke of?

    It’s all more “doing” here and nothing much in the “being.” I don’t see the purpose.

    Purpose is the true north, the source of what we call motivation. And doing more things is not a path to it. More presence is.

    Less doing, more being. Trade exercise for training and practice it as a moving meditation and find yourself unstoppable, effortlessly.


  43. My thrice-weekly Zumba class provides an interval workout (sprints!), light weights and fun with friends. Remembering and executing the dance moves well distracts from the difficulty of the workout (which fitbot counted as burning over 1000 calories). When I feel lazy, the fact that the instructor and ‘the Zumba girls’ will be waiting for me, is enough to get my tail off the couch and to class.

    Between classes, my hubby & I hike, bike, kayak & walk for fun. I could use more lifting heavy things, but procrastinate as I find it boring to lift weights, even in my home gym created for that purpose.

    PS – Love MSNBC!

  44. What a great piece! And some very inspiring comments too!
    My fiance absolutely hates conventional workouts, especially anything that requires him to lift something other than his own butt. He simply finds exercising this way meaningless, and thinks my crossfit workouts are brutal.
    On the other hand, he enjoys being actove outdoors (hiking, biking, and swimming), so we to a lot of those. We also go for a run once or twice a week, and I always challenge him to some sprint sessions!
    A good idea would be to install a doorway pullup bar over the bedroom door.He now does one or two pullups and some stretching SEVERAL TIMES per day as he walks in and out the room. He’s training without even realising it! I’ve also left a dumbbell around the flat, so he started doing a couple of biceps curls whenever he’s bored.
    It may not seem much, especially compared to my generally active lifestyle, but he’s already shedding weight and his body certainly looks more toned. It’s certainly much healthier than the setendary lifestyle he was used to.
    Recently, a climbing gym opened up in our neighborhood, and I’ve suggested we tried it. In addition to being fun, rock climbing is a great whole-body exercise and a handy skill to have, not to mention that it fosters cooperation.He’s still sceptical, but I think he will love it.

  45. Maybe this is cheating, but I’d suggest dancing! From a cultural studies perspective, dance is as much an integral part of life as food/diet/eating, so I think it’s a very primal way to get exercise. There are great ways for everyone to get involved, such as Blues/Fusion dance which is relatively slow and low impact and can pave the way to more physically taxing forms, such as Lindy or Polka (if we’re staying in the partner dance realm). For the non-partner dance inclined, starting out with Authentic Movement or a community movement jam where you set the pace for yourself can eventually lead to highly strenuous forms such as West African, Hip Hop, or (some versions of) contemporary. I have no doubt that Grok would have danced if s/he’s heard some music!

  46. I guess I am lucky that I work from home and outside all the time on my Protea farm situated in a very hilly area. So whilst I do use my tractor and trailer to carry the flowers to the shed, I always walk up and down the rows picking and putting the flowers on the ground and then pick up all the flowers back to the trailer.
    The average weight of a bucket of Proteas is between 15-18 kilos. This bucket will be shifted on average five times before it gets to the customer.
    On average I probably have 50 buckets of flowers in the cool room and in peak times up to 100 buckets.
    Lots and lots of weight shifted that way.
    I am trying to get some sprints in but alas my dog Pepsi thinks it is a fabulous game and races in front of me only to turn back and sit down straight in front of me so I trip over him, so fast and constant walking up the hills will have to suffice.
    I have never been to a gym and at 59 years of age, I know I will never go to one, it simply has never ever appealed to me.

  47. Great article Mark. I have a great way of dealing with exercise, as a retired physiotherapist sadly I hate gym with a vengeance but, I have a small part time job working in my local supermarket, picking and crating up the online shopping orders. This involves walking around the store for 4 hours pushing the equivalent of three shopping trollies full of goods, swinging that round corners is great for the abs, stacking the 6 full crates one on top of the other takes the squats and the lift heavy items and the walking, well I do about 8 km per day. This is then added to walking dog, running round her agility course with her and I think I have most bases covered.

  48. Try training with other people. I used to cycle for 30 minutes on my exercise bike, in the bedroom, followed by 15 minutes strength training. At first I looked forward to this ‘me’ time, but then it started to get repetitive and I was losing time with my family in the evenings.

    So then one night I said to my husband, who is always professing to start lifting the weights we bought him, that I would do my workout session with him. I skipped the cycling and just doubled the strength exercises. It was so much more energising to exercise with someone else. Plus we got to spend more time together, which is always challenging to fit into our schedules.

  49. Seems like “going into construction work” isn’t the most practical(or useful) piece of advice you’ve made Mark.

  50. Exercise has always pretty much been meditative for me. No matter what I do, its where I shut out the world and commune with Self. Bring all the “tendrils” in, and let the world go.

  51. I recently started boxing, so I’ve now focused my workouts around becoming a better boxer. This has definitely brought more meaning to my workouts.

  52. I’m taking “Beginning Gym Tumbling” at my University this semester. I’ve never had so much fun getting sweaty.

  53. What do you mean “goofy recumbent bikes”. Sure, being bent over on a traditional road bike is more comfortable with the numb hands, sore neck and shoulders, and ass hatchet seat on your butt. I ride bents always except mt biking. As for introducing exercise into your daily life, how about while you’re waiting for your 3 minute eggs to boil drop down do some push ups, or squats or lunges, or ab work. What about before getting into the shower waiting for the water to get hot. a Anything you do every day can be preceded by some form of exercise. We did 546 miles on our recumbent bike and trike on the way and on RAGBRAI.

  54. The way to feel more inspired about exercise is to focus on your compelling why or your purpose in life. Even if this is not related to fitness or your exercising, find out what ways exercising or getting fit helps you to achieve your overall purpose. This will help you have the inspiration to get through your workouts.

  55. I live in the center of the prairies in Canada, it is 5 degrees ferinheit to -30 for 4 months or so, and loads of snow (feet of it) and ice for up to 5 or 6 months, as a result exercising outside is next to impossible unless you can afford equipment. It is also only light for about 8 hours a day. I would love suggestions for exercise that works and isn’t boring.

  56. Wow, just wow.

    “Hey poor people not living in Malibu, why don’t you just go into contruction work to get fit, you fatasses!”

  57. Social Dancing is an incredibly good activity. It’s one of the only activities I know of that is physical, social, emotional and artistic. Great for posture and coordination, stamina, and meeting new people.

  58. The rural Oregon countryside doesn’t lend itself to a self-powered commute for me but teaching elementary school on one’s feet all day is good. Landscaping in Terrebonne, where every every other stab of the shovel results the the necessity to remove a large rock is good. Climbing rocks at the nearby state park is even more fun and yes that is a practical and necessary pursuit (if you’re a climber). Dry wall and painting, especially on stilts. Chasing trout down in the canyons and game birds on ridges. Foraging for mushrooms. Just for starters.

  59. I play with a rock band and carrying around a 40-lb keyboard, a 40-lb speaker, and a bunch of associated gear is really good exercise. I do not use a cart, specifically to improve the “exercise” component of the activity.

  60. Exactly Mark!

    For me exercise has to have that utilitarian, adventure or play function involved.

  61. Awesome tips! I love walking to class (about a mile each way) and getting as much physical activity (v. ‘exercise) into my day like cleaning, gardening, and even more unusual things- like babysitting!

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  63. Every winter I look forward to shoveling snow and helping my father bring firewood in from the yard.

  64. Yeah, I felt pretty stupid when I went to the gym 3 times a week after work and was then too tired to clean the house. Now I go twice per week and have replaced one session by “power cleaning” – where I do all of those annoying things that contain a lot of bending down and pushing furniture away / bringing glass to the bottle bank etc. as quickly as I can. I takes me just as long as a gym session, is just as exhausting but it also comes with a sense of achievement.

  65. Cooking can be somewhat of a workout: chopping, slicing, pan frying, peeling, etc. while you are constantly moving around, throwing things in the trash, and cleaning. If I set aside a few hours a weekend to cook for the week, I end up exhausted, especially after cleaning up the enormous mess I tend to make!

    Also: cleaning the house can be a workout. I have a system where I dust all surfaces first, then sweep, vacuum, and mop. Then I clean and scrub the bathrooms, kitchens, and do laundry. Then I go through and wipe up all surfaces and organize everything, take out the trash, fold laundry, and unload the dishwasher. Trust me, that is a workout! If I had a lawn or garden, I would be out there instead, but alas, I live in an urban apartment. I look forward to the day where I have room for a bike, an actual yard and garden, and access to a nearby park!

  66. My best work outs are doing everyday things! Yesterday I started trenching my yard for a shed foundation. It was so hard and I kept thinking, who can help me with this? Now I’m determined even though to level the yard I have to dig 14″ down. It will get done!

  67. us folk up North would love to walk and bike more but given the fact that we have few meters (or feet) of snow up here for a good 6 months starting very soon it’s kind of hard to convince yourself to walk in all that … but I personally did opt out form buying a snow blower so I get my exercise by shoveling snow for an hour!

  68. We have a small farm and I do a lot of outdoor work, so I am probably quite a bit stronger than most people my age just from my daily routine. However, I find that my body has adapted to the demands of “real work” and I still need to lift weights, ride my bike etc to stay strong and fit, especially as I get older. The difficult thing is fitting in exercise, especially when your body is already somewhat tired. It is a different experience than leaving an office job and going to the gym.

  69. There seems to be a vein of “if it’s not dedicated to physical enhancement, it’s not exercise” that runs through the community. Mark hits on a point that the incidental everyday activity we engage in can be just as beneficial as the block of time dedicated to the gym/track/trail/saddle/pool, if not more beneficial.
    To that end I’ve stopped exercising just for exercise’s sake. If exertion is not done in pursuit of fun, or as part of the day’s activities it doesn’t happen.

  70. “You’re picking up a metal bar with weights on either end and
    putting it back down over and over again.” Oh yeah, and progressively gaining strength to be used in pursuits mentioned in the article. That sounds like a “win/win” to me…

  71. I have word of caution to some people who start doing heavy labor. This may sound obvious – but be very careful of injury – and STRETCH and ease your way into heavy labor because you can hurt yourself if you just dive in.

    An example of this come with my son – he is a strong athlete and runs with endurance and is tone and fit. Well last summer – to earn some money he did a few days of landscaping – and pulled something in his back and it ruined his fall soccer season. The different kind of workout form the landscaping work was not what his body was used to and it was sobering. He is better now, but just keep this in mind as you do any labor work – which I think Mark is right on with here – oh yeah – but ease into things and be sure to s t r e t c h that body!!

  72. Okay – I have one more personal story to share – about hard labor – that is GREAT for us! When I was pregnant with my first son, I was finishing college and told I could not graduate without 2 more classes. It was a blow and put things on hold – but it turned out that I still keep in touch with on of the professors form one of those classes – and it was almost 20 years ago – so that’s cool.

    anyhow, to help bring in some household money – I went back to work at a restaurant that I had worked at during college. I was a bit grumpy about it – but it was win-win because it was good money and I could go back right away and bring in some moola.

    anyhow, a few years ago I realized what a gift it was to have gone back to work at that restaurant while pregnant.
    There was not a lot of lifting – but the miles I covered walking all over the place every day – and the other duties – well I KNOW it gave me a healthy pregnancy – much healthier than if I was home all day – or if I was starting the stressful teaching job I previously wanted to begin that fall –

    sometimes the circumstances we find ourselves in need to be embraced more.

  73. Don’t know if this is a repeat since I didn’t read all of the posts, but I live to far to ride to work so I do a 1/2 & 1/2. I put my bike on my car, drive to a part about 7 miles from work, then ride in. On the way home is the reverse.

    I get a good workout, especially when I’m running late, and I burn a ton of stress of on my ride back.

  74. Totally agree with active commuting. I started walking to work, but that took too long so I invested in a bike. I actually look forward to getting to my job now! And sitting down for 8-hours is a nice incentive when I’m tired and biking is tough (stupid hills).

  75. When Im tired of the gym or feeling run down and not wanting to exercise I feel it’s my body giving me a wake up call and i’ll plug a few extra rest days in there to make sure things are healing.
    If you monitor your heart rate and test it first thing in the morning and start seeing elevations when you had a consistent rate it’s also a good sign to throw some rest days in there.
    Taking your temperature first thing in the morning at the same time each day can also give you some guidance as to where your body is at. If that temperature starts creeping up maybe your body is not totally recovering.
    There’s a lot of “balls to the wall” training mentality out there but if you don’t back off when you’re not feeling like exercising you can find yourself getting sick or injured and then workouts are going to be REAL tough.

  76. Yeah!
    I’m a writer and that can be so sedentary. I took an early morning cleaning job that also required a decent walk there and back. Pushing a mop and hoover etc. gave me all the exercise I need in a day and I got paid for it- enough to know that I had a small fixed income each month.

  77. I might be “pedaling like a madman” but I won’t be watching MSNBC while I’m doing it, Mark…just saying.

  78. I disagree regarding doing any type of labor FOR A LIVING will keep you in shape. Most laborers I see are basically in similar shape with the rest of the population. If you do physical labor for one day to a week you can start to get in better shape but over a course of time your muscles get used to similar motions over and over and eventually don’t have to work as hard. Because the muscles now have it easier those carbs used for energy are saved and thus stored in the form of fat. Also when a laborer goes home a typical thought is to eat and rest and even when his or her muscles are used to the same motions it is now habit. They need to break these habits and confuse the muscles a little bit at least two to three days a week. The laborers Mark eludes to are the ones who are able to do this but I don’t think they’re typical.

  79. I found that jumping on our trampoline with our 4 year old is great exercise… That doesn’t really seem like exercise. Although I do HIIT workouts 4-6x per week, weight training and combat training, also…. Jumping on that trampoline for extended periods of time puts a good burn into my legs and good expansion of the lungs. Fun, too!